Archive for Culture

Chardin and Stillness

Chardin‘s only child committed suicide.  The great still life painter had lavished a classical artistic education on his son,  (Chardin hadn’t received such an education himself, but had longed for it).  The boy had tried, struggled not very diligently, started many paintings, finished few, and at the age of 41 threw himself into a canal in Venice.  Chardin was 72.

So there’s a horrofic irony in the still lifes that Chardin had spent his whole life painting.  Arranged in softly arresting forms; pots, pitchers, fruit, and more often than not, dead game or fish; a rabbit, or a bird, draped carelessly among the mix or hung from a wall.  Recently killed, an opaque eye or a limp paw unsettles the otherwise peaceful scene. 

 Chardin’s paintings give new meaning to the gently oxymoronic term “still life”.  The objects are excessively still, the game completely lifeless, the painted scene could only be in a room where no people are or have been within the hour; that solemn limbo time between the morning hunt and preparations for the midday meal; after death but before the participation in life.  Chardin captured it unerringly time and time again.

And those seven years after his son had died and he lived on?  I’ve wondered a little, vaguely, and not until now giving the question a form, whether those years were those still lifes, taking the form of his own . . .

2007 Treasures To Be

So many things planned for 2007. We’ll be introducing, all hail with flashing marquee lights . . . etched glassware, paper mache bowls, boxes, even wastepaper baskets glinted and bewired (this is not your kids paper mache) (unless they’re paper mache prodigies who want to work for us!) and a whole new Glintlit subdivision, Glintlit Publications; handmade greeting cards, more bookmarks and books, and if it works out (we’ll know by summer, designing and testing the prototype now) a Glintlit planner.

I personally will be adding a gallery of my cozy little snake paintings, an obsession that’s slithering it’s way onto the canvas.

AND new blogs are in the works on our adventures in nutrition, literary retreats and current cultural events in Cincinnati!

2007 is dawning soon, tomorrow!, in iridescent shades, streaked, striped, and shimmering with promise.  We’re looking forward to it all with an irritating complacency . . .

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Gold and an Abdicated King

The third wiseman had been a king, the ruler of a small kingdom far to the southeast of the Roman Empire.  Many years before, he had abdicated his throne to a son and retired to his payrus scrolls, his correspondence and his preparations.  When the time came and the stars were falling into positions, he had had a long time to consider an appropriate gift.  Feeling it was in inadequate but being the most honorable thing he owned, he chose his own gold crown, the crown he had removed to ready himself for a long journey and his role as witness.  Unwieldly to carry, he melted it down himself, had a box created for it and, with small faith his rheumatic bones would complete the journey, he left to rendezvous with his companions . . .

This, of course, was another Glintlit flight of fancy, and yet, as with anything fictional there may be a small amount of truth lodged in our psyche somewhere. 

Gold.  The history behind it is immense.  The latest is the most fascinating of all.  There’s been research to show that microbes could play a role in the development of gold.  That’s life.  Gold is not entirely the cold, impersonal metal that it’s been maligned to be.  Both frankincense and myrrh come from the resin of trees, the sap that flows like blood through the veins of trees, and now we have life at the birth of gold.  It’s taken us 2000 years to find out just how appropriate the third gift was.

This our tribute to gold . . .

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Georgia O’Keefe as an American Icon

Georgia O’Keefe has become a mythical figure; a solitary woman ensconced in the landscape of New Mexico.  As a young woman she “saw” another woman’s husband, eventually married him, and later still, experienced the emotional turmoil of his philandering.   Through her work it was obvious she identified with her femininity to an almost overwhelming degree.  But it was femininity with a core of iron.  Her features were strongly beautiful, an integral face, and she lived in a starkly lovely New Mexico with what amounted to an adoration of the land.

