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Leonardo’s Self-Portrait on Display at Turin

Leonardo’s self-portrait is on display at Turin until January 2012, along with modern artists’ takes on his work, including Duchamp and Warhol.

Image: ArtDaily.org

Leonardo’s self-portrait is still making waves. While Caravaggio is visiting Moscow, those who wish to travel to Italy may consider going to Turin. The exhibition marking the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy explores the development and impact of Leonardo’s gift. “Leonardo. The Genuis. The Myth” runs at the Palace of Venaria from November 17, 2011 until January 29, 2012.

The contemporary section of exhibition that explores the fates of Leonardo in modern art opens with Marcel Duchamp’s parody on Mona Lisa and continues with the interpretation of Last Supper by Andy Warhol. Leonardo’s studies in physiognomy also inspired Lavater, and influenced Goya, Daumier, and Grosz.

On display is also Leonardo’s most famous self-portrait, with a long wavy beard.

The Act of Smoking, and A YouTube Trouble

A rather unpleasant update as per 13 Dec 2008:

I have just found out that the English version of the video which was in this post has been taken down on YouTube for “the violation of Community Guidelines”. Here is the screen grab with the message:

Interestingly, clicking on any of the hyperlinks takes me to precisely the same page telling me about the violation of guidelines. I am expected to acknowledge it, but I cannot acknowledge something when I don’t know what it is. It never occurred to me to save YouTube Community Guidelines to a file, and when I google “youtube community guidelines” and click on the relevant link, I once again see the violation message. I am happy to acknowledge my fault, if there is any indeed, but I need to understand exactly what I did wrong. Unfortunately, YouTube sends me the message about guidelines’ violation, but it doesn’t offer me an option to communicate with them, to find out what was wrong. The video in question is my original work, it is my poem translated into English by myself. The video does use other artists’ images (who are all credited), to illustrate the idea, but over two years ago I quoted an extract from Adrian Darmon’s interview with Andy Warhol, in which the subject of plagiarism was briefly discussed:

AD: Where do you find yourself vis-a-vis Picasso?
AW: He’s dead, and I’m in his place. On the artistic level, I think I’ll be a milestone.
AD: Do you take yourself seriously?
AW: I’m doing things seriously, with aesthetic taste.
AD: And without plagiarism?
AW: I don’t understand the meaning of your question. In any case, the artists are inspired by the works of others.

To sum it up, another quote, taken from Slavoj Zizek’s book; this is what Fidel Castro said to Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban crisis: “You may be able to convince me that I am wrong, but you can’t tell me what I am wrong without convincing me”. For your reference, here is the English file uploaded to Google Videos:


22 Nov 2008

Yesterday René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist painter, turned 110. I’ll start by giving the links to a few of Magritte places online: René Magritte Museum and Magritte Foundation.

I cannot say I ever took serious interest in pin-up art, but back in 2003/2004 I had a CD with the songs from 1950-60s, and some of the pin-up images were used on the cover illustration. The day before I went to London for the first time ever – and incidentally, on the April Fool’s Day, 1 April 2004 – I suddenly envisaged a vivid similarity between Magritte’s pipe and one of those pin-up girls. And really, you cannot say they are totally dissimilar, when you look at them this way (see the images on the left and right; the image on the right is by Greg Hildebrandt).

The Russian poem was written instantly, but it was only this year that I began to think seriously of adding a video montage to it, to illustrate the whole idea. Surprisingly or not, it took Magritte to celebrate his 110th birthday upstairs for me to finally create what was rather difficult at first. I hope you enjoy the English result below.

The Act of Smoking

…………………………………..Ceci n’est pas une pipe
……………………………………………….René Magritte

That what you see is not a pipe.
Imagine: two tender feet
Enter your mouth in a slow movement,
And you breathe in a tangy aroma of sex,
Watching in front of you a beautiful head
Trembling in the fumes of passion.
And, giving in fully to love,
You mentally move your finger
From feet along the legs
Reaching to the cherished curve
Full of the finest tobacco,
Which is what you adore –
Bosom or ass –
And finally, deciding to surrender to lust,
You tightly squeeze the bosom (or ass?),
Drawing in as deeply as you can stand, –
As you can afford,
As you can –
The scent of the Belle Dame,
Of a whore, or a choir girl, or a student,
Of a music-hall dancer,
Of Justine, Mary or Greta,
And let the smoke out through your nostrils,
Relishing how the taste
Sinks deep into your stomach,
And then, taking a woman out of your mouth,
You gently slap her at the front or on the back,
Shaking off the remains of love into an ash tray
And putting the body away into a slip –
Till next time.

