Ode on Melancholy

Melencholia I, Albrecht Dürer, 1514

 

NO, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 25
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

John Keats

 

Ode on Melancholy is one of five odes composed by John Keats in the spring of 1819, along with Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Indolence, and Ode to Psyche. The narrative of the poem describes the poet’s perception of melancholy through a lyric discourse between the poet and the reader, along with the introduction to Ancient Grecian characters and ideals.

While studying at Enfield, Keats attempted to gain a knowledge of Grecian art from translations of Tooke’s Pantheon, Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary and Spence’s Polymetis. Although Keats attempted to learn Ancient Greek, the majority of his understanding of Grecian mythology came from the translations into English. Ode on Melancholy contains references to classical themes, characters, and places such as Psyche, Lethe, and Prosperine in its description of melancholy, as allusions to Grecian art and literature were common among the “five great odes”.

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Return to Earth

“…His first touch of the earth went nigh to kill.
«Alas!» said he, «were I but always borne
Through dangerous winds, had but my footsteps worn
A path in hell, for ever would I bless
Horrors which nourish an uneasiness
For my own sullen conquering: to him
Who lives beyond earth’s boundary, grief is dim,
Sorrow is but a shadow: now I see
The grass; I feel the solid ground – Ah, me!
It is thy voice – divinest! Where? – who? who
Left thee so quiet on this bed of dew?
Behold upon this happy earth we are;
Let us ay love each other; let us fare
On forest-fruits, and never, never go
Among the abodes of mortals here below,
Or be by phantoms duped. O destiny!
Into a labyrinth now my soul would fly,
But with thy beauty will I deaden it.
Where didst thou melt too? By thee will I sit
For ever: let our fate stop here – a kid
I on this spot will offer: Pan will bid
Us live in peace, in love and peace among
His forest wildernesses. I have clung
To nothing, lov’d a nothing, nothing seen
Or felt but a great dream! O I have been
Presumptuous against love, against the sky,
Against all elements, against the tie
Of mortals each to each, against the blooms
Of flowers, rush of rivers, and the tombs
Of heroes gone! Against his proper glory
Has my own soul conspired: so my story
Will I to children utter, and repent.
There never liv’d a mortal man, who bent
His appetite beyond his natural sphere,
But starv’d and died…”

John Keats

Endymion (Book IV)

Excerpt

 

Orpheus series, Return to Earth, Fred Holland Day, 1907

Orpheus or Philosophy

Orpheus’ Death, Jean Delville, 1893

 

XI

 

“The story of Orpheus, which though so well known has not yet been in all points perfectly well interpreted, seems meant for a representation of universal Philosophy. For Orpheus himself,—a man admirable and truly divine, who being master of all harmony subdued and drew all things after him by sweet and gentle measures,—may pass by an easy metaphor for philosophy personified. For as the works of wisdom surpass in dignity and power the works of strength, so the labours of Orpheus surpass the labours of Hercules.

Orpheus, moved by affection for his wife who had been snatched from him by an untimely death, resolved to go down to Hell and beg her back again of the Infernal Powers; trusting to his lyre. Nor was he disappointed. For so soothed and charmed were the infernal powers by the sweetness of his singing and playing, that they gave him leave to take her away with him; but upon one condition; she was to follow behind him, and he was not to look back until they had reached the confines of light. From this however in the impatience of love and anxiety he could not refrain. Before he had quite reached the point of safety, he looked back; and so the covenant was broken, and she suddenly fell away from him and was hurried back into Hell. From that time Orpheus betook himself to solitary places, a melancholy man and averse from the sight of women; where by the same sweetness of his song and lyre he drew to him all kinds of wild beasts, in such manner that putting off their several natures, forgetting all their quarrels and ferocity, no longer driven by the stings and furies of lust, no longer caring to satisfy their hunger or to hunt their prey, they all stood about him gently and sociably, as in a theatre, listening only to the concords of his lyre. Nor was that all: for so great was the power of his music that it moved the woods and the very stones to shift themselves and take their stations decently and orderly about him. And all this went on for some time with happy success and great admiration; till at last certain Thracian women, under the stimulation and excitement of Bacchus, came where he was; and first they blew such a hoarse and hideous blast upon, a horn that the sound of his music could no longer be heard for the din: whereupon, the charm being broken that had been the bond of that order and good fellowship, confusion began again; the beasts returned each to his several nature and preyed one upon the other as before; the stones and woods stayed no longer in their places: while Orpheus himself was torn to pieces by the women in their fury, and his limbs scattered about the fields: at whose death, Helicon (river sacred to the Muses) in grief and indignation buried his waters under the earth, to reappear elsewhere.

