CYCLADIC ART – marble mysteries

"The ecstasy of unheard melodies"

“The ecstasy of unheard melodies”

He plays the lyre.  He has been doing that for almost five thousand years.  He played so well then that he inspired someone to hew marble from stone and make a figure of him.  I saw pictures of him before I walked up to the glass case in the Archaeology Museum in Athens where he was. But he was not the only one from that time and that place.   I soon discovered that the lyre-player himself was atypical, but his head, ecstatically back as he plays, was what impressed me.  Other figurines gazed at me across the millennia.

The silent gaze

The silent gaze

The Cycladic Islands are east of the Mycenean peninsula in Greece.  This Aegean culture is said to have flourished from 3,300 to 1,100 years B.C. and art-wise, they stand entirely apart from Crete, Egypt, the Middle East and Greece.  For this reason they have wielded fascination since archaeologists began finding them.  Made from marble, the figurines range in size from 10 cms in length to almost human size.  In style, they are always distinctively Cycladian.

Faceless mystery

Faceless mystery

The speculations around what role they played in the culture are many.  Some maintain that the figurines were images of goddesses and were used in rituals.  Some believe they were toys.  Others think that, as votive figurines, they had fertility or funerary functions.

What strikes me about them is how contemporary they feel.  The stark simplicity and geometric formality could very well have been done by modernist artists early in the 20th-century.  In fact, Constantin Brancusi, considered as the father of modern sculpture by some, produced work akin to the Cycladic spirit.  An aspect of modernism (roughly 1890 – 1930) was to abandon traditional form and seek out the primitive.

Two thousand years B.C.

Two thousand years B.C.

Brancusi, 1920

Brancusi, 1920

Another thought is the total contrast between the feminine figures of the Cycladics to the prehistoric feminine figures who are broad, heavy and thundering.  The Venus of Willendorf is one example.  It is almost as if the Cycladics were heralding a changing world.

"Earth-bound goddess", 28,000 years ago

“Earth-bound goddess”,                     28,000 years ago

They haunt me, these figurines.  They are enigmatic in their facelessness.  The majority are feminine, elegant and pure in form.  It is hard to think that they came from gross stone.  The speculations about them heighten the mystery.  They are poised, indifferent to our attempts to understand them; their power is ethereal.  If they had to be represented by music it would be with a single, soft, unbroken note.  They are other-worldly.

From another world

From another world

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Source

Wikipedia

Images

Ecstatic player of lyre – sasgreekart.pbworks.com

Cycladic collection – source lost

Cycladic figurine – source lost

Head of Idol – Modigliani-drawings.com

Brancusi form – getty images

Venus of Willendorf – commons.wikipedia.org

Cycladic woman – source lost

 

 

 

   

 

 

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ANTHEMS and the burning in the nose

The new dispensation in South Africa in 1994 made for a combo-national anthem, an unusual and thoughtful arrangement.  It has been satisfactory, as far as I know, for most people.

C. J. Langenhoven

           C. J. Langenhoven

“Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”/ “The Voice” was written by C.J. Langenhoven (lyric) and M. de Villiers (music) between 1919 and 1921.  The lyric is a poetic description of the vast beauty of the country, becoming, in a subsequent stanza a hymn of dedication.  The pain of the Anglo-Boer war, less than 20 years before, was fresh in their minds.

Enoch Sontonga

               Enoch Sontonga

“Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika” was written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897 and is a hymnal prayer embracing the entire continent, asking for blessing and for the “war and suffering” of African people to cease.  It came after a bloody 19th-century and 500 years of slavery.

Rouget de Lisle

                        Rouget de Lisle

“La Marseillaise” was written by Rouget de Lisle during the time of the French Revolution in 1792.  It is a marching song for soldiers.   The lyric is bracing  ̶   “The bloody flag is hoisted”.  Then it goes darker.  “They (the enemy) … cut the throats of our sons and comrades … May their impure blood irrigate our fields.”  And this is against a nameless “tyranny”.

South African flag

                                 South African flag

If the lyrical tones of these three anthems diverge, the music stirs me, yes, burns in my nose.  I heard and sang “The Voice” once a week for many years in the school where I taught and it is part of the seams in my brain.  “Nkosi” I first heard as a schoolboy when the principal bid the working staff to sing it for the school, an experience that I have never forgotten.  The three-to-four-part harmony remains with me.

