Saturday, May 31, 2008

Urban Study, 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

Urban Study, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Suburban Study (after Palladio), 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Etsuko came into the room.
"What is that flower Mother?" She pointed at the flower in the alcove.
"A poppy."
"I think you should take it away."
"Look at it ~ it sucks you up inside it."
"I see what you mean." The child had a point. Sachiko herself had been feeling strangely oppressed by something in this sick room, and, without being able to say what it was, she could not help thinking that the cause was right before her eyes. Etsuko had put her finger on it. In the fields, the poppy was a pretty enough flower, but the single poppy in the alcove was somehow repulsive. you felt as though you were being "sucked up inside it."

"I see exactly what she means. It takes a child to see what is wrong," said Yukiko admiringly. She took the poppy away and put flags and lilies in its place. But Sachiko still felt oppressed. It would be better to have no flowers at all, she concluded, and asked Teinosuke to hang a poem in the alcove, A fresh clean sort of poem.
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Papaver orientale, the oriental poppy ~ an orange so hot one might expect it to possibly burn & blister the skin if touched. At first glance the pollen on this flower's extraordinarily decorative center (which would look quite comfortable perched on top of the satin cap of a court official in the Emperor's Forbidden City) appears to be a charcoal grey color but is in reality a smoky, deep purple.

We have to forgive poor Sachiko's somewhat peevish behavior here as the month of June is oppressively hot in Osaka & she is recovering from jaundice. While I think this just about all one could ever ask for in a poppy, she may have a point ~ it's almost too intense to look at.


OK. I'm posting the actual image of the John Vanderlyn painting, mentioned in my post on Raphaelle Peale, to save everyone a lot of time. Consider this a kind of Public Service Announcement.

There were (still are for that matter) a surprising number of hits from Google search that were the result of my link to the lovely slumbering Ariadne. Who would have guessed... Anyway, rather than you gentlemen having to search amidst all my posts ~ here she is, in all her provocatively drowsy splendor. I'm sure you boys will appreciate this.
I live to make you all happy.

Particularly all of you living in conservative Islamic countries who suddenly showed up on my stat counter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I love this rose. It's the deep bluish red that was a popular color for lipstick in the 1950's: Fire & Ice, by Revlon. I remember my Aunt wearing it. On the other hand, I have no idea what the rose is called because it sprouted from the rootstock of a totally different rose that was snapped off at the base by a hurricane. It's a climber with no pronounced fragrance, totally unassuming; probably Rosa caninsis, the dog briar, which is mostly a workhorse rootstock for grafting. Somehow I just can't bring myself to dig it out.

It just looks so damn Jacobean.

Three Deadly Sins...

It is Memorial Day weekend, or at least the ass-end of it & the unofficial beginning of Summer. As a token nod to the holiday, I made a pecan pie this morning.
Gluttony? Greed? Lust?

I look at it this way; for one single action, three out of seven isn't too bad.

Update: My buddy Seth has pointed out to me that a fruit pie, perhaps rhubarb, might have been more seasonally appropriate… Frankly, a pecan pie requires considerably less effort so I guess Sloth must also be added to the list of reasons why I will burn in Hell.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Diptych (L'heure bleue), 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Suburban Study (Twilight), 2008

I can't believe the weather we've been having over the past few days. Glorious. There have been the most spectacular cloud formations, alternating with these intense showers that race through in fifteen minutes, then the sun breaks out again. (Of course I've taken photographs & will subject you to them.) Must be a Canadian air mass moving through because it's also astonishingly clear & cool for Back East; it's rare to need sweaters & light coats around here at this time of year. Everything seems to be closer than it actually is & flattened, as if seen through a lens. This is how I imagine it to be in Ireland, in a Molly Keane novel. I could easily get used to this but our hot, humid, mosquito-laden summer is lurking out there.

Somewhere in the Meadowlands ~ not quite malarial but full of hazy ozone & West Nile virus...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Parade, 2008

I have said it before & I will reiterate: there is nothing quite as stirring as a group of burly men in kilts & Ghillie brogues (not to mention sporrans), marching down the street whilst playing the pipes. (Even if they are playing "From the Halls of Montezuma" which does not lend itself with any particular grace to a bagpipe rendition.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Suburban Study (after Bierstadt), 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Suburban Study, 2007

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Suburban Study, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

A thousand words...

Suburban Study, 2008

This blog was initially conceived of purely as a diversion ~ something to amuse me & perhaps a way to finally develop a writing style. (I have no illusions about my shortcomings as a writer. I'm much more articulate & comfortable with the the visual than the verbal.) However having said that ~ somewhere along the way I've managed to become rather attached to this thing ~ to the point that I've actually started posting under my real name.