The meaning of the fable appears to be this. The singing of Orpheus is of two kinds: one to propitiate the infernal powers, the other to draw the wild beasts and the woods. The former may be best understood as referring to natural philosophy; the latter to philosophy moral and civil. For natural philosophy proposes to itself, as its noblest work of all, nothing less than the restitution and renovation of things corruptible, and (what is indeed the same thing in a lower degree) the conservation of bodies in the state in which they are, and the retardation of dissolution and putrefaction. Now certainly if this can be effected at all, it cannot be otherwise than by due and exquisite attempering and adjustment of parts in nature, as by the harmony and perfect modulation of a lyre. And yet being a thing of all others the most difficult, it commonly fails of effect; and fails (it may be) from no cause more than from curious and premature meddling and impatience. Then Philosophy finding that her great work is too much for her, in sorrowful mood, as well becomes her, turns to human affairs; and applying her powers of persuasion and eloquence to insinuate into men’s minds the love of virtue and equity and peace, teaches the peoples to assemble and unite and take upon them the yoke of laws and submit to authority, and forget their ungoverned appetites, in listening and conforming to precepts and discipline; whereupon soon follows the building of houses, the founding of cities, the planting of fields and gardens with trees; insomuch that the stones and the woods are not unfitly said to leave their places and come about her. And this application of Philosophy to civil affairs is properly represented, and according to the true order of things, as subsequent to the diligent trial and final frustration of the experiment of restoring the dead body to life. For true it is that the clearer recognition of the inevitable necessity of death sets men upon seeking immortality by merit and renown. Also it is wisely added in the story, that Orpheus was averse from women and from marriage; for the sweets of marriage and the dearness of children commonly draw men away from performing great and lofty services to the commonwealth; being content to be perpetuated in their race and stock, and not in their deeds.

But howsoever the works of wisdom are among human things the most excellent, yet they too have their periods and closes. For so it is that after kingdoms and commonwealths have flourished for a time, there arise perturbations and seditions and wars; amid the uproars of which, first the laws are put to silence, and then men return to the depraved conditions of their nature, and desolation is seen in the fields and cities. And if such troubles last, it is not long before letters also and philosophy are so torn in pieces that no traces of them can be found but a few fragments, scattered here and there like planks from a shipwreck; and then a season of barbarism sets in, the waters of Helicon being sunk under the ground, until, according to the appointed vicissitude of things, they break out and issue forth again, perhaps among other nations, and not in the places where they were before.”

Francis Bacon
Of the Wisdom of the Ancients
1857

Orpheus Emerged

 

Orpheus Emerged is a novella written by Jack Kerouac in 1945 when he was at Columbia University and was just 23 years old. It was discovered after his death but not released until 2000 (by his estate).

It chronicles the passions, conflicts, and dreams of a group of bohemians searching for truth while studying at a university. Kerouac wrote the story shortly after meeting Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Lucien Carr, and others in and around Columbia University who would form the core of the Beats.

The journal Kerouac referred to as “The Plan For The Novel Galloway,” provides deep insights into Jack’s growing organizational skills. The Galloway notes contain 22 sections which break down potential scenes for the novel, plus there are revelations about Jack’s characters (himself, his family, friends, etc.) and how they would be developed. Although, eventually Kerouac would not choose to include many of these scenes in The Town and The City, he would later utilize some of them in Maggie Cassidy and Vanity of Duluoz. Jack was driving towards a literary feeling, something uniquely his own that could answer his artistic callings. In section 19, Jack wrote: “Whereas, in most novels, the climax of the narrative is dramatic, this, not being so much a narrative as a fugue of moods, must be a musical climax – the climax in Galloway must be referred to as such: – it is not the dramatic outbreak of a narrative’s laborious building up, but sheer triumph erupting like a mood without cause over the mass of life – moods strung and woven thereunto. The same method I applied in Orpheus Emerged, where realism was established in order to vent full and glowing truth of a mystico-spiritual experience…although that work, in itself, was of the poorest quality, really.”