© Julia Shuvalova 2004
English translation © Julia Shuvalova 2008.

Male Self-Portraits (Philip Scott Johnson)

A year ago I wrote about Women in Art, an artwork by the American digital artist Philip Scott Johnson (aka Eggman913). The artwork has taken the Internet by storm, producing a string of posts, analyses, and – alas – a few pirate versions, as well. Undoubtedly, though, this was one of the most creative works we’ve all seen, and, for one, it showed that all that social media stuff is not just for kids. It is a huge artistic and creative medium and milieu.

In the post in which I observed some obvious peculiarities of the way the Western art has portrayed women I also said:

“unless EggMan is already in the process of doing this, may we kindly ask him to make a film about men in Western art. This subject is no less beautiful, and the controversy that often surrounds it will only expand our perception of Beauty”.

I wrote this in May 2007. There was no communication between Philip and me, so you can imagine my surprise when I have just discovered that he actually produced a video on the subject. But – and this is what makes an artist what he/she is – he didn’t just make a morph of diverse and sundry male faces the Western artists painted over 500 years. This new video is about “500 Years of Male Self-Portraits in Western Art“.
Accompanied by Bach’s Bouree 1 and 2 from Suite for Solo Cello No. 3, this is a breathtaking study of Western vision of the artistic self throughout half a millennium. Opened and closed by the portraits of Leonardo and Picasso, respectively (the two men whose genius no-one seems to doubt), the sequence is visually stunning. Most importantly, however, the visual work penetrates deep into our thinking. It is by itself amazing to see how easily Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) diffuses into Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), or how deftly Jan van Eyck (1395-1441) blends into Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). But when you see Rembrandt’s (1606-1669) grey locks becoming Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) famous white crop of hair, the story takes a completely different turn.

And the story isn’t just about troubled geniuses, the great eccentrics, the talents that continue to inspire virtually everyone up until now. The story is once again about their vision of themselves, and in this respect this video by Philip is an even greater achievement than Women in Art. I wrote about the latter that it was possible to make it partly because the artists were looking at their females from the more or less same angle. Now to see that the artists painted themselves in the more or less same manner makes the difference.

And I can’t help but speak about the merge of Rembrandt and Andy Warhol once again. Even taken on its own, it manifests the continuity in artistic expression, on the one hand, and the impossibility to pin an individual (let alone an artist) down to a certain image, on the other. If we can diffuse a smiling Rembrandt into an intense Warhol, the whole process can be inverted, and we can see Warhol becoming Rembrandt. This means – as far as I am concerned, at least – that there is little difference between a troubled genius and a happy genius. Each of them is an ocean of experience, thoughts and emotions, and thankfully, we have artists like Philip Scott Johnson to let us observe this.

For the list of artists and to leave a comment for Philip, please visit the YouTube page for the video.

A Short Post on Jean Cocteau and Cinema

There must be some curse that doesn’t let me see La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau. Every time it’s on TV I either forget or cannot find time to watch it. Naturally, when I received an email update from Cornerhouse telling me that on Sunday this classic was being screened, I jumped up and down with joy.

I was going to Cornerhouse relishing the thought of sinking into a chair in a dark hall and watching one of Cocteau’s masterpieces. At the counter there was a small queue, which I joined. As I approached the counter, I suddenly noticed a big A4 sheet of paper telling me that all tickets for Cocteau’s film had been sold out.

‘What, completely?’ I asked the guy behind the counter, still refusing to believe that I was missing this film yet again.

‘Yes, completely’, he nodded, ‘we’re sorry’.

Don’t think I blame Cornerhouse, or those people who bought tickets before me. I don’t even blame myself, as it never occurred to me that there might be a lot of people like myself. So, I’m trying to be philosophical and say: never mind.

Sunday was fully rectified on Monday morning, when I woke up to the long-awaited news of Dame Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese each winning an Oscar. I didn’t watch this year’s ceremony. On the one hand, as I have to get up early in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to stay awake at work. On the other hand, I didn’t watch any of this year’s nominated films, but that has to do with personal reasons, rather than an overall change in my attitude to cinema. In addition, last year I was almost compelled to watch the Oscars, as I interviewed Mark Rothemund and Gavin Hood, who were both nominated in the Best Foreign Film category. As we know, Hood’s Tsotsi has scooped the award, and I had one of the biggest balls in my entire life.

