Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Love of God Revealed

Jesus the Light of the World
William Holman Hunt, 1851
St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England
Keble Chapel, Oxford, England
Today was another one of those Sundays when I was so moved by one of the readings that I was compelled to find a piece of artwork that might better illuminate my reaction to the words. Or should I say word? Sorry, a little biblical pun. Its ok to groan, it was bad. 

Romans 8 38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

With so much absolute horror in the world right now these were just the exact right words for me to hear today. 

The first painting that came to mind is Jesus the Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, which I wrote about previously here but hadn't bothered to do any research on. At first it felt foreboding and frankly a little creepy but as I read more about it, I came to find it fits perfectly with today's reading. While I've always believed God resides next to me in darkness, what about in less foreboding and dangerous situations? Today's reading reminded me that (insert a not so surprised face) that there is no ending or beginning to God's love for us. It surrounds each of us before we are conceived and long after we die. Not a bad way to start my week. 

And a little bonus artwork inspired by Dante. It sure took him awhile to get to God's love but when he and Beatrice arrived it was glorious. 


Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Voyage of Life

The Voyage of Life: Childhood
Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life: Childhood, 1842, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
You know that moment when a painting catches your eye in passing and immediately draws you in. You literally have to stop, back up and stare and then stare some more. Then you go home and you're still thinking about the painting. That feeling is what makes me love art.

This summer I took the littles to the National Gallery for their wonderful kids program, Stories in Art. If you are local to the DC area and haven't attended one of these, I hope you will. It is a great introduction to the museum and to art in general, plus it is perfectly suited to the little ones interests and attention spans. As the group of kids and parents paraded through the museum in search of Thomas Moran's, Green River Cliffs we passed through a small circular room that connected two galleries. On each of the four curved walls were Thomas Cole's The Voyage of Life series. I was immediately struck by their grand size. Each of the four paintings takes up nearly the entire wall it is hung on. That coupled with the intimacy of the small room only further causes the viewer to be absorbed into the paintings and the story told. The second aspect I noticed was (no surprise) the importance of light. It is what pulls the pilgrim through each painting. In the first painting the light feels warm and safe; inviting and yet full of promise. As a mother to two boys growing up way too quickly I also see pride and hope for what the child will do.

The Voyage of Life: Youth
The Voyage of Life: Youth, Thomas Cole, 1842, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
The second painting is also breathtakingly beautiful. Again, the light is full of promise of what is to come. My head tells me to be wary of dreaming about a castle in the sky, which in this case is literally a castle in the sky but I can't quite help but want to cheer this ambitious child on. After all isn't that the American dream? Given the time period in American life when these paintings were created, it isn't a stretch to think that was on the artist's mind.

With the little bit of research I did on Cole, I learned that throughout his career he painted with driving purpose. While I think every artist has a point of view, Cole was telling a story about the importance of God in man's life. I especially enjoyed learning that this set of paintings is actually a duplicate. The first were restricted from public view by the owners so he painted a second set and exhibited those. I can't imagine the frustration an artist must feel when giving up their life's work and the control over it. But I digress... the reviews tell me I should see the dangers ahead but I'll be honest I don't, at least not directly. All I see is passion and excitement and ambition in this second painting.

The Voyage of Life: Manhood
The Voyage of Life: Manhood, Thomas Cole, 1842, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

And here we come to the fall. There is no question what Cole is telling us. Mankind is flawed. Mankind will fail. Mankind can not be his own savior. And yet again, there is hope. The light will never leave you, but you must choose to turn and follow it. Umm hello! I might have been distracted by the naiveté in the first two paintings but his message is blindingly clear in the third painting. As I near *gulp* my 40's I relate to this painting more than the others. Not because I feel I'm rushing head first into dangerous waters but because, like the man's boat I'm a little weathered by time and that is ok. Not to say I don't grimace at those three stubborn wrinkles on my forehead but for the most part I'm ok with my life choices. And as I get a little older I find that I am more interested in becoming a better person than a successful person.