So Kerouac originally planned to write his first novel in an improved but similar style to the experimental short novel Orpheus Emerged. It resembles the work of Camus and Sartre far more than the edited, published version of The Town and The City. Journals from 1943 and 1944 reveal Kerouac’s outline and intended symbolism in Orpheus Emerged and are interesting when compared to Galloway. The charts of symbols are much the same, and the stated themes of both intend to deal with the search of a “young American Artist.” The artist’s search centered around the choice to live life for art or to live it for life itself. Orpheus Emerged pursued this theme through its main character, Michael, who was described as “the genius of imagination and art.” He was a mysterious sufferer who followed his artistic “calling,” yet strangely only shared his poetry and money with a possible twin, Paul, “the genius of life and love.” Both men are 22, they are linked to Marcel Orpheus (also 22) in ways only understandable by the appearance of “Helen,” the beloved of Marcel Orpheus.”

Orpheus, of course, from Greek legend was the gifted poet and musician who after receiving a lyre from Apollo became supernatural is his artistic abilities. Helen, the daughter of Zeus represented the magnificence and joy that beauty can bestow, yet with it came the promise of doom. With the glow of these mythological characters as a back drop, Michael’s story evolved; he was attempting to transcend man’s mortal emotions, and through art achieve immortality. The other characters in Orpheus Emerged, Leo (a bright student possibly based on Ginsberg), Arthur (a student who writes possibly Lucien Carr), Anthony, a struggling alcoholic, and the women who are manipulated by these men, are all mystified by the oddness of Michael’s emotional state. It is only Paul who appeared to have some understanding of and connection to Michael. At an innocuous party, Paul revealed to Michael that: …”She’s (Helen) coming here soon,” which launched Michael into an unexplainable, violent attack on Paul.

This behavior and a subsequent doomed affair between Michael and Marie (Anthony’s wife) began a downward spiral and unraveling of Michael’s personality. In a drunken rage, he rebuked Leo’s attempts to console him while the two men drank in a neighborhood bar. Later, Michael wandered the rainy city streets until, so distraught, he contemplated ending his life by plunging into the cold depths of the river. But Michael decided to postpone his suicidal act because he desired to once more see Paul, and “hurl curses in his face.” Michael found Paul in his room, but also discovered that Helen had, indeed, returned, and in her presence he descended into a complete nervous breakdown. Strangely, he announced to Paul that both of their lives were about to end, and to Helen, he declared that he was not worthy of her for, like other ordinary human beings, he had settled for merely living his life.

The baffling scene ends with Helen holding both men’s hands, and the notion of Michael and Paul being one and the same person, though unstated, was implied. Like the “fugue of moods” Kerouac had promised, the story mysteriously ended with Leo, Arthur, and another student arguing. The men had observed Helen riding off in a trolley car with either Michael of Paul, there is not agreement over which one it was. Finally, Arthur, we are told, reached some understanding of this bizarre episode after finding a note in his mailbox which made reference to and was signed “Orpheus.”

As an unfinished work of fiction, Orpheus Emerged is a strange and tantalizing story that suffers from numerous structural flaws. The lack of clarity, intentional or not, diminishes the novels seriousness, the setting is poorly focused, and the dialog is barely believable. The overall effect is one of sheer bewilderment. Yet, viewed as a journal entry one can better understand that “Orpheus” was more of a thematic experiment, and that Kerouac recognized it to be a stylistic failure. It’s influence on the Galloway journals is also purely thematic. Kerouac’s own artistic journey and his struggles with choosing between the artist’s life and the life he knew from his family and the town of Lowell, undeniably are the source of inspiration. But, Kerouac realized he needed to broaden his scope and therefore wrote The Town and The City in a classically structured style where “the climax of the narrative is dramatic.” He had come full circle from his intentions of style in Orpheus Emerged.