Last year, in September, I was lucky enough to be able to see a lot of her work in one place at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. I left proud of being female and American.  She represents, and thus transcends, us all.   Emotionally fragile beneath a veneer of reserve,  tough as cactus spines when it mattered, content in her solitude . . . I understand all that.  I think many women do who’ve weathered marriages, moral collapse, and time, and emerge with a clearer of picture of themselves.  Georgia O’Keefe was all that we are, expanded it onto her canvas, and like the perceptual scale of her paintings, became bigger than life.

Cave Art and the Modern Girl Scout

This weekend was spent making like a snake at Bluesprings Cavern Park in Indiana, slithering in and out of passageways sometimes knee and elbow deep in water, crawling commando style over over rubble rock, or crouched in a room with a low-hanging roof and hearing the surprisingly comforting drip drip of a leaky faucet that wasn’t a leaky faucet but instead water filtrating from the surface a hundred feet above us.  The Girl Scouts and attached adults such as myself ended up tired, dirty and wet, but highly exhilirated.  Changing into dry clothes we spent the night in a large hollow area above a subterranean waterfall, startled a bat hibernating just over our sleeping heads, and came out into the morning sun a little surprised to find the sky so far above us.

The experience has filled my head with a new appreciation for the cave art found all over the world.  (There was none at Bluesprings unless you count nature’s intricate carvings of it’s own natural materials).  Ten thousand years ago, people blew soot around their hands, hundreds of them, and left a highly personal mark.  Kilroy was here; the first Kilroy, long before anyone could write Kilroy, maybe not much longer after human beings learned to communicate by speech, calling each other by names.  Surely these early artists had names.  Naming appears early, often first in our mythologies, and from there a desire to leave that name, to leave a mark.

Sharks. Jets. Mary loves Joe.  This room was funded by a generous donation from Mr. and Mrs. William Smith.  I am Kilroy. I was here.

And here I am, ten thousand years later, blowing ash around my hand to leave a mark.  My name is Denise Thea.  My cave wall is cyberspace.

Piranesi’s Utopia OR The Grandfather of Surrealism Etches a Brave Old World

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (the Italians have such musical names!) labored his whole life to build a new Rome upon and among the stones of the old Rome.  The concept for the most part stayed on paper but . . .

Piranesi was an architectural artist, born near Venice in 1720 (nothing much seemed to be happening that year), but by the time he died in 1778 (the American Revolution was in full swing) he had helped usher in Neoclassicism.  That may sound a little dull but it meant he was a catalyst for a visionary new world.  His grand dreams pretty much fell on deaf ears, but in the wake of his attempt he left us with the most amazing etchings and a new way of thinking. 

Those etchings did, in effect, change the world, not so much how people lived but how people saw, felt, and even dreamed.  They were the stepping stones to new imaginative heights.  His prison staircases prefigured Escher’s staircases .  He served as an impetus for Surrealistic movement.  He presented strange perspectives of renewed ruins and passive “modern”  figures peopling the debris of the ancient Roman world.  His series on prisons, subterranean caverns with endless stairways and enormous arches, are the most famous, but my personal favorite is “The Ancient Intersection of Via Appea and Via Ardeatina”.  It looks as if the antiquities section of the world’s museums had been raided and the booty piled one on top the other to tower over the streets.  A grand history left to decay as tiny people gape and point and go about their daily lives.  In Piranesi’s time, anyone wandering around Italy would have seen isolated instances of this; the rocks of ancient civilization left to the vines and moss.  We have virtuously sterilized what we can in museums to protect it all, but Piranesi has embedded the romance of it in our consciousness (even if we’ve never laid eyes on his etchings before) because surrealism took his fantasies and sprouted them with new distorted dreams.   Marc Chagall, Man Ray, Max Ernest,  Yves Tanguy, Rene Magritte, and Salvador Dali, all owe a debt to Piranesi for opening the collective unconscious to the surreal.

