Tag Archives: painting

… The banality of good – a review of ‘Alone in Berlin’ …

 

For me, Edward Munch’s painting  –  – The Scream —  sums up the fear of the unknown, and by implication, the fear of the feminine principle – a fear that spurns men towards controlling nature.

Hans Fallada’s novel, Jeder stirbt für sich allein’ (Everyone dies alone,) first came to my attention through its publication in English, ‘Alone in Berlin,’ a translation that was delayed by 60 years. The book has been sitting on my shelf as a ‘must read’ for a long while. Burdened by regressive small-mindedness and divisions around the world, I finally tackled ‘Alone in Berlin,’ aware that it would be a grim read, having been described as a testament to the darkest years of the 20th century from the point of view and experience of ordinary people.

Resistance to the Nazi regime by individuals had no news value after the war. Yet such stories provide the most poignant insights into what it is like to oppose a state under a dictatorship. As such, this book, written raw and in haste eighteen month after the defeat of Nazism, offers a high alert to simple solutions for social problems. The author, Hans Fallada, aka Rudolf Ditzen, died before this last of his works was published in 1947.

The urgency behind the writing is palpable. The players, sketched with harsh strokes, embody the full range of human nature – the capacity for compassion, kindness, complacency, stupidity, meanness, stubbornness, false pride, envy, hate, and resentment, fear, fanaticism and vengeance tipping into the most depraved cruelty.

Very quickly the dread of being caught in the nightmarish system of a totalitarian state jumps at the reader. While the ghostly despot drifts in the background, his control is shown through the dynamic interactions of ordinary citizens – be they power-hungry officers, opportunists, cunning manipulators, cowards, reticent objectors or unsung heroes. Resistance carried the threat of death and seemed futile.

The anguish conveyed is chilling, intensified by the archetypal hue clinging to the tragic comic characters, at times suggesting caricatures. The sheer absurdness of the stupidities and sadistic cruelties depicted may dilute the shock, but it makes the scenes all the more heart-breaking.

The classic method of totalitarianism is to instil fear and divide factions of society against each other, so people spy on each other and nobody can be trusted anymore. In this chapter of history fear served as the leverage for forcing the banal idea of a perfect state that can be safeguarded through clockwork control.

Fallada’s main protagonists, Otto and Anna Quangel, were based on the records of two insignificant objectors to the regime, Otto and Elise Hampel. The elderly couple started spreading anti-Nazi missives written on postcards in buildings around Berlin. For their sadly ineffective attempts of rebellion, the Hampel’s were arrested in 1942, tried in 1943 and executed shortly after. The same fate befell their friends and relatives.

Can a few virtuous individuals, each driven by personal idiosyncrasies, redeem the moral integrity of a nation? It is up to the reader to decide whether the many deaths a totalitarian regime inflicts on soon forgotten brave people are in vain.

The book brought alive the pressure my grandparents must have lived under, as well as the uncanny anxious atmosphere that spoiled my parents’ teen years, and, the wariness I personally and many of the post-war generation developed towards overbearing authority.

Presented in the context of ordinary individual lives, the story reads like a tragic comedy that screams – let us never forget that freedom lies in people being allowed to be different, not chained to a hell of obedience and conformity.

Primo Levi’s declared ‘Alone in Berlin’ as the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis. English readers have had to wait 60 years to read the novel.

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… surfacing …

surfacing

Segment of 'The Magician,' a painting by Silvia Pastore

Segment of ‘The Magician,’ a painting by Silvia Pastore

her nocturnal creature mourns as meshes of  night disband the Other of her dream into strands that flow like oil colours –

marbling still waters under grey or rain-bowed sky as canvas for inventing random patterns of each day

beneath the mirrors an ever-turning gyre of souls in deep wordless liaison keeps churning the ocean

her inward creature drifts through curls of emptiness sifting strata of seasons

to gathered wisdoms of the human heart

its patina of touch and wear

sediments of ache and bliss

its gilded secret

cypher for another Eden

from which her inversed image falls

to the next fluid mirror always desiring the Other …

Ashen 10th July 2015

Maybe needless to say, just about everything I post here is relevant to my novels.