Later in life, Kerouac, no doubt, must have found it annoying when he was said to have been an undisciplined writer. Jack took the brunt of that criticism knowing full well how hard he had worked, in a “disciplined” sense, to evolve into a writer who could write brilliantly from multiple styles: as an objective narrator, a first person confessionalist, an expressive poet, a creator of mythical characters, and a chronicler of history. Kerouac’s journals are the unarguable evidence of the dues he paid.

Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac

During the decade following World War Two, a body of artistic work was created that clearly articulated for the first time, a distinctly American aesthetic, independent of European models. This is not to say that celebrated works like The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Appalachian Spring and Roy Harrisʼ Third Symphony are not recognized as American masterpieces; but their American characteristics are expressed through content, rather than form or methods of production. Fitzgerald and Hemingway all furthered their apprenticeship in Europe during the 1920s while Copland and Harris studied in Paris with Boulanger. It remained for the next generation of the avant garde, living for the most part in New York, to create original schools through the modes of Abstract Expressionism, the new chromatic jazz of Be Bop, and the literature of the Beats. The singly most important characteristic of the new American expression was the central role played by spontaneity and improvisation yielding works of astonishing vibrant surface detail.

The emphasis on the spontaneous as an alternative to the careful and rational reflected larger cultural and philosophical issues. In seeking a subjective, existential view of reality, honesty, authenticity, were prized over the objective world view, process over product. Whether expressed in gesture painting, spontaneous bop prosody, or the chromatic flights of bebop, the emphasis was on the experience, rejecting the academic craftsmanship of revision as antithetical to the glorification of the now.This emphasis plus the incorporation of elements from African and Native American sources were interpreted as an attack on the privileged hegemony of the Anglo-American academy. Beat writers were ridiculed by proponents of the New Criticism who vaunted T.S. Eliot as their model. Kerouacʼs spontaneous prose was dismissed as “mere typing” by Truman Capote. While mainstream journals such as Life magazine devoted some attention to abstract art, it was more often of a patronizing nature, referring to Pollock as “Jack the Dripper”. The new jazz faced opposition even within its own ranks, even prompting a revival of New Orleans music, now called “Dixieland”. Louis Armstrong dismissed bop as making about as much sense as “Chinese music”. So with its fusion of modernist complexity with vernacular) or “street”) immediacy the new art represented a third alternative to European elitism and mainstream pop culture. In an even larger context, the avant garde of the late 1940s represented a reaction to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Gulag – the latter having a dampening impact on the leftist Communist idealism of the 30s. Whether implicit in words or explicit in painting and music, the avant garde became a central voice in the new bohemian counterculture criticism of United States political and corporate globalization with its strategy of cold war xenophobia and domestic consumerism. The full effect of this will not be fully realized until the mid 1960s when the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Viet Nam galvanized many to question the policies of the government.

 

Jackson Pollock photographed by Arnold Newman for LIFE Magazine, 1949

 

Charlie Parker, at the Carnegie Hall, New York. Photo by William P. Gottlieb, 1947

 

Jack Kerouac in his Long Island home displaying one of the scrolls on which he composed his books, unidentified photographer, 1964.

 

Three artists, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), and Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), play a central role in the emerging post war avant garde, each incorporating elements of spontaneity to their arts. The outline of their biographies shows many similarities. Roughly of the same generation, each were born and raised in provincial settings, Pollock in Cody, Wyoming, Parker in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. Each came from working class blue collar maternally dominated families, with dysfunctional (Pollock and Kerouac) or nonexistent (Parker) relationships with their fathers, Pollock and Kerouac becoming highly misogynistic. Each produced their most important work in New York beginning around 1945, where they all habituated the same Lower East Side and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, often hanging out in the same bars and coffee houses. All three experienced difficult personal lives, cut short from substance abuse resulting in early deaths (Pollock at age 44. Parker at 35, and Kerouac at 47). What is of great interest is the mutual interest and influence among the artistic intelligentsia of the period. Much of Kerouacʼs innovative spontaneous prose sketching achieved most notable in Visions of Cody and The Subterraneans were heavily indebted to his sophisticated knowledge of jazz. Several of the “choruses” in Mexico City Blues are profiles of Parker, Lester Young, and other musicians. Lee Krasner, Pollockʼs wife, has documented the painterʼs interest in jazz as well as classical music. Night Clubs, such as the Five Spot, doubled as jazz venues as well as art galleries.