The Voyage of Life: Old Age
The Voyage of Life: Old Age, Thomas Cole, 1842, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

I find the last of Cole's paintings the least relatable. Its striking, beautiful, peaceful and reflective but I don't relate. Not yet at least. I recently attended a funeral for the father of a friend of mine who had died of cancer and it got me thinking about what we all want for our loved ones at the end of their lives. Peace. To me that is the most striking aspect of this painting. Hope is never lost and in the end may we all find peace.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan, Stephen Sawyer, Versailles, Kentucky
This has been one of those weeks when my head is swimming with thoughts I can not seem to reconcile. This Sunday's reading was the parable of the good Samaritan. Even if you aren't all that religious I feel certain most of us are familiar with the story. In one summary sentence; opening your eyes to those in need of help and actually stoping to help them. But it is obviously so much more than that.

Before I continue I thought I'd include the actual text for those interested, for those that want to skip to the art, scroll down for some pretty amazing renditions of the parable and lastly for those who accidentally found themselves here while looking for the Samuel L. Jackson movie, Hey yall! I won't be offended if you click out. Here's the link you're looking for... The Samaritan.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The person giving the sermon and my church last Sunday is a third year seminarian who will be working as a resident at my church for the next two years. This was only her second week and the first time I'd heard her speak. To be frank, I didn't have high expectations. Like any kind of public speaking it can take some time to find your footing. Well, not in this case. She blew me away with her sincerity, honesty and the way she made me feel uncomfortable in my seat. Now, lest you think I'm a fire and brim stone kinda Christian, let me assure you I am not. I am very comfortable in the grey of my Episcopalian faith. But the discomfort I felt was for what she made me feel about my own life. What am I doing to "love my neighbor?"

She spoke of the dangers on the roads in Aleppo, Syria, not two thousand years ago but today. This hit close to my heart  remembering my time spent studying Arabic at the University of Aleppo. I was devastated to see it and so much of the town decimated, not to mention the staggering loss of life. What am I doing to be a good neighbor to those without a home, community or country? 

From that she drew another gut wrenching comparison, Trayvon Martin. It it hard to even type his name with out the hairs on my arms rising and tears welling up in my eyes. At times I feel undeserving of the tears that flow every time I read of how black young men, children really, are denied the right of a childhood. Who among of us have not made mistake after mistake after mistake and gratefully or maybe even not so gratefully accepted forgiveness. What does it mean to be a good neighbor to those children? 

I don't intend to make this post about the murder or the trial but its swimming around my head as I contemplate last week's lesson. Spoiler Alert: I don't have any answers. 

I grew up with a majority of white friends, but the black friends I did have felt no different to me than my other friends. Our parents were all professionals, we all attended private school, we all played the same sports and all had similar stories. I'm embarrassed to admit this but what I didn't realize until this week was that it isn't a socioeconomic issue, it is 100% racial.  Jonathan Capehart, a journalist I respect wrote an article this week that candidly discusses "the burden of being a black man is carrying the heavy weight of other people's suspicions." Do yourself a favor and read the rest of the piece here, after you finish this rambling behemoth of a post, natch. 

Rest assured, as a good life-long Episcopalian, I  don't have any answers to these questions but my eyes have been opened, albeit it embarrassingly late. I can do better. You can do better. And maybe, if we all take the time to stop and engage with our neighbors we will feel less suspicious and in turn avoid tragedies like the case of Trayvon Martin. 

Ok, with all that said, there is some pretty amazing art work depicting this parable. Please enjoy! And by all means, please share a favorite of yours or your thoughts on the parable, or anything else on your mind. 

The Good Samaritan, Vincent van Gogh, 1890
Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

The Good Samaritan, Johannes Zick, 1753, privately owned
Are you seeing the light in this one? As you may (or may not) recall I wrote about my fascination with light and darkness in religious artwork here. Its like a flashing strobe light telling us to pay attention, this is important.

Master of the Good Samaritan, unknown Dutch artist, 1530-1550,
Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Netherlands

The Good Samaritan, Aime-Nicolas Morot, 1880,
Petit Palais, Paris, France
And one more, this one is a sculpture, as you can plainly see. The interesting thing I learned is that it was sculpted by the same artist that sculpted the Statue of Liberty. He created this sculpture at the age of nineteen and it was the first piece he showed at the Paris salon. The size is a rare example of his work in that he typically preferred colossus sculpture. And there you go, a little art fact squeezed in. All information credited to and found on the Musee de Orsay's website

The Good Samaritan, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, 1853,
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Impressionist Superheros? A Perfect Match!

