Sunday, December 18, 2011

Coping mechanisms when longing for Paris

It has been seven months since I returned from Paris and through that time I've been incredibly fortunate to remain so inspired from the French cultural transfusion.  I have started nearly 50 paintings in this past calendar year and remain at a creative level I've never experienced before.  Despite my drunken swooning from the experience I am longing to get back. So I thought I'd resurrect my posts leading up to next May and share some of my coping mechanisms.

Last spring I was open to almost any type of art and how I might assimilate other art forms into my work.  I love going to the museum and finding art objects from antiquity that I can place in my work. At the time a major influence was developing in my subject matter: the inclusion of Greek red and black-figured vessels. I enjoyed the narrativity as well as the formal simplicity of the pieces and started off by posing my models in ways that reiterated these art objects (or responded contrastingly to these images).  I'll post some examples in another post, but wanted to share some really wonderful books I've read that went along with those ideas.

I remember purchasing a used book in undergrad, The Cambridge Introduction to Art: The Art of Greece and Rome by Susan Woodford.  There was this simple description of the bronze "Dancing Faun" that I enjoyed reading (see top image below).  Years later on my own trip to Pompeii (circa 1998) I remember seeing a copy of the piece on location (bottom). Its my understanding the original that was found in the late 19th century excavation is in the Museo Nazionale in Naples. The recollection of my travels to Pompeii and the inspiration that has emerged, has happened in ways (and intensity) I never would've thought possible.  That too, will be another post.

This summer when I was going overboard ordering used books on line I found another book by her called, Images of Myth in Classical Antiquity along with H. A. Shaprio's Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece.  Both were of great inspiration and clarity in explaining the narratives and how they evolved. Other books that fall into this category or are simply books I found interesting on Pompeii/ Myth are: Diana at her Bath: The Women of Rome by Pierre Klossowski, The Great Mysteries of Archeology: Pompeii by Tatiana Pedrazzi, Gods and Heroes in Pompeii by Ernesto De Carolis, Women and Beauty in Pompeii by Antonio d'Ambrosio, Eroticism in Pompeii by Antonio Varone and Eros in Pompeii: The Secret Rooms of the National Museum of Naples by Michael Grant.

Several other books which I've enjoyed (and to keep from being depressed by not being in Paris) are David McCullough's recent work, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, A Key to Louvre: Memoirs of a Curator by Michael Laclotte, Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes and finally, one of my favs this past summer: Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World by Jed Perl. I reread Walter Pach's bio on Ingres, which is titled after the artist. Also love Kenneth Clark's two chapters on Ingres in his book, The Romantic Rebellion: Romantic versus Classical Art. I also scored a wonderful book that I can't read because its all in french called, Ingres and the Antique. Its a wonderful collection of Ingres' studies from Greek art.

One exhibition I'm really looking forward to seeing is the Degas and the Nude show.  It's only visiting two venues: the MFA in Boston through Feb. and Musee d'Orsay afterward. Luckily, I get to see both shows and am so excited.  This will be yet two separate posts, one for each show.  There have been a number of great online reviews and a nice podcast on NPR.  They can all be found here:

Degas and the Nude - Boston's MFA

Degas and the Nude- Musee d'Orsay

Degas and the Nude on NPR's Podcast

Degas and the Nude on Christian Science monitor

Degas and the Nude on

The exhibition catalog is decent as well.  I really enjoyed the interview with Lucian Freud regarding some of Degas' work, imagery and approach. The last major Degas exhibit I saw was the Degas: Beyond Impressionism show at the Art Institute in Chicago in 1997.  Killer.

In an effort to sustain myself until I fly to Boston, I've chose to try several French-themed recipes to satiate my growing need to be back in Paris.  There are a number of books I have on French cooking, which I love as I try to learn to make some of these dishes. I read Kate Whiteman's The Food Lover's Guide to the Gourmet Secrets of Paris. Its a nice collection of both staple recipes and descriptions (and locations) of markets by arrondissements.  I just found Barefoot Contessa's Barefoot in Paris and had already tried a recipe from it (Lentil Sausage Soup) that a close friend of mine shared with me.  I am reading The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells, which I scored at Half Priced Books.