 

 

A Pollock painting illustrates the cover of Ornette Colemanʼs, Free Jazz, released in 1959. Some artists worked in several disciplines, most notable saxophonist Larry Rivers who became a prominent painter, composer-novelist Paul Bowles, pianist-poet Cecil Taylor, and poet-painter-composer Weldon Kees. Poetic recitation with jazz, begun with Kenneth Patchen and Charlie Mingus included performances at the Village Vanguard with Kerouac who recorded with tenor men Zoot Sims and Al Cohn as well as recited on television with Steve Allen backing him up on piano. The image of these performances, with their “beards,bongos and beatniks” became simplistic cultural clichés in the late 1950s. perpetuated by the mainstream media in an attempt to trivialize and ridicule the movement. To reiterate the central thesis of this argument, the main thread that unites this rich period of American creativity is the use of improvisation for the purpose of creating art characterized by great emotional and intense expression.

 

American Zeitgeist: Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac
Randall Snyder
(Excerpt)

Black Orpheus

Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus, 1959). Poster by Helmuth Ellgaard for the German release

 

Black Orpheus is a 1959 film made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus and starring Marpessa Dawn and Breno Mello. It is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes, which is an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in the modern context of a favela in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. The film was an international co-production between production companies in Brazil, France and Italy.

The film is particularly noted for its soundtrack by two Brazilian composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose song A felicidade (The Happiness) opens the film; and Luiz Bonfá, whose Manhã de Carnaval (Carnival Morning) and Samba of Orpheus (Orpheus’ Samba) have become bossa nova classics. The songs sung by the character Orfeu were dubbed by singer Agostinho dos Santos.

Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film and the 1961 BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In the last case, Brazil was credited together with France and Italy.

It was cited by Jean-Michel Basquiat as one of his early musical influences, while Barack Obama notes in his memoir Dreams from My Father (1995) that it was his mother’s favorite film.

 

The movie trailer can be watched on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=tn_tnmn

Heritage Depicted in Art

Untitled (History of the Black People), Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983

 

According to Andrea Frohne, this Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s painting “reclaims Egyptians as African and subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilization”. At the center of the painting, Basquiat depicts an Egyptian boat being guided down the Nile River by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the earth and vegetation.

On the right panel of the painting appear the words “Esclave, Slave, Esclave”. Two letters of the word “Nile” are crossed out and Frohne suggests that, “The letters that are wiped out and scribbled over perhaps reflect the acts of historians who have conveniently forgotten that Egyptians were black and blacks were enslaved.” On the left panel of the painting Basquiat has illustrated two Nubian-style masks. The Nubians historically were darker in skin color, and were considered to be slaves by the Egyptian people.

Throughout the rest of the painting, images of the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed with images of the Egyptian slave trade centuries before. The sickle in the center panel is a direct reference to the slave trade in the United States, and slave labor under the plantation system. The word “salt” that appears on the right panel of the work refers to the Atlantic Slave Trade, as salt was another important commodity traded at that time.

On the right of the painting the words “Memphis Thebes Tennesee [Tennessee]” are written in black on top of white paint. Thebes is a city in Ancient Egypt, which is also a Greek name. Historically, Memphis, Tennessee holds a painful past for the black race. It was one of the most racist cities in the U.S. Before racist segregation laws were implemented, Memphis was also apart a large slave-trade market. Memphis, Tennessee is also the place where activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

 

 

As the Arabians Do

Norman Rockwell preparing to enter a mosque

 

 Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). Sharif’s first English-language role was that of Sharif Ali in David Lean’s historical epic. This performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor.

 

Irish actor Peter O’Toole studying for his role as T.E. Lawrence. Photo by Dennis Oulds

 

Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

 

Robert Pattinson as Lawrence of Arabia in Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog, 2015), based on the life of British traveller, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer and political officer Gertrude Bell.

 

Candice Bergen and Sean Connery in The Wind and the Lion (John Milius, 1975)

 

Virginia Woolf (far left) and her friends, dressed as Abyssinian dignataries, 1910

 

Truman Capote in Tangier (Morocco)

 

Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh

 

Christian Louboutin purchased a villa near the Nile river

 

Cy Twombly in Egypt. Photo by Tatiana Franchetti

Treatise on The Veil of Orpheus

“Before, I used to smoke and look, because smoking is very conducive to stimulating the mind. Finally I had to stop because it was overstimulating my lungs. I sort of work off and on and I usually paint eight hours and never eat. And I might have some wine to stimulate a free passage of thought. And I used to have always music playing.”