People who spend their lives to fulfill a vision of a better world are fascinating.  Whether those strivings are actually reached isn’t as important as the fact that portions of humanity are capable of thinking far bigger than themselves.  And I’ve come to believe that the expense of human energy is never left unrewarded.  If, as so often happens, the world precludes the vision from becoming envisioned, the effort itself leaves resonances that change the world.  Sometimes even beyond that imagined in the initial dream.   

As it turned out, Piranesi’s dream to change the world’s architecture was far too small.  Instead he changed the world’s mind. 

Van Gogh’s Shoes

Everybody seems to know about Van Gogh’s ear.  Tragic. Bloody.  Slightly comic.  And a shame.

It’s not something he would have liked.  That story isn’t a true portrait of the man.  Deeply ill, struggling in the morass of a mind that refused at times to rein itself in, his act of disfigurement and the world’s continuous harping on it is as unfair a picture of him as if you, the reader, were caught on film, vomiting, the last time you were seriously ill.  It’s not fair.  You were sick.  That’s not YOU.

What images, after all, best describe a person.  Not THAT. No. But surely, a portrait.  Van Gogh had many: his own face, a favorite flower, the house where he lived, the room where he slept.   But of all the paintings that he brought so eagerly into the world, it’s the shoes that affect me the most.

Beautiful brown beleagured boots. “A Pair of Boots, 1887”, “A Pair of Shoes, 1885”and “Three Pairs of Shoes, 1886” . Painted as if they’d just been taken off and tossed into a corner.  Every crack in the leather earned from tramping through the streets or the fields.  His last painting of shoes and the only one at Arles was “Shoes, 1888”.  The painting rests now at The Met.  They probably weren’t his shoes  (most likely there were those of the peasant Patience Escalier) but they sit on the tiles of the yellow house at Arles where Van Gogh lived and first began struggling with the outer manifestations of his illness.  These homey cracked shoes are an especially poignant portrait of an artist who was, beneath it all, a good, kind man.

We bring our own associations to the painting we see.  No painting can ever be seen in isolation.  The artist can tweak and change that vision, but we can not escape from our humanity and we view each piece through our own lens distorted by our past. 

Those shoes . . . they resemble the ones my uncle wore.  He, too, was mentally ill.  He lived into his sixties, but he struggled his whole life with schizophrenia.  He, too, was a gentle, unworldly, intellectual person who would not have liked to be remembered for his moments of confusion, but instead, perhaps, for a picture I have of him on a boat as a young man, long before he had gotten sick. 

He and a buddy had gone on an extensive and hazardous sailing trip into the Caribbean.  They returned intact.  Someone on the shore had snapped a picture.  And there they stand, two young men who look as if they had gathered the world, held it, and released it again.

“If you love something, let it . . . ”

There are, after all, landscapes to be painted while wearing worn and weathered shoes.

And if living outside the boundaries of a photograph or a painting is a little uglier than the pictures may imply, at least there remain portraits unsullied by the pain and confusion that will come later . . .

Skin Diary by Stephen Irwin

The Speed Art Museum in Lousville, KY has an amazing installation art.  Skin Diary by Stephen Irwin (no, not the sorely lamented crocodile guy).  Walking into the room one feels as if one has fallen, very gently, through a wormhole and entered a negative universe on the other side.  The walls are white.  The Japanese Sekishu paper hung in a line all around the room is soft, delicate, and white.  The ink seeping through the paper in various spots is in purple shades occasionally verging on black.  It looks eerily like the pictures of galaxies taken from space, lovely but . .

personally I hate horror movies and those bruises on that beautiful white paper has the same effect on me as the shadows found only in the creepiest horror films. 

But it was quiet and only a whisper of air barely undulated the paper in a slow random wave.  There’s a place to sit in the center and whether one will or no, breathing slows and something not quite peace, but a mirror image of it, rolls over and around.

I was at the museum a few weeks ago and I still can’t get that room out of my mind.  And sometimes I think I want to. It borders on disturbing.  The beauty of it makes it even more disturbing.

There’s a picture of the room at but like most pictures of this type of art, it can’t begin to do it justice.