There are some other cookbooks that appear to be quite popular now as well.  Picasso: Bon Vivant by Ermine Herscher, Monet's Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet written by his grandaughter, Claire Joyes, Renoir's Table and Cezanne and the Provencal Table both by by Jean Bernard Naudin, and finally, the one I was looking at this morning, Celebrating the Impressionist Table by Pamela Todd.  After walking the dog, I decided it might be a good way to tailgate for the Degas Exhibits. I love football as much as art and figured they should both receive equal consideration. :)  And so, perusing through Todd's book I found this pic and realized what I was making: Soupe a l'Oignon au Gratine .

I began by shopping and getting some ingredients I did not have such as gruyere cheese.  I was reading the label of the cheese and it nearly brought tears to my eyes, like the Degas plates. It reads:

"This is the difference cave-aging makes.  Raw, whole cow's milk,  aged for 12-14 months produces an enormous 80lb wheel that is dense, creamy and immense in flavor. Saline, beefy, and fruity sharpness pervades the firm paste of this Swiss gem; small crunchy bits serve as evidence of careful patient aging.  They are the beginnings of amino acid clusters, and offer an unexpected respite from mouthfuls of smooth, savory cow's milk."

As I started slicing the vidalia onions I purchased and put on a mix cd of French music, mostly from the turn off the century, and mostly from a cd I purchased from the Art Institute of Chicago called Music, Paris and Degas. I started off with Django to get me hopping since I am not overly excited with veggie prep. Not exactly what I was listening to, but close:

The onions hit the skillet with garlic, thyme, sizzling butter (gasp!).....

and then covered and turned them down low to simmer for 30 minutes.

I put on Yvette Guilbert's Le Fiacre and then Paulette Darty's Amoureuse:

I  took the wrapping off of the gruyere cheese and it smelled heavenly- like a $15 chunk of cheese is supposed to.

I grated some of the cheese, and sprinkled it on two baguettes I purchased at Panera, and threw it under the broiler until it melted and turned golden.

I must say that I started sneaking chunks of the gruyere and it was absolutely stunning.  I then drank about half a bottle of cabernet that I purchased for the soup during the rest of the prep. Not sure if it is an appropriate choice of wine to be paired with the cheese, but thought it would since they are both ingredients in the recipe.

At this point Erik Satie's Gymnopedies played, along with Chopin's Mazurka in C Major, and my favorite Opus 17, no. 4- all by the amazing Rafal Blechacz, Nora Shulman's Arabesque No. 1 for Flute and Harp, and Debussy's Pagodes.  Perhaps, because of the amount of wine (4 glasses...blush), it was an amazing atmosphere.  The cabernet and beef stock were both added and brought to a boil.

The baguettes were cut up into sections and thrown in under the broiler a second time.

After they were lightly toasted (crunchy, but not browned) I placed them in a pan and grated more gruyere.

I spooned in the soup, which smelled heavenly, over top and completed two layers.

After 20 minutes, the cheese had melted and I kept it under the broiler for about another 4-5 minutes to brown it up a little more. Turned out great....

As its cooling now I'm reading excerpts from Richard Kendall's Degas by Himself, (which has great letters and journal entries by Degas) at the kitchen table while my dog is whining at the smells wafting through the house by the cooling stove.  I'm ready to devour this soup like I'm ready to devour those wonderful nudes in Boston and Paris.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Traveling to Brussels

Sooner or later I knew Paris would end and we would be heading to Brussels.  I've only been to Brussels twice, and both times to the airport, which I don't really think qualifies.  I was most interested in going to the museum there and, on a more light-hearted note, having the original 'french' fries at Maison Antoine- and possibly with Eddy Merckx if I spotted him.

 After packing I left Paris on a bus and settled into doing some sketching while listening to Adele.  I was really fired up on some new ideas for my figure paintings after lecturing at the Musee Rodin and wanted to commit them to paper. My lines looked like Daumier sketches riding the bus! It was good to go "inside" and start thinking about some ideas that were percolating.  Looking out the window was pretty plain so no distractions there.  For the most part the country side was fairly common interspersed with wind farms like this one.

Arriving in Belgium I was happy to see cycling imagery alive and well in the city.  I didn't have time to search out any cycling stores, but imagine there are many.  It was nice seeing all of the Giro d'Italia updates on the tv news even though there was too much Contador for me.