Cy Twombly

 

Cy Twombly photographed by Robert Rauschenberg, circa 1953

 

Treatise on the Veil (First Version), Cy Twombly, 1968.

 

Treatise on the Veil was inspired by Pierre Henry’s 1953 avant-garde musical composition, (Le voile d’Orphée I) The Veil of Orpheus, which records the tearing of a piece of cloth. In his translation of aural to visual phenomena, Twombly reduces his subject matter to its simplest parts, distilling and crystallizing its formal components so as to strengthen its visceral effects.

The first version of Treatise on the Veil is all the more revealing in this light. More succinct and deliberate in his line, Twombly heightens the contrast between form and background. The rectangles spring from the inky sea beneath them, emphasizing the artist’s mille-feuille technique.

 

Pierre Henry using induction coils to control sound spatially.

 

Veil of Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1968

 

Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1979

 

Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1979

 

To listen to Pierre Henry’s composition, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

The Canvas Like a Giant Notebook

La botte à nique, Jean Dubuffet, 1971. The present work by Jean Dubuffet forms part of a portfolio of screenprints with reproduction drawings and texts by the artist

 

Apollo and the Artist, Cy Twombly, 1975

 

Plush Safe-He Think, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1981

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work functions in similar way to Cy Twombly’s; the canvas becomes more like a giant notebook page than a finished composition, with words and images, along with scratch marks and other artifacts of the thought process, intermingling freely as a pictorial representation of a train of thought. The work is really a portrait of Basquiat; what he is thinking about, who his influences are, he wears them all on the surface of his canvas like a patch on his sleeve. René Ricard sums it up beautifully later in the article:

 

When Jean-Michel writes in almost subliterate scrawl “Safe plush he think” it is not on a Park Avenue facade that would be totally outside the beggar’s venue but on a rusted-out door in a godforsaken neighborhood. Plush to whom safe from what? His is also the elegance of the clochard who lights up a megot with his pinkie raised. If Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet had a baby and gave it up for adoption, it would be Jean-Michel. The elegance of Twombly is there but from the same source (graffiti) and so is the brut of the young Dubuffet. Except the politics of Dubuffet needed a lecture to show, needed a separate text, whereas in Jean-Michel they are integrated by the picture’s necessity. I’d rather have a Jean-Michel than a Cy Twombly. I do not live in the classical city. My neighborhood is unsafe.

Hérodiade

Heriodade, Cy Twombly, 1960

Herodiade takes its title from Mallarmé’s dramatic poem and includes direct quotations from the poem transcribed onto the canvas.

 

I. ANCIENT OVERTURE OF HÉRODIADE

The Nurse

(Incantation)

Abolished, and her frightful wing in the tears

Of the basin, abolished, that mirrors forth our fears,

The naked golds lashing the crimson space,

An Aurora—heraldic plumage—has chosen to embrace

Our cinerary tower of sacrifice,

Heavy tomb that a songbird has fled, lone caprice

Of a dawn vainly decked out in ebony plumes…

Ah, mansion this sad, fallen country assumes!

No splashing! the gloomy water, standing still,

No longer visited by snowy quill

Or fabled swan, reflects the bereaving

Of autumn extinguished by its own unleaving,

Of the swan when amidst the cold white tomb

Of its feathers, it buried its head, undone

By the pure diamond of a star, but one

Of long ago, which never even shone.

Crime! torture! ancient dawn! bright pyre!

Empurpled sky, complicit in the mire,

And stained-glass windows opening red on carnage.