Saturday Morning In Front of La Salle De Justice, Rey Taira, 2009

I first saw this piece of art, Saturday Morning In Front of La Salle De Justice when a darling friend and I might add, newly published author (Geoducks are for Lovers) posted it on her Facebook page. I immediately went to google to learn a bit more about the artist and his work. I've loved A Sunday on the Island of La Grande by Georges Seurat from the first time I saw it. Though I'd like to say that was in person or through an art class but alas the first time I saw it was while watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off. What? There's no judging here people. And incase it isn't obvious, Seurat's painting can actually be found at the Art Institute of Chicago, naturally.

So, to find a piece of art that combines super heros and Impressionism? Obviously its a perfect match for my family. 

The artist, Rey Taira has an interesting story, though to be honest I found very little about him online other than one profile page written by himself. It was a lay-off from a job he didn't particularly feel passionately about that prompted him to dive into his hobbies and art full time. A childhood comic book fan eventually found himself working at DC Entertainment designing collectible action figures, props and statues, all having to do with the world of comic book characters. Not exactly my dream but its pretty amazing that a lay-off would push him down the path of his dreams. In his profile he quotes Louis Pasteur, "chance favors the prepared mind." I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. 

Sunday Evening by The Legion of Doom, Rey Taira, 2009

He also created a companion piece that is the diametric opposite, Sunday Evening By The Legion of Doom. In his notes on the piece he exhibits a great sense of humor about the pieces. In this case the original was a nod to the happiness of Saturday morning cartoons so he created this companion piece with the idea of Sunday evening dread of the Monday to come. 

And I would be remiss not to include the original inspiration for both of these pieces of art. So please enjoy comparing all three. I so want to have copies of these two Taira pieces for the boys' room or perhaps the kids playroom is the best spot. Unfortunately, I've yet to find anyone who sells them. Don't worry, I'm still searching!

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL


Friday, May 24, 2013

Rainy Day in Paris

Paris Street; Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte, 1877
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Today is our first day of summer vacation. While I had planned to pack up the littles and take them to our little neighborhood pool's opening day, at 64 degrees and rainy mother nature isn't cooperating. So instead we're off for a day of museum browsing and maybe a little lunch in the city.

Just a quick post to share one of my favorite rainy day paintings. So often I think of rainy days as being rather glum or perhaps rather the kind of day I'd like to stay in bed with a good book. Alas, with two pre-schoolers running around arguing who will be Master Yoda and who will be Darth Vader in their all day and all night Star Wars reenactments there is little chance of that for me today or any day for that matter. I should get back to today's painting pick.

A day spent walking in Paris, rainy or not is an inspirational day so when I look at  Gustave Caillebotte's painting, Paris Street; Rainy Day I don't see a gloomy day at all. I see one of excitement and new adventures. I wonder what the couple featured in the painting is looking at? Perhaps a new shop opening? A new building coming up? At the time this painting was created there was so much change going on in Paris I can only imagine how this neighborhood's residents were reacting.

As I was searching to find who owns this painting I was pleasantly surprised to learn it is The Art Institute of Chicago. If you haven't wandered through the galleries of this amazing museum you are missing out. It is an Impressionist lovers dream museum. The family and I will be in Chicago this summer and a stop at the Art Institute is on the top of my list. The painting is finishing up a traveling exhibition, that I was dying to see, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity. And if you find yourself in New York City this Memorial Day weekend you can see it in person at the Met through May 27th. After that it'll be returning to Chicago.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Allies Day Remembered

Allies Day, Childe Hassam, 1917
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

As I was driving in my neighborhood this morning I noticed someone had hung three flags, The American flag, the Union Jack and the French flag in front of their home. It reminded me of one of my very favorite paintings, Childe Hassam's Allies Day

It rather fitting to post it today, as its the anniversary of the first of two parades held in New York City to celebrate the end of World War I. On a side note, I'm a lover of parades. I'm lucky to live in a city that seems to feel the same. Old Town Alexandria has a certain small town charm that offers the perfect setting for parades. 