We stayed in a wonderful hotel that is not advertised.  Many diplomats and figures stay here on business trips due to all of the EU functions hosted here. The place was well equipped with numeric-coded locks at the main door and my room was really set up nicely with WI-FI, full bathroom (can't tell you how wonderful a 30 minute bath is after only having a shower for two weeks) and a queen sized bed with Tempur-pedic mattress.  In addition they had a stocked kitchen that we were able to have full access to- free of charge.

I had a window that let in a lot of light and provided a view on the enclosed courtyard.

First stop walking through Brussels was at the famous Maison Antoine to taste the original french fry.  A close friend tells me they are twice fried.  (As your close friend I can tell you they are delicious!) They came with a number of dipping sauces including curry.  We each got a little basket and beers were ordered all around.  I tried a cherry beer to help wash them down.

We went to the Grand Place that evening. It was brimming with people as we walked through many  narrow streets.  The cafes and restaurants were starting to fill up and had many displays like this one.

The first thing to know about consumption in Brussels is that beer, waffles, chocolate and mussels reign supreme.  For me, I could use these as a food group strategy! They are all outstanding from what I tried. My friend had me try the belgian waffles with her at Findlay Market back in Cincinnati this spring and they were amazing as well (all of her suggestions have been great :)).  However, these bad boys in Brussels were really loaded and must have weighed a half a pound!

I did manage to take some photos of the Grand Place at night and it was even more stunning with the lights. Here are two pics from the many I shot in the piazza.

Several of us went looking in search of the Delirium Cafe.  The cafe has pink dancing elephants for its logo and over 2500 (!) in stock including 25+ on tap.

The place was located at the end of a street and was really busy.  The downstairs was so smokey and busy that many of us decided to go back upstairs.

The next day we set out for the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium ( I had never noticed any paintings being there so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I guessed they might have some Rubens, some Flemish stuff, maybe some Metsu or Maes and some filler. Wow.  I underestimated the collection...BIG TIME.  Look at these babies!

They had some amazing paintings that I don't have here including some huge Rubens' paintings.  If I can clean some of the photos up, I might add them here later.

We spent the remaining part of the day shopping for souvenirs. and managed to get clear photo of the famous "Boy peeing" sculpture.  The strange subject celebrates the myth of the little boy peeing on a lit stick of dynamite to help save the city, but there are many more listed on wikipedia:

There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388) a similar statue made of stone. The statue was stolen several times. In 1619 it was replaced by the current bronze statue, created by Franco-Flemish Baroque sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy, father of the more famous Fran├žois of the same last name.
Another story (told often to tourists) tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.
Another legend was that a small boy went missing from his mother when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A city-wide search began and when at last the child was found, he was urinating on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue erected as tribute to the well known fable.
Another legend tells of the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.

In the end Brussels was enjoyable and provided some down time, though I was already longing to go back to Paris, and dreading saying goodbye to all of the students and people I had grown so close to in sharing these experiences.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Latin Quarter and Vietnamese

I feel very lucky to have met such wonderful people on this trip.  One of my favorites has been Varena Forcione, a former assistant curator from the Louvre's Inventory of the Department of Prints and Drawings. She worked for a number years as an assistant on northern 16th century Italian drawing.  She and I had a wonderful chat over Vietnamese food last week.  The conversation quickly got into Italian artists we loved and discussed our mutual love of Pontormo.

I had mentioned several of the Ingres and Delaroche drawings that were at out on display during a visit to the Louvre and that I was considering copying some Ingres drawings next year.  Varena suggested I determine a list of drawings that I am considering and when I arrive the box will be there with the drawings pulled.  She said that its more time consuming to process individual drawings and that you are unable to just ask for an artist.  Here are two pics of the drawings we were talking about.

A number of us were out at a vietnamese restaurant, which was as wonderful as the conversation.  I began with a beef salad and wonderful teriyaki/ ginger-like pork.

We left the restaurant and headed back walking through the Latin Quarter.  The sun was setting and was throwing gold and amber all over the Pantheon.  For a moment I was transported back to Florence where light like this is a common occurrence.  It was yet another example of the beauty that was found there on a daily basis.