Saturday, February 26, 2011

Armchairs in Art: Van Gogh

Welcome to Part Two of Armchairs in Art!

Last week we discussed Señor Pablo Picasso, one of the lucky bastards who actually achieved international celebrity in his own lifetime. Today, we're traveling even further back in time to talk about a guy who wasn't nearly as lucky.

Poor old Vincent.

Off the top of my head, here's what I can say about Vincent van Gogh:

Brother named Theo.
Those ugly potato folks.
Don McLean.
And obviously, the ear thing.

Okay, I actually know a little more than that. Definitely more than I knew about Picasso. Thanks, in part, to our old friend Simon Schama, who devotes the sixth hour of Power of Art to Van Gogh. As my good friend Carl so perfectly put it, the actor Andy Serkis "blows minds" as Vincent. It's true. Whether or not he blows minds as Gollum, née Sméagol, I'll leave to you.

(FYI, Power of Art covers Picasso, too. But it's on the 3rd disc. Which I haven't yet gotten from Netflix. So. You know. I'll get back to you.)

Anyway, I also learned quite a bit about Van Gogh in Amsterdam at, you guessed it, the Van Gogh Museum. That was back in 2006, during the crazy two week period in my life when I traveled solo to Belgium and the Netherlands. And off we go on a tangent!

If you've never traveled alone, go do it. Sure, I got lost in the pouring rain a couple times. Which is exponentially worse on one's own. Also, being a poor defenseless girl, my after-dark options were slightly limited. (I spent one particularly sad evening watching the film adaptation of Starsky & Hutch alone in the hostel common room.) And, worst of all, there's nobody to back me up when I tell people the first thing I saw in Amsterdam was a live camel.


Here's what I love about traveling alone. You have to talk to people. It becomes a necessity. I met people I never would have spoken to had I been with friends or family or a tour guide or an iPod. One night, in a hotel bar in Amsterdam, I spent four hours in deep conversation with a Mexican guy, an old British dude, and the cute Dutch bartender. All thanks to the necessary boldness that comes with traveling alone. You gotta be bold. I wonder what that bartender is up to.

Anyway, you know who else was bold? Vincent van Gogh. That was one bold dude. Usually when you see a picture of a chair you think, "Oh hey, that's a chair." One look at these paintings and you're all, "SHAZAM! Now that's a CHAIR!"

Ok, maybe not. But I bet you like these as much as I do.

Gauguin's Chair, 1888
Oil on Canvas
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

As you may or may not already know, Paul Gauguin was Van Gogh's roomie for a time. It didn't go that well. Maybe because Van Gogh was always painting the furniture. Dude probably just wanted to sit down. (Also, who smells a Jersey Shore parody? Vinny and Pauly G? Enh...?)

Van Gogh's Chair, 1888
Oil on Canvas
The National Gallery, London

Of course, Van Gogh painted his own chair, too. People make much of this pair of paintings, particularly the question of their symbolic meaning. Van Gogh said little on the subject himself, but there's a wealth of speculation to be found. Everything from the reasonable (Simplicity vs. Pretension) to the slightly more outrageous (Gauguin's Chair as a Phallus-Bearing Symbol of Van Gogh's Mother Issues).

Want more Van Gogh? How could you not! Check out these videos, courtesy of a way cool site I discovered today called Art Babble. If you still want more, watch the videos on the site proper where they provide a sort of Pop-Up Video type feature in the form of a scrolling bar to the right of the page that provides links to supplementary information. I really like the way they've set it up.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Armchairs in Art: Picasso

I like art. If I weren't a struggling musician, I would be a struggling art historian. Like Simon Schama. Except he's not struggling. And not exclusively an art historian. Also, he's a dude. And Jewish. And from the UK. So really, nothing like Simon Schama.

It's true, though- few things relax me more than a good documentary about art. Which probably means it's better that I'm not an art historian by trade. This way, I can watch Sister Wendy without having to question the quality of her scholarship. Not that I would even be watching Sister Wendy in this scenario. I'd probably be writing a really unoriginal paper about Monet in some awful library with fluorescent lighting. Here, I can sit back and appreciate art from the comfort of my metaphorical armchair.

Speaking of Simon Schama, my most recent Netflix delivery included the first 2 discs of his 2006 BBC series, "Power of Art." In each hour long segment, he focuses on a particular artist through the lens of a particular masterpiece. It has everything: sweet dramatizations, cool music, fun biographical and historical tidbits, and even the odd joke. I love it. So, I started thinking, what can The Armchair bring to the table when it comes to a discussion about art? Probably not much. But what if we narrow our focus down to something more specific? Say, art that... includes actual armchairs?


Welcome to Part I in the series, Armchairs in Art. Each week, we'll explore a new artist and a new painting or paintings. Paintings... with armchairs in them.

Let's dive right in.

Pablo Picasso

Here's what I can say about Picasso without Googling or Wikipeding:

20th Century
Blue Period

Here's what I can say about Picasso after having done a bit of research:

First of all, Spanish baptismal names are amazing. Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain in 1881 to a middle class family who encouraged his talent from an early age. Around the turn of the century, he moved to Paris and started hanging out with folks like Gertrude Stein and Guillaume Apollinaire.