Back to Cocteau, I’ve seen Orphee. Cocteau brilliantly reworks the ancient myth, not only through cinematography and imagery of the film, but also through the narrative proper. In particular, in this revocation of the myth, Orphee cannot look at Euridice even after he’d safely transported her from the world of the dead, otherwise she will disappear again.

What I find most interesting is the scene in Cocteau’s film, when Death (Maria Casares) sacrifices herself for Orphee (Jean Marait), so he could return on Earth and continue to please people with his art. As I haven’t yet read Les Ombres Errantes by Pascal Quignard, I cannot say whether in his text the following quotation is somehow related to this scene, or not. Evidently, though, that Cocteau’s scene symbolises the immortality of Art, and Quignard says in his novel:

Les artistes sont des meurtriers de la mort (The artists are the murderers of death).
And as everyone would agree, the myth of Orphee plainly states that ars longa, vita brevis. As do the works of Jean Cocteau.

And to conclude this little post, a brilliant quotation from Jean Cocteau which he dropped in the interview, describing a postal stamp with his portrait of Marianne, France’s national symbol. He explained that Marianne was in fact a secretary’s wife, for which reason he didn’t want to create anything pompous. His Marianne indeed looks like a secretary’s wife, complete with a perm. And he said:

I think this stamp is too conventional, but perhaps it is better this way. When one is licked by so many, it doesn’t pay to be too singular, lest one is licked in disgust.

(The image is taken from the site covering the works of many artists, including, apart from Jean Cocteau, Lee Miller, Albert Camus, Andy Warhol, etc. Pay a visit and discover the amazing work by some of the greatest artists of the past).

On Plagiarism

Blessed be the times when medieval monks simply ‘continued’ the chronicles and annalles that had been started by other monks. Today the family of the monk who started the chronicle could very well have sued the family of the monk who continued it for violation of the copyright.

The question of originality is something that always bothers artists, critics and the audience alike. There’s no point to narrate the perils that have postmortem befallen William Shakespeare or Mikhail Sholokhov because of some scholars’ zealous attempts to prove they were plagiarists. In truth, since our world is so old, originality may be a strange thing to desire, as it’s very likely that there will be oblique links between you and a certain, let us say, Hume, even if you’ve never heard of the chap.

I’m thinking: perhaps the change in attitude to plagiarism has to do, among other reasons, with how people see their place in the world. In the past, when the world’s exact frontiers were still undiscovered and its historic past was still largely undeciphered, to borrow from someone or to openly cite them for inspiration had meant to find links between yourself and this vast territory of the Unknown. It was not considered bad; instead, it gave perspective to your experience and donned importance to anything you had to offer.

These days it’s different, and it seems that people are suffering from agoraphobia. Although they say they like exploring the big world, they in fact always want to get back to their communities and homes. Globalisation, we’re told, is challenged by localisation. There are so many groups and communities, and some of them only exist in the virtual world of the Internet. We didn’t become any more knowledgeable. What the philosopher said is still true. ‘I only know that I know nothing’ – the land of ignorance grows, as the limits of knowledge expand.

Paradoxically, this Brave Huge world scares (to one extent or another) authors of any kind. They want to be unique, but what if they’re doing exactly the same thing now that someone has already done in the past and they simply didn’t know about it? However, even if you know that you’re totally unique (if such thing is still possible today), then you certainly cannot prohibit others from being inspired by your work.

I guess, the best thing to do is to acknowledge the fact that 1) the world is too old, and it’s not your conscience that should be troubled by ‘plagiarism’ but rather that of your predecessor who was a ‘pioneer’; and that 2) inspiration, aside from talent, is among the reasons why we have artists. To conclude, this is the translation of an extract from the talk of Andy Warhol, one of the gurus of Pop Art, with Adrian Darmon:

AD: Where do you find yourself vis-a-vis Picasso?
AW: He’s dead, and I’m in his place. On the artistic level, I think I’ll be a milestone.
AD: Do you take yourself seriously?
AW: I’m doing things seriously, with aesthetic taste.
AD: And without plagiarism?
AW: I don’t understand the meaning of your question. In any case, the artists are inspired by the works of others.

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