24 December 2014

A Giovanni Agostino da Lodi Christmas

In sweet rejoicing,
now sing and be glad!
Our hearts' joy
lies in the manger;
And it shines like the sun
in the mother's lap.
 - excerpt from In dulce jubilo , a carol from the Medieval period, originating in a mixture of Latin and German.











To readers of The Blue Lantern and those who have shared your thoughts, my wish for peace and joy to all.


Image: Giovanni Agostino da Lodi - The Holy Family,   c.1495-1520, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Not much is known about the.painter Giovanni Agostino da Lodi.  He was active in the period roughly bounded by 1495 and 1520.   For this reason attributions of his work has been fluid, to say the least, for centuries.  Nevertheless, the quiet work represents the wonder oc creation in a manner that transcends the particulasr of religious beliefs.  The folds of the fabric of their clothing carry expressive weight , and the austere linear style were not particularly characteristic of Agostino da Lodi's work, but they do share the style of the 12th-century Lombard school of painting.

22 December 2014

The Nativity Poems: Joseph Brodsky


















“Snow is falling, leaving the whole world unmanned,
in the minority.  Now your private detective
agency comes into its own and
you catch up with yourself  because your prints are so
recognizably defective.

Not that you're about to collect a reward
for turning yourself in.  A noiseless, nothing of note
precinct.  With the onset of night, so much light's packed
into one star-shard.

It's like refugees packed into one boat.
Mind you don't go blind.  You, yourself are on the street,
an orphan, a social pariah, an outcast
who, for all your pocket slapping, have come up with sweet
damn all.  From your mouth there issues only a dragon blast
of hot air.  Maybe the time has come for you, another
Nazarene, to offer

up a prayer for all those hotshot
wise men, from both sides of the planet, schlepping along
with their groaning coffers,
for all th little children in their carry cots.”
 translated from the Russian by Paul Muldoon, 1986, in Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2001.


From the time he was a young man, Joseph Brodsky tried to compose a Christmas poem each year “as a sort of birthday greeting.”  To Brodsky, Christmas was a holiday and Christianity as a religion were markers of the passing of time.  Christianity, with its ordering of time – B.C. And A.D. – showed its “temerity.”   “What is included in this 'before”  he asked.? Although as a native of Russia, Brodsky might have been expected to follow the Russian Orthodox Church, he pointed out that celebrating Christmas is a more important event in Roman Catholicism. Because water is about movement and therefore connected to chronos, Brodsky liked to celebrate the holiday in Venice.  
In,"Snow is falling" we can find elements from the Christmas story, refracted through the realities of life under the Soviet regime.  Brodsky undoubtedly had read the early satirists of the regime: Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov. You don't have to read The Twelve Chairs to get Brodsky' slant here, but you shoudl treat yourself.


Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad.  He began writing poetry in his twenties while working a s a geologist’s assistant.  His work attracted the attention of the great poet of Russia’s ‘Silver Age’, Anna Akhmatova.  Less fortunately, it also attracted the attention of the authorities.  Brodsky was a writer who believed the maxim “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.  Notwithstanding that when he was forced to emigrate, first to Vienna and then  to the United States, his application was supported most strongly  W.H. Auden, a homosexual, when Brodsky came to write a book about Venice (Watermark,1992 ), he included a number of gratuitous swipes at homosexuals, sounding like nothing so much as a cranky old man.  Brodsky, who died at age fifty-six, looked like an old man even in his forties.  Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1987.



Image: Mikhail Lemkhin - untitled (Xmas star) from Nativity Poems.

16 December 2014

'Tis The Season To Be Hard-Boiled

Fa la la la la, la la la la!

A plane crashes into your boudoir? Quel domage! These things happen. A girl has to finish her makeup before she greets the day. 
A school girl's riddle from my mother's adolescence.  Why do males disappear before Thanksgiving and reappear after New Year's?  If you've heard this and know the answer, then you are hard-boiled.
 
To be hard-boiled is an attitude, first incubated in Manhattan, a product of  the bouillabaisse that made the first truly sophisticated  American city.  Before The New Yorker  there was Vanity Fair, the home of the diamond cut on the hardness scale. 
In 1915, the Canadian Stephen Leacock wondered in its pages,  "Are The Rich Happy?"  To begin with, he had trouble finding them.  "Very often I have thought that I had found them.  but it turned out that it was not so.  They were not rich at all.  They were quite poor.  They were hard-up.  They were pushed for money.  They didn't know where to turn for ten thousand dollars."
During the next two years a young writer, Dorothy Rothschild Parker (as she was then known) appeared in the magazine's pages with a series of "Hate Songs," satirical verses on various subjects:  office life, actresses, relatives and, of course, men.  Although she was only twenty-three, Parker was already a walking anthology  of sharp edges.  Husbands, she opined, were "The White Woman's Burden" and concluded, "I wish to Heaven somebody would alienate their affections."