The strange chamber, framed in all the baggage

Of a warlike age, its goldwork dull and faint,

Has yesteryear’s snows instead of its ancient tint;

And its pearl-gray tapestry, useless creases

With the buried eyes of prophetesses

Offering Magi withered fingers. One,

With floral past enwoven on my gown

Bleached in an ivory chest and with a sky

Bestrewn with birds amidst the embroidery

Of tarnished silver, seems a phantom risen,

An aroma, roses, rising from the hidden

Couch, now void, the snuffed-out candle shrouds,

An aroma, over the sachet, of frozen golds,

A drift of flowers unfaithful to the moon

(Though the taper’s quenched, petals still fall from one),

Flowers whose long regrets and stems appear

Drenched in a lonely vase to languish there…

An Aurora dragged her wings in the basin’s tears!

Magical shadow with symbolic powers!

A voice from the distant past, an evocation,

Is it not mine prepared for incantation?

In the yellow folds of thought, still unexhumed,

Lingering, and like an antique cloth perfumed,

Spread on a pile of monstrances grown cold,

Through ancient hollows and through stiffened folds

Pierced in the rhythm of the pure lace shroud

Through which the old veiled brightness is allowed

To mount, in desperation, shall arise

(But oh, the distance hidden in those cries!)

The old veiled brightness of a strange gilt-silver,

Of the languishing voice, estranged and unfamiliar:

Will it scatter its gold in an ultimate splendor,

And, in the hour of its agony, render

Itself as the anthem for psalms of petition?

For all are alike in being brought to perdition

By the power of old silence and deepening gloom,

Fated, monotonous, vanquished, undone,

Like the sluggish waters of an ancient pond.

Sometimes she sang an incoherent song.

Lamentable sign!

the bed of vellum sheets,

Useless and closed–not linen!—vainly waits,

Bereft now of the cherished grammary

That spelled the figured folds of reverie,

The silken tent that harbored memory,

The fragrance of sleeping hair. Were these its treasure?

Cold child, she held within her subtle pleasure,

Shivering with flowers in her walks at dawn,

Or when the pomegranate’s flesh is torn

By wicked night! Alone, the crescent moon

On the iron clockface is a pendulum

Suspending Lucifer: the clepsydra pours

Dark drops in grief upon the stricken hours

As, wounded, each one wanders a dim shade

On undeciphered paths without a guide!

All this the king knows not, whose salary

Has fed so long this agèd breast now dry.

Her father knows it no more than the cruel

Glacier mirroring his arms of steel,

When sprawled on a pile of corpses without coffins

Smelling obscurely of resin, he deafens

With dark silver trumpets the ancient pines!

Will he ever come back from the Cisalpines?

Soon enough! for all is bad dream and foreboding!

On the fingernail raised in the stained glass, according

To the memory of the trumpets, the old sky burns,

And to an envious candle it turns

A finger. And soon, when the sad sun sinks,

It shall pierce through the body of wax till it shrinks!

No sunset, but the red awakening

Of the last day concluding everything

Struggles so sadly that time disappears,

The redness of apocalypse, whose tears

Fall on the child, exiled to her own proud

Heart, as the swan makes its plumage a shroud

For its eyes, the old swan, and is carried away

From the plumage of grief to the eternal highway

Of its hopes, where it looks on the diamonds divine

Of a moribund star, which never more shall shine!

Stepháne Mallarmé

 

The poem Hérodiade was in fact never completed, but there is little doubt that the scene between Herodias and her nurse (the only part published under Mallarmé’s supervision) dates from 1864 to 1865. The heroine of Hérodiade is the biblical character more generally known as Salome, but Mallarmé may have preferred the alternative name so as to emphasize that he was concerned not with the sensuous dancer of popular legend but with an ascetic figure who is repelled by the slightest contact with the sensual world, and who, in the later, uncompleted stages of the play, was to demand the head of John the Baptist because he had inadvertently caught a glimpse of her naked body.

Arcadian Painters

“I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time.”
Cy Twombly

 

Study of The Triumph of Pan, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1636

 

The Triumph of Pan, Nicolas Poussin, 1636

 

This depiction of a mythical celebration shows nymphs and satyrs revelling before a statue of Pan, the god of woods and fields. Pan’s identity in this work may have been combined with that of Priapus, a deity of gardens. Both are associated with fertility and Bacchic ritual. The painting contains a number of literary and visual references; the instruments being played, the sacrificial deer and the props in the foreground are all either attributes of Pan and Priapus, or are linked with such rites. These include panpipes, theatrical masks (comedy, tragedy and satire), and a shepherd’s staff.