And later, Serge Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky.



You know, the down-to-earth set. He divided his time mainly between Spain and France, made art, and enjoyed the company of many women. (There's a nutshell for you.)

One such woman, Olga, was a dancer in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and Picasso's first wife. She is the subject of our first armchair painting.

Portrait of Olga in the Armchair, 1917
Oil on Canvas
Musée Picasso, Paris

Not what first comes to mind when you think of Picasso. In terms of artistic periods, the years from 1912 to 1919 were marked mainly by a shift from "analytic" to "synthetic" Cubism. Even if you're not familiar with Cubism, you can probably guess that this painting has little to do with it. This can be partially explained. In the late teens, without abandoning Cubism, Picasso went through a brief phase of what is apparently referred to as "New Mediterraneanism." During this time, he was influenced by the works of earlier artists like Renoir and Ingres.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Portrait of Madame Leblanc, 1823
Oil on Canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

That's pretty easy to see. Allow me to offer another, purely speculative explanation. Pablo and Olga weren't married until 1918. My guess? This painting (and maybe the whole of the "New Mediterraneanism" thing) was part of the courtship. You know, less to do with aesthetic principles and more to do with "sleep with me." I read in at least one place that Olga initially resisted Picasso's advances and fiercely protected her virginity even after the marriage (at least for a while). You definitely get a feeling of coldness from her portrait. Who knows? (I mean, other than all the people who have written papers and books about it. They probably know.) One thing is clear- she was certainly more the posh socialite than the Montmartre/Montparnasse Bohemian. I imagine the portrait would have pleased her. I like it, too.

Then again, I also like this:

Large Nude in a Red Armchair, 1929
Oil on Canvas
Musée Picasso, Paris

Yowza! Here's Olga again...looking a little different. I'm kind of obsessed with looking from one painting to the other in rapid succession. Look at the bright red of the armchair. Fantastic. And the body! Olga may or may not have been a little ticked upon viewing this. I don't think it's too surprising that they soon split. (His real "muse" at this time was a teenager named Marie-Thérèse Walter, brief companion and mother to his elder daughter, Maya. Sadly, Marie-Thérèse hanged herself four years after his death in 1973. She wasn't alone among Picasso's women in taking her own life, either. His second wife, Jacqueline Roque, shot herself in 1986.)

So there you have it. Armchairs. Picasso. These aren't his only "armchair" works, but it's a good place to start. Want to know more stuff? Here are some links.

Official Website
Bio at (Great!)
Excellent Timeline
Matisse & Picasso
Musée Picasso (Paris)
Museu Picasso (Barcelona)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vision of Love

At 17, I had a pretty good idea of what my love life would look like at 25. After having spent my early 20s dating and casting aside a litany of handsome and variously successful men, I would, by 25, have met my Super Awesome Live-In Boyfriend. We would have a sweet apartment in the city, fulfilling and well-paying jobs, and a host of extremely good-looking friends. Our dog would have an ironic name like Snoop or P. Doggy and when we would take him for walks in the local park, neighbors would smile and wave enthusiastically. We would spend most evenings cooking sexy meals together during which we'd engage in a lot of sensual vegetable chopping and hysterical laughing over minor culinary mishaps.

Every couple of months we would take epic trips to places like Machu Picchu where we would befriend the natives and take pictures of each other doing hilarious and awesome things. Later, we'd show these pictures to our really good-looking friends who would remind us that we are, in fact, the coolest couple in the world and they wish they had taken a llama ride through the jungle with a Peruvian drug cartel. At 30, after 5 years of continuous adventure, we would be married on a Grecian Isle and divide our time as newlyweds between our sweet apartment in the city and our renovated Highland Castle. Our children would frolic in the heather and grow up to do something about all the problems.

It hasn't yet come true and is, I guess, a bit unrealistic. But the general gist of my vision of love hasn't changed much. And, despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm confident a large percentage of it is in my future. How could I possibly be that optimistic? I don't know. Probably because I'm kind of an idiot when it comes to love. Yes, love makes fools of us all at one time or another, but truly, I suspect I'm in at least the 80th percentile for romantic idiocy. I'm not complaining, though. I've achieved a nice balance. For example, I've been kissed in the Piazza San Marco on a summer night. Totally awesome. But I've also been rejected at not one but two of my own Christmas parties. Ouch. The point is, I've come out about even.

Is that my point? I'll be honest, I'm not even sure what this post is about yet. It definitely doesn't have anything to to with armchair travel. I was originally intending to tie it in with some kind of variation on a theme of either "traditions of love around the world" or "showing your love by giving to charity this Valentines Day." Best laid plans. In lieu of that, I'll provide you with this link I found when I Googled "Fun Facts About Love." Clearly, a lot of work goes into this blog.

Anyway, my favorites are numbers 11 and 20.

Special shout-out to Molly, Peyman, Mark, and Suna for being excellent Valentines.