Yet, I've also found myself feeling a bit rudderless over the past few months; trying to find a foothold, get some direction, figure out where this is headed or even if it should continue. I think the writing style is slowly improving (However, still miles to go on that highway. I continue to be perpetually befuddled by the semicolon & mostly feel inarticulate.) but what remains hanging around in the corner, is this nagging sensation of a lack of focus. This, of course, begs the question... Does one actually need to care about focus when four visitors a day is a crowd around here? I suspect not. Excluding the writings of someone, for example, like Conrad Roth at VUNEX (There are others on my list but he's recently returned to blogging from a sabbatical & is a sentimental favorite.) whose posts need to be read & then read again ~ I don't think people actually go back to read posts after they have moved down off the screen & out of their field of vision. Attention spans all seem so short: culture so disposable these days... Out of sight ~ out of mind. 

I suppose most blogs (I'm referring to the personal ones here) are, by nature, ephemeral & one shouldn't really expect more than that. Here, then gone... Besides, one could argue that by posting things that interest me personally I am creating a kind of theme or focus, even if it is the consistently inconsistent nature of my posts. The blog that relies on the author's personality. Of course this works best if, like Francis Strand at How to learn Swedish, one has a charming personality, a strong point of view & a wickedly clever stylistic device (The Swedish word for the day is... ) to hold the whole thing together. (Not to mention a husband & what seems a glamorous social life in Stockholm. Sigh.) Or George Snyder at 1904. I've known George for ages & trust me, he's a bundle of personality & it's all there in his blog; regardless of what he's chosen to share with us, be it politics, personal redemption or kicking his Diet Coke jones. 

So what is my point here? Well I suppose there isn't any. I'm just rambling on & doing a bit of personal speculation, but have you noticed there are more photographs (& I don't mean snapshots) creeping onto this blog?

You know what they say a picture is worth...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The pelargonium & the brothers Peale...

The National Gallery of Art
Rubens Peale with a Geranium, Rembrandt Peale, 1801

Rembrandt Peale was the third son of the portrait painter Charles Willson Peale & brother to Raphaelle. (There were seventeen children in all, not to mention three marriages, but only six survived to adulthood. Raphaelle was the fifth but eldest surviving son & I believe all the children, at least from his first marriage, were named after artists. While Charles trained all his children to be painters, not all followed directly in their father's footsteps.) This is a painting by Rembrandt of his brother Rubens (a naturalist & painter who primarily managed the family museums) with what is said to be one of the first geraniums grown from seed in the New World. I have no hard facts on this so let's just say that in early nineteenth century America, it was still a rare & exotic plant.

The geranium here is technically a pelargonium from South Africa & a bit less showy than the plants we are accustom to today ~ I assume we have the Victorians to thank for that. The first seeds were probably brought from South Africa to the Netherlands around 1600 where they first appeared in the botanical garden at the University of Leiden. (Coincidentally the home of our Vanitas painter David Bailly.) In 1631, the English horticulturist, John Tradescant the elder, introduced the seeds to England. From there the plant crossed the Atlantic to end up in Rubens' flower pot & eventually in Rembrandt's painting. I suppose this could be considered a double portrait; the handsome young naturalist, gently caressing the stem of his exotic pelargonium while the plant reciprocates by brushing his forehead with a leaf.

Almost like lovers... 

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Memento Mori (For R.R.), 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What is behind that curtain?

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Venus Rising From the Sea: A Deception (After the Bath), Raphaelle Peale, 1822

To begin with ~ it's not a curtain at all but a clever, conceptually layered bit of trompe l'oeil. Look closer... This painting's simplicity is deceptive & things are definitely not what they seem. Come now, don't act too surprised... Peale distinctly stated in the title that there was a little "deception" occurring here. In reality you are looking at a pocket handkerchief (or perhaps a napkin) that has been attached with pins to what appears to be a piece of ribbon, in front of a painting to give the illusion that there is a life size naked lady behind there. In this whimsical piece, instead of time we are playing a game with scale. The straight pin's relative size is the clue.