I've always had a soft spot for Impressionist paintings. They were some of the first first paintings that drew me into museums. And it was those first experiences that fostered an interest and eventually a love of art in many different forms. Childe Hassam was the first American artist that I was as enthralled with as those French rebels. It is easy to fall in love with Paris, the Normandy coast and the gardens of Giverny but what Hassam, and several other American artists of his day offer is an alluring look into our own backyard. I love to travel but appreciating your own cities and country side can be just as inspirational. 

If I could paint, which is a big IF, I would paint the enormous, sixty year old trees in our back yard whose long branches sway softly in the breeze. As the sun sets at night and I sit on our porch I feel as if I've escaped into the country. Ya know, that is until I hear a train passing, an ambulance blaring or one of the kids yelling at me for any variety of reasons. 

What do you see in your everyday life that could be made beautiful with an Impressionist's eye? 


Monday, April 15, 2013

A Few of Your Favorite Things

Just a quick post to say thank you to my darling friend Kim and my wonderful mother-in-law for indulging in my request for the painting or other art work that first touched you. 

And just so I don't forget which paintings they are, I'm naturally posting them here. Of the three I think my favorite is the View of Toledo by El Greco. There is something mesmerizing and enthralling to me about the flow of the painting. And once I learned a bit more about the painting's history I find it fascinating that he chose this view to paint. 

I very much enjoyed reading about each of the artists though, (and this will come as no surprise) I  didn't know anything about El Greco or John Constable. My knowledge of Botticelli is superficial at best. And that is really the point of renewing this blog. I can't begin to learn everything about every artist that touches me but how wonderful to learn just a bit more. I have found the world of art, literature and religion is more interconnected that I ever could have imagined. 

View of Toledo, El Greco, thought to be painted around 1597
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
I learned the most about El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), probably because I knew nothing about him in the first place. He had a fascinating life filled with travel, inspiration, artistic growth, education and it appears be quite a few unpopular opinions. I know all artists grow and change as they continue to paint but considering that he was trained as an icon painter he seems to have traveled quite a distance both literally and artistically from where he began.

I mentioned earlier that the most striking aspect of View of Toledo to me is the curve of the landscape and the buildings. They weave my eye over and through the painting, lingering at each curve. The second thing I notice is the pop of the foreground. The plants feel as if I could touch them and hear them shifting in the breeze. To have such realism in the foreground and seamlessly blend into the more imagined background is simply, inspiring. 

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1482-1485
Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Where do I start on such an iconic and world famous painting as The Birth of Venus. I'm surely not going to share anything that isn't already widely known so I'll just stick with what I am most drawn to in the painting. With out a doubt it is the color and shading. The blue hues of the angels robes as well as the pink robe held on the right side seem to pop out of the picture. Every color in the painting conveys femininity, innocence and ethereal beauty. Honestly I was drawn to the beauty of Venus' hair before I noticed her nudity. To me that is secondary, though it goes with out saying, she is exquisite. 

From an historical perspective I find it fascinating how much of art is inspired by literature and vice versa. This painting is a perfect example of that as well as who it was painted for. In this case, for a member of the Medici family as a herald of the "reign of love" finally coming to Florence. 

I wonder what books or poems inspire me in a visual way? Obviously much of the bible is ingrained in my mind through art. But so are some pieces of literature. Dante's Inferno comes to mind. And fast forwarding about 600 years, perhaps Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird? Or Ralph Waldo Emerson's, Nature. 

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821
The National Gallery, London, UK
There is much I like about this painting but what stands out most to me is not necessarily the beauty of the landscape, its the familiarity the artist had with the scene. Artist, John Constable was born and lived in the area of Suffolk which was the basis for this painting. In fact, according to the National Gallery's web site the cottage and river path featured in this painting look the same today as it did in 1821 when Constable sketched the scene.  

I like to think about what I would paint from my home. Perhaps the beauty of Mount Bonnell where my mother and I used to picnic. Or perhaps the hills west of Austin where she and I would join others in road rallies where we flew down the open highway in my father's red convertible, top down of course.  Because of Constable's connection to the land and the people living there I wonder if it meant more to him? I know it would to me. 

If you could paint a place from your childhood, what would it be?