This painting is a milestone in Nicolas Poussin‘s career, and shows him with characteristic rigour reforming his style by turning to the examples of classical antiquity and the early Renaissance. For his contemporaries it must have seemed like a reversion to primitivism, but it nevertheless established the basis of the style which was to serve him for the rest of his career.

This picture was commissioned by Cardinal de Richelieu and dispatched from Rome to Paris in May 1636. With its companion, The Triumph of Bacchus (Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), it was designed to form part of the decoration of the Cabinet du Roi in the Château de Richelieu. There are a number of preparatory drawings by Poussin for this painting, including some in the collection of H.M. The Queen at Windsor Castle.

 

The Triumph of Bacchus, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1636

 

In 2011, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London) organised a revelatory exhibition of the work of Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly. This major show explored, for the first time, the unexpected yet numerous parallels and affinities between the two artists.

In 1624 and 1957, The two artists, aged around thirty, moved to Rome (in 1624 and 1957 respectively). Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly spent the majority of their lives in the Eternal City, and went on to become the pre-eminent painters of their day. Rather than recent exhibitions that have sought to compare and contrast old masters with contemporary artists through superficial visual appearances, this groundbreaking show instead juxtaposed works which may seem radically disparate in terms of style, yet ones that share deep and timeless interests. Both Poussin and Twombly were artists of prodigious talent who found in the classical heritage of Rome a life-long subject. Both spent their lives studying, revivifying and making newly relevant for their own eras antiquity, ancient history, classical mythology, Renaissance painting, poetry and the imaginary, idealized realm of Arcadia.

Curated by Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern, the exhibition examined how Twombly and Poussin, although separated by three centuries, nonetheless engaged with the same sources and explored the overlapping subjects that the two artists have shared.

 

Pan, Cy Twombly, 1975

 

Bacchanalia-Fall (5 Days in November) Blatt 4, InvNr. UAB 457, Cy Twombly, 1977

 

Pan II, Cy Twombly, 1980

Pan — Double Villanelle

Pan teaching his eromenos, the shepherd Daphnis, to play the pipes.

Second century AD Roman copy of Greek original c. 100 BC, found in Pompeii

 

I

O goat-foot God of Arcady!
This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of thee?

No more the shepherd lads in glee
Throw apples at thy wattled fold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!

Nor through the laurels can one see
Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of thee?

And dull and dead our Thames would be,
For here the winds are chill and cold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!

Then keep the tomb of Helice,
Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold,
And what remains to us of thee?

Though many an unsung elegy
Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Ah, what remains to us of thee?

II

Ah, leave the hills of Arcady,
Thy satyrs and their wanton play,
This modern world hath need of thee.

No nymph or Faun indeed have we,
For Faun and nymph are old and grey,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!

This is the land where liberty
Lit grave-browed Milton on his way,
This modern world hath need of thee!

A land of ancient chivalry
Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!

This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of thee!

 

The Painter of Pan’s Dionysiac woman, on the Kolonettenkrater in the Altes Museum, Berlin

 

Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!

Oscar Wilde

Objects that Must Be Protected

Louise Bourgeois, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1982

 

“Everything I loved had the shape of people around me—the shape of my husband, the shape of the children,” Louise Bourgeois has said. “So when I wanted to represent something I love, I obviously represented a little penis.” In the 1960s Bourgeois began constructing hanging sculptures and using a variety of materials—here plaster and latex—to create organic, fleshy sculptures that recall the human body.

 

Fillette, Louise Bourgeois, 1968

 

Fillette (Sweeter Version), Louise Bourgeois, 1968-89

 

The title of this emphatically phallic sculpture means ‘little girl’, an ironic disjunction of word and object. In fact, while it most obviously represents a phallus, it can can also be seen as a female torso. In this in this reading, the two round forms are the tops of two legs, attaching to their hip joints. This eliding of genders creates ambiguity, as do the work’s dual qualities of erect potency and fragile vulnerability.

Bourgeois has talked about this work in relation to her experiences as a wife, and a mother to three boys, which led her to see masculinity as far more vulnerable than she had imagined. ‘From a sexual point of view I consider the masculine attributes to be extremely delicate’, she explained. ‘They’re objects that the woman, myself, must protect.’