In relation to the poem, I thought you might enjoy the fascinating Art of the Marbler https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vyga8VMWXKg

And a short introduction to The Churning of the Ocean of Milk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MItyUwPAjLA

The segment of the Magician image is the work of a fine painter, Silvia Pastore http://www.silviapastore.com/ … Time and space are illusions …  Having obtained the copyright of the Magician as a cover for ‘Course of Mirrors,’ it seems my publisher, who I re-signed a contract with, has other ideas. I love Silvia’s work, but will remain open to suggestions, as long as my first novel is launched within the year. It’s been sitting quiet since 2011. Maybe all good things take time. A sequel is waiting in line, and I’m working on a third book in the series.

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… oh my sweet, crushed angel …

Maybe I was inspired by a  dream last night, but for some reason the painting of Tobias and the Angel, its story, and this poem by Hafiz waltzed into my space this morning .

Tobias and the Angel - Andrea del Verrrocchio’s workshop

Tobias and the Angel – Andrea del Verrrocchio’s workshop

   My Sweet, Crushed Angel

You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.

You have waltzed with great style,
My sweet, crushed angel,
To have ever neared God’s Heart at all.

Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow,
And even His best musicians are not always easy
To hear.

So what if the music has stopped for a while.

So what
If the price of admission to the Divine
Is out of reach tonight.

So what, my dear,
If you do not have the ante to gamble for Real Love.

The mind and body are famous
For holding the heart ransom,
But Hafiz knows the Beloved’s eternal habits.

Have patience,
For He will not be able to resist your longing
For long.

You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One.

You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
O my sweet,
Oh my sweet, crushed angel.

From ‘I Heard God Laughing’ – Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafez

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/teachers-and-schools/teaching-english-and-drama/out-of-art/stories-for-use-in-class/tobias-and-the-angel   – the story of the Tobias and the Angel.

And I just re-found this lovely post about the ‘Tobias and the Angel’ painting …. posted some time ago by Katia  https://scribedoll.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/odds-ends-trust/

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… Marlene Dumas – an Exhibition …

During a few days over Christmas in Amsterdam friends took me on a culture trail, including a retrospective exhibition of works by Marlene Dumas, titled – The Image as a Burden – in the Stedelijk Museum.

P1060937 - smaller

P1060938 - smaller

A wall build of faces, a collection of close-ups, done in rapid strokes of ink, dislocated in their white squares, but for the eyes that gaze and mirror the viewer, eyes that convey the familiar moods of the human situation, flawed and uncertain, known intimately inside every heart around the world.

Don't talk to Strangers

Don’t talk to Strangers

A theme of dislocated, suspended identities, with seemingly no place to hide, shuffled like playing cards. And yet, their missing context conceals stories … like the wide gap between the opening and closing phrases of personal letters in this early image on the left: ‘Don’t talk to strangers.’

I pondered the title of the exhibition – The Image as a Burden – and thought how we personally relate to images. What they evoke may home or clash inside of us, or, equally, home or clash with a multitude of perceptions other people have, pushing us again and again through a psychological birth canal, ever new encounters with the beginning of life, with desire, loss, death and grief.

Dumas’ paintings seem to hover above a threshold, between extremes, confronting with the uncomfortable truth of our vulnerability. The images provoke, disturb, repel, and also deeply move. Her sources are second hand, mainly from a huge archive of photographic snapshots and prints she continuously collects from magazines and newspapers.

In her words … my paintings are closer to the world of spirits and angels, daydreams, and nightmares than that of real people on the street.

The self-portrait 'Evil Is Banal'

The self-portrait ‘Evil Is Banal’

Private collectors are said to have a strange emotional attachment to her work. Once purchased (at astronomical prices) they find it difficult to let them go. Why is that?

*    *    *

Marlene Dumas was born in 1953, in Cape Town, where she did a Fine Arts degree. In the 1970s she came to the Netherlands on a scholarship and since settled in Amsterdam.

*    *    *

The show is moving to London’s Tate Modern in January.

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… sharing a heart-warming present …

A few years ago I decided to value my writing enough to make sacrifices.  I’ve since devoted every spare moment to this solitary word-sculpting activity, with no idea where it will lead, and therefore feel tremendous joy whenever my compositions arouse curiosity, and especially when someone groks the universal myth I struggle to filter through my individual imagination, my psyche.  Why do writers, and artists, share the facets stirring in the depth of their soul without the promise of a resonanating  audience? … It’s a mystery.

Image by Cynthia Holt JPEG riverside8

Cynthia Holt, living on the other side of this planet, created this painting for me, inspired by two of my poems, Riverhead, and Sleeping Sun … It struck me that the image relates, in essence, equally to the constellation of my novels, yet to be published.