Impression of the French flag

                      Impression of the French flag

These days the “Marseillaise” is sung more frequently, spontaneously, in public.  It was moving to see the entire French parliament rising to their feet to sing it, something which had not, I believe, happened since World War 1.  It was January, 2015, after the terror attacks in Paris.

A peculiar fate it is to be touched by three national anthems.  Perhaps I should get done and sing “La Internationale”, except that the melody was pilfered in the 1920s in South Africa and the lyrics, in Afrikaans, praise, in a heart-felt way a place of birth, a beautiful farm  ̶  rather different from the original lyrics.  (See “O Boereplaas”)

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Source

Wikipedia

 

Images

Enoch Sontongo – timeslive.co.za

C.J. Langenhoven – azquotes.com

Rouget de Lisle – fr.wikipedia.org

South African flag  –  getty images.co.uk

French flag – windows10free.org

 

Nicolas de Staël

 Through a half-open door I see a painting on the wall of a consulting room  ̶  a close-to-abstract nude with long black hair.  It’s a work by Nicolas de Staël and inspection shows it’s the original, which says something about the income of this eye specialist.

Nu couché bleu, Antibes, 1955

Nu couché bleu, Antibes, 1955

It is this image which was used as a poster for a retrospective on the artist’s work.  And that in House Grimaldi, a 15th-century building constructed on Greek and Roman foundations, and it’s fitting:  the studio of the artist in his final years was literally around the corner from this museum, “seventy paces,” in his own words.

Seagulls, Antibes, 1955

Seagulls, Antibes, 1955

I saw the exhibition.  He was known for abstract work, the form characteristic of modernism.  One critic says that De Staël tightropes between abstraction and figurative painting.  Another says his painting works like “superb iceberg, with the beauty of frozen crystalline forms …”  I saw falling, rising blocks of autumn colours, grey against black … I confess that it moved me not.  Abstract painters that speak more to me are Delaunay, Mondriaan and Kandinsky.  Perhaps if I lived with a De Staël, viewed it each morning with my coffee, I’d see the inner logic.

His life story touches me.  He was unusually tall and Time magazine describes him as “husky” at the time of his exhibitions in America in the early-1950s.  He was born in Russia, his parents fleeing the Russian revolution in 1917.  Both of them died in Danzig and the boy was adopted by a Belgian family; hence, the Flemish surname.  They soon saw the talent and sent him to Paris.  For the next twenty years he took abstract painting to another level.  His untimely death, by his own hand, was a great loss for art.  He was 41 years old.

de-stael-face

Two of his paintings haunt me.  The one is the nude in repose.  She is overwhelmed by a plane of unbroken red over her and it would seem if she (probably the artist’s wife) is tiring of this posing business and is about to turn over to sleep, if you look at the rising leg.  It was her spirit, her feeling, he painted, not her appearance.

The second is the image of Fort Carrée which he could see from his studio window over the harbour.  It’s almost abstract.  The little white blocks are probably yachts and the fort itself, brave and luminous on the promontory, stands against a deepening black and leaden grey which also darken the foreground.   These two works early in 1955 were amongst his last.

Fort Carrée, Antibes, 1955

Fort Carrée, Antibes, 1955

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Source and images

Bruno Racine (ed.) –  Nicolas de Staël.  (Centre Pompidou, Paris.  2003)

Nicolas de Stael, un automne, un hiver – Musée Picasso, Antibes.  2003.  The quotation has been freely translated from: ” La peinture … enchante, à la maniere d’un superb iceberg, par la beauté des ses formes figées en cristaux …” (p. 33)  – Valentine Marcadé.

 

 

 

 

BERLIN WALL

It was the year 1972.  My wife and I drove from the border between West and East Germany on the highways built by Hitler in the 1930s.  The surface was badly pockmarked.  All around the landscape of East Germany seemed to be lying fallow to us, in contrast to West Germany where every inch was manicured.

West Berlin, an island behind the iron curtain, was a vital, progressive city with much of interest.  We’d planned to see East Berlin as well.