An unlikely novelist of the hard-boiled was Frances Newman (1883-1928) from Atlanta. I discovered Newman's two published novels when I was at college and have never forgotten them. It was the titles that seduced me: The Hard-Boiled Virgin (1926) and Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers (1928)  Newman was a literary modernist who layer cake structuring of time and space reminded me of Virginia Woolf. Newman also preferred to use interior monologue rather than dialogue to move her novels forward. If Newman didn't read Dorothy Richardson' multi-volume epic Pilgrimage (1915-1935) , then great minds do think alike
The daughter of a prominent judge, Newman was sent to finishing schools, in anticipation of a genteel adulthood to be spent as a librarian.  But Paris and the Sorbonne changed her mind.  Newman had finished her first novel at twenty-three but was never able to get it published.  Undeterred, she kept on writing and when The Head-Boiled Virgin appeared it was immediately hailed by the eminent James Branch Cabell as "brilliant."  In it, Katherine Farraday chooses independence over marriage. 
Two years later the publication of  Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers caused a sensation of a different sort.   Newman's hometown of Atlanta was outraged and the book was banned in Boston. Modernism was acceptable among a select group of readers but personifying the misogyny and racism of southern life through the characters of an angelic wife and a seductive 'other' woman was not to be tolerated.  Newman died too young and the guardians of literature were happy to forget her.  Thanks to Barbara Ann Wade, we now have a reconsideration of Newman's works.
 
For further reading:
1. Frances Newman - The Hard-Boiled Virgin, New York, Arno Reprints: 1977
2. Frances Newman - Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers, New York, Arno Reprints: 1977.
3. Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair, edited by Grayfon Carter, New York, Penguin Press: 2014.

Image: Tim Walker - for Vogue UK, London.

09 December 2014

Richard Florsheim. Who?


"I wish Mrs. Claus hadn't been so impressed by that artist who talked her into welded steel Xmas trees!"

Three years ago I received this Xmas car from Joanne Molina..  A Chicagoan herself, she was familiar with the satirical lithographs of Richard Aberle Florsheim.  I was not.  But when I looked at the card again, I was unwilling to recycle it and decided to see what more I could. find.  As the brief biography below demonstrates, I didn't find much information, but I wonder now what Florsheim learned during his time working with the French post-impressionist Emile Bernard.

What I did uncover were hundreds of Florsheims in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Florsheim's native city.  Many of them are evocative landscapes that take steps beyond the techniques that  Florsheim learned in Paris and are worthy of attention.   But  it is Florsheim's delight in the foibles of artists and their followers that I want to present here.

















These 'cartoons' were drawn during the second half of the 1950s at a moment of high seriousness in politics and also in the art world where American triumphalism was the preferred mode in  art critics.  Foremost among them was Clement Greenburg who regarded the United States - and probably himself, truth be told, as the guardian of "advanced art" after the philistine rampage of the Nazis through the art collections of Europe before and during World War II.  For Greenberg, the American abstract expressionist painters were the point toward which all previous developments pointed.  For such high seriousness, Pop Art would prove vexing but that wouldn't arrive until the 1960s.
The pompous tone that Greenberg set is still the accepted one today for those who want to have their ideas on art taken seriously.  The terms have changed if only because there are new graduates hoping to make careers for themselves.  It is that tone that makes Florsheim's deflationary tactics so charming.  He was no mean-spirited Philistine; he was a serious artist with credentials.  There may be exponentially more money floating around in the art world today but human nature is much the same as it was when Florsheim created the Florsheim school of artists.

In Florsheim's world, sculptors are an especially wacky bunch. Take Shistokovich whose  scrawny, angular work  resembles a generic Giacometti man. Or Bolofinsky ["(He) always did say that someday the world would catch up with him."}] whose outdoor metalscape anticipated the television antenna.  An apartment dweller thinks that the profusion of antennas atop his building indicate that Bolofinsky's work  is "selling like hotcakes."  A work by Messovich (!) titled Bald Ego looks like nothing so much as an escapee from a psychoanalyst's couch.  His delight in naming his characters reminds me of a comment made about Constance Garnett, the British translator of some seventy books from the Russian, who introduced the great Russian novelists to English readers in the early 20th centuryHer achievement was considerable but she has also been accused of creating one giant lumpen Russian writer in all those works -Tolstoyesvky.

Richard Aberle Florsheim (1916-1979)  came from a wealthy Chicago family.  After studying at the University of Chicago, Florsheim spent two years traveling abroad (1936-38).   While in France Florsheim worked in the atelier of the painter Emile Bernard, a member of the Pint-Aven circle that developed around Paul Gauguin.  During the late 1930s Florsheim exhibited with the Salon des Refusés, .  He returned to Chicago in the summer of 1939 where he rented  a studio.  There he began to produce lithographs and had his first exhibition in 1942.

Images: by Richard Aberle Florsheim, c. 1956-58, are in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
1. Welded steel Xmas trees.
2.I think it should hang this way.
3.I see what you mean by some "art lover"s being socail climbers.
4. Life class at the School of Contemporary Art.