Also in play here (& frankly what keeps this painting from being merely an aesthetic parlor trick) is a humorous jab at American prudishness in the early nineteenth century. The Hudson River School painter Asher B. Durand had John Vanderlyn's 1812 nude Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos hanging in his home's drawing room. Due to the full frontal aspect of the pose, he kept the painting modestly covered with a drape ~ apparently to protect the sensibilities of the women & children in his household. Peale's painting may have been a playfully ironic comment on this. The irony is twofold here. First, Peale's hidden nude ~ with it's tantalizing glimpse of loose, possibly damp hair cascading over a nude arm & a dainty bare foot ~ has only become more mysterious & erotic because of it's concealment. Less is, without a doubt, more in this case. We all know how dangerous it can be when things are left to the imagination & here Peale has literally given the viewer a blank canvas to fill in the gap between head & foot. (There is also an almost Magritte-like surrealism happening here, but that's a topic for another post.) Second, I am hard-pressed to recall a more lush & sensuous rendering of simple, utilitarian household linen. Even with the innate stiffness of linen & the sharp, geometric fold creases, Peale's deft handling of paint transforms the fabric into something far more voluptuous than an actual nude.

This from a man primarily remembered for his still-life paintings of fruit...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Vanitas, vanitatum...

Stedeljk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols, David Bailly, 1651

Unlike my playful little flower photographs, this is the real deal ~ a true seventeenth century, Dutch Vanitas still life by an acknowledged master of the genre & one of my personal favorites. All the traditional symbols are there: the just extinguished candle with it's wisp of smoke, the ephemeral soap bubbles, a tall flute of wine to drink & a pipe to smoke (earthly pleasures), coin & pearls (fortune), the hourglass (I believe there is a pocket watch as well), the fading flowers, a glimpse of an alto recorder on the left, tools of the artist's trade, all there (along with some plague references) but most importantly, there is the skull ~ once the home of perception, knowledge & reason, now an empty, hollow chamber. 

At first glance it's the usual subjects but a closer look reveals there's something a bit different happening here & that's why I find this particular Vanitas painting so compelling. One might assume that the self-portrait was the handsome, auburn-haired youth on the left with his sensual mouth, a self-confident & slightly haughty look in his eye ~ painting stick in hand, ready to dazzle us with his attention to detail & technical virtuosity... Well, yes & no. We are playing a game with time here for this is actually a double self-portrait that creates a temporal paradox. Bailly's true likeness, the way he appeared at the time of the painting's execution, is actually the older gentleman, sporting a Van Dyke goatee, whose portrait is held by the young, remembered Bailly of the past with the downy beginnings of a moustache on his upper lip. In a move apparently unusual for the time, the artist has managed to blur the line between still life & portraiture (not to mention past & present) by literally transforming himself into a vanitas symbol. This is what I once was; this is what I am now... Tempus fugit indeed. 

I've also just noticed that there is possibly a subtle bit of trompe l'oeil in the mature portrait. (It's hard to tell in the reproduction & I might be imagining this.) The elder Bailly had encircled himself in a cameo-like, oval opening ~ for centuries a common framing device for portraits ~ nothing unusual about that, but if you look very closely his arm seems to break, ever so slightly, the picture plane at the bottom; as if it were draped over a window ledge, giving an added dimensionality & "realness" to the true self-portrait. If this is the case, then the formal device of an oval frame has been transformed into a port-hole window from which a grey-haired, perhaps world-weary David Bailly gazes out at us with sad eyes.

Here, then gone.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Here, then gone...

Vanitas Still Life #2, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Gauguin moment...

For some reason I can never seem to remember which ear Tahitians tuck a flower behind to indicate availability.
Alright, I know I'm being silly (not the first time or the last) & have little doubt that this will be a personal embarrassment sometime in the future, but using my head for a comparison seemed as good a way as any to give some sense of scale here. 
For the record, my hat size is 7 1/2.

Jesus H. Christ... Is there any way I could have possibly managed to look more gay than this? 
(I don't think so ~ at least not without a little makeup.)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Twenty-four little hours...

What a difference a day makes. Seems we've had a little gender reassignment here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Suddenly deciding there might be the need to hedge my bets here, I impulsively ran out in the rainy, pitch-black night with my secateurs & blindly groping around in the wet tree peony foliage (sans flashlight) cut one of these ~ which explains the short stem. Supposedly this tight bud will actually open. We'll see. These large flowers, with their silk-like texture, are extraordinarily lovely with a complex, sophisticated fragrance. It's so easy to see (or will be, if the bud actually opens) why the "Mutan" peony is such a popular motif in East Asian decoration. 

By the way, I'm quite aware the photo turned out blatantly phallic. Completely unintentional. No, really.

Unintentionally Homo-erotic Study, 2008

Stormy weather...

Hopefully these won't be ruined by the rain that is forecast over the next few days.