The Wall museum on the western side was an experience of triumph and tragedy honouring those who had tried to escape East Berlin.

Monument for those who attempted escape

Monument for those who attempted escape

At Checkpoint Charlie, the crossover point, we passed the guard in his American uniform sitting behind a comic book.  He hardly looked up.

Then, the no-mans-land … an unforgiving strip with steel x’s, thick rolls of barbed wire, and the Wall, a metre thick and, in some places, four metres high.  And this is where there had been the belle époque promenade Unten den Linden before the war.

Nomansland, Berlin Wall

No-mans-land, Berlin Wall

We gingerly trod the narrow path amongst the rolls of barbed wire, most aware of the machine guns trained on us from faceless watch towers.  On the east side of the crossover, a phalanx of border guards surrounded us, checking our passports with suspicious efficiency.  We too, were checked.

I remember East Berlin as broad, deserted streets with charcoaled ruins from the war, twenty-seven years before, here and there, the badly-lit museums and the slogans, not a corner without them.

Graffiti, a cross and the Wall

Graffiti, a cross and the Wall

I’ll admit :  when I left East Berlin it was with a grossly-simplified notion that this system was not an alternative economy;  it was a machinegun.

Seventeen years later the Wall came to a fall and soon after, the Soviet Union splintered.  In 2014 the Germans celebrated a quarter of a century without the Wall, as well as the reunion of the country.  Pieces of the Wall at the time were given to various countries, including South Africa.  It is exhibited on St George’s Mall in Cape Town.

A message to South Africa

A message to South Africa

The experience of the Berlin Wall shook me.  Today it disturbs me to hear of a leader somewhere who builds, or threatens to build, a wall to solve political differences.

                                        Something there is that doesn’t love a wall  ̶   Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Drawing by Walter Hanel

Drawing by Walter Hanel

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Images

Monument  –  urbaneukraine.wordpress.com

No-mans-land  –  gedenkstaette.de

Wall, cross and graffiti  –  dreamstime.com

Piece of Wall  –  mashable.com

Drawing  –  ros.sarosedesign.com

 

 

 

NEFERTITI – “The Beautiful One cometh”

 You can stand next to her, as I did 40 years ago in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.   It was a rare privilege for me then and I ask, Did I appreciate it?  What would such appreciation actually mean?

In the presence ...

                         In the presence …

I remember hearing that German archaeologists were no longer welcome in Egypt  ̶  they had made off with this prime patrimony, but, as with the Elgin Marbles, the Germans stood fast.

T.S. Eliot told us that art doesn’t improve.  Painters, sculptors, frieze-makers before and since the Egyptian millennia have not again achieved what the Egyptians so richly attained  ̶  the integrated balance between stylized and naturalistic expression.  Nowhere is this achievement as striking as it is in the Nefertiti bust, made around 1350 B.C.

I do remember thinking how contemporary the beauty of this figure is.  Even now, in 2016, I can easily find a comparison in someone like Angeline Jolie in Hollywood.  But Nefertiti is more elegant, stronger and yes, stylized.  There is energy in the features, a characteristic of so much Egyptian art.  What is the precedent for that energy?

nefertiti-bust

The closest for me is the art of the Khoi-San people of Africa.  The depictions of animals in their rock art are amongst the most accurate, naturalistic in art history and they are static.  The human figures, stylized, stride across Africa and beyond.  There is energy.  In Egyptian art this polarity becomes one.

Rock art, Castellon, Spain

Egyptian soldiers

                             Egyptian soldiers

To get poetic, Nefertiti is for me what a goddess could look like.  Yet that visage is sensual.  She is with us, keeping a magnetic distance.  She gazes out over the heads of people, the landscapes, the curve of the earth.  Mona Lisa looks at you and is there a smile?  A smaller world, and, as much as she intrigues me, she doesn’t turn me on.

So, do I appreciate Nefertiti?  Does anybody?  How can we appreciate someone so heavenly, so earthy?

The profile

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 Images

Bust – internaute.com

Bust  ̶  femmecelebres.com

Egyptian soldiers ̶  nilewavetravel.wordpress.com

Rock art, Castellon, Spain (source lost)

Profile – kingtutone.com

 

 

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