Thank you, Cynthia, for your spontaneous offering. It speaks to how, through interconnections, face to face, or in the realm of the virtual web, we stimulate each other’s creativity.

The image can remind us of the two worlds, indispensable to each other, which we bridge – and how against the canvas of pregnant darkness, the spirit’s eternal light defines our unique myths towards consciousness.

A peaceful Christmas time, and abundant Blessings for the New Year to all …

I’m looking forward to spending a few days in Amsterdam with friends and family.

Since I posted this, Cindy has done a most beautiful post on her mermaid tavern site, including a poem by T S Eliot, a song, and a chart of the Hero’s Journey.

http://mermaidtavern.net/1/post/2015/01/the-law-of-three-artistspoets-and-quantum-physics.html

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… the wonderful visit …

I loathe most talk of angels since they became best-selling brands, but the synchronicity of Annie Lennox wearing wings and singing to an angel at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the discovery of a rare book among my shelves, brought angels up close.

H G Wells (1866-1946) has been referred to as the Father of Science Fiction. A neglected story, The Wonderful Visit, published shortly after The Time Machine, was regarded as a mocking reflection on attitudes, beliefs and the social structure of a typical English village in Victorian times. I read the social commentary as ornamentation, the comical human attempt to stay the same, round a more essential theme, the conflict that can accompany awakening.

The edition below is from 1922 and has an illustration by Conrad Heighton Leigh. The line under it is from chapter 5 – ‘He fired out of pure surprise and habit.’

A strange bird was sighted.

Ornithology being a passion of the Vicar of Siddermorton, Rev. K. Hilyer, he was going to outdo his rivals and hunt the strange bird. So it came to be that on the 4th of August 1895 he shot down an angel.

… He saw what it was, his heart was in his mouth, and he fired out of pure surprise and habit. There was a scream of superhuman agony, the wings beat the air twice, and the victim came slanting swiftly downward and struck the ground – a struggling heap of writhing body, broken wing and flying blood-stained plumes … the Vicar stood aghast, with his smoking gun in his hand. It was no bird at all, but a youth with an extremely beautiful face, clad in a robe of saffron and with iridescent wings … never had the Vicar seen such gorgeous floods of colour …

‘A man,’ said the Angel, clasping his forehead … ‘then I was not deceived, I am indeed in the Land of Dreams.’ The vicar tells him that men are real and angels are myth … ‘It almost makes one think that in some odd way there must be two worlds as it were …’

‘At least two,’ said the Vicar, and goes on ponderinghe loved geometrical speculations, ‘there may be any number of three dimensional universes packed side by side, and all dimly aware of each other.’

They met half way, where reality is loosely defined, and truth has no hold. And they shared the nature of their worlds. Eat, pain, and die were among the new terms the strange visitor had to come to grips with.

‘Pain is the warp and the waft of this life,’ said the Vicar. Riddled with remorse over having maimed the Angel’s wing he decides to looks after him. But to adjust to the Vicar’s world, the Angel must eat and accept pain, and learn all manner of things very fast indeed … Starting to read, during a phase of now legendary sunshine, I settled in my garden with a glass of red, and consequently spilled the wine on my wild strawberry blossoms due to sudden bursts of laughter.

‘What a strange life!’ said the Angel.

‘Yes,’ said the Vicar. ‘What a strange life! But the thing that makes it strange to me is new. I had taken it as a matter of course until you came into my life.’

Mr Angel is nothing like the pure and white angel of popular belief, more like the angel of Italian art, polychromatic, a musical genius with the violin. Listening … the Vicar lost all sense of duration, all sense of necessity … The reactions of the villagers oscillate across a hair-thin-divide between comedy and tragedy, while the bone of the story is psychological, and spiritual. Indirectly, the Vicar encounters his anima (his inner female) through the Angel’s love for Delia, the maid servant of the house. There is no escape. Things get intense. The Angel, over the span of a short week, is tainted by the wickedness of the world, and it crushes him. And the Vicar’s awakening from his narrow prison brings him into tragic conflict with his community.

*    *    *

Not much has changed. The world is crowded with wounded angels seeking compassion, and since our daily vocabulary offers little more than clichés for other realities, awakening rarely convinces, unless it is embodied and conveyed through atmosphere. Look out for the artist… the musician, painter, writer, animator, filmmaker … and the children.

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’
― William BlakeThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The painting heading this post is by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg.

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