Posts from — September 2012
The Impressive Levant:
On September 23, 2012, the first sessions of the symposium on Orientalist Arts in Levant took place in the United Arab Emirates. The rare symposium of art historians occurred in concert with the Levant Exhibition inaugurated by His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
The exhibition included a selection from Al Qasimi’s collections among 171 lithographs by more than 30 orientalist artists from different European countries. The symposium was inaugurated by HE Abdullah Al Owais, President of the Department of Culture and Information, at the Department headquarters in Al Layah area. The inauguration was attended by Mr. Hisham Al Madhloum the Director of the Arts Directorate and a host of researchers, art critics and historians, and visual arts lovers.
Al Owais said in his Opening speech, “The symposium highlights many aspects associated with orientalist art creativity in Levant. The research papers in this symposium have dealt with the most prominent features and historical eras related to orientalist arts, and analyzed the aesthetics, the approach and the printing techniques of the orientalist paintings.”
While many papers were presented at the Symposium, Ragazine.CC has selected one that appears to capture the essence of what the others explored in detail. We will be glad to share these with you upon request. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first session was run by Dr. Abdel Karim Al sayed, included paper works and presentation for documentary film about lithography. Participating in this session were Yaser Al Dweik from Palestine; Dr. Maha Sultan from Lebanon; Dr. Sami bin Amer from Tunisia; and Abdullah Abu Rashid from Syria. The second and final session on the 24th, which took place at the Department of Culture and Information headquarters, included Abdel Karim Al Sayed from Palestine; Ghazi Eneem from Jordan; Mohammad Mahdy Hemaida from Eygpt, and Emad Al Armashi from Syria. We present Mr. Hemaida’s paper here.
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By Mohammad Mahdy Hemaida
The 19th century Orientalist paintings of the Levantine countries selected from the collection of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to be displayed in the Levant Exhibition provide specialists with a distinctive opportunity to have realistic visual records of places and life in this part of the world. Such records, produced using different artistic styles related to the Orientalism, opened a limitless horizon of visual details that could not be verbalized by passersby. Such richness in detail is only one of the things that gives these paintings their timeless appeal.
In essence, the Orientalist paintings were in general realistic mirroring of places at the time, capturing aspects of life of people and their traditions, nature, worship, sustenance and professions. This gives the paintings an additional role as documents recording the history of man and the environment in the region within their topographic setting, giving the place its distinctive features.
In the paintings of places in Palestine, we find a strong presence of famous towns as well as architectural and natural landmarks, including Jerusalem, Al Khalil (Hebron), Nazareth, Ramallah, Akka, Askalan, Gaza, Jaffa and Bethlehem. Among villages, valleys, oases and lakes, there are paintings of Tiberia (Sea of Galilee), Qarawa Oasis, Kidron Valley, Silwan Valley (siloam), Moriah Mountain, Olive Valley, Ain Hood Village near Carmel and Djebeah near Rihan Mountain. There are also other religious places such as Pulpit of Omar Mosque, Tomb of the Virgin in Jerusalem, Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Encampment of the Pilgrims at Jericho, Church of Resurrection, the tomb of Joseph at Nablus, and the tomb of Zechariah. We find also views of deserts, plains, mountains, orchards, ruins, and springs.
While the views of Palestine were produced by a multitude of artists about a century and a half ago, reproducing an overall panorama of the Country within an integrated and clear scene is nevertheless a plausible possibility. Based on such prospect, modern viewers can have a complete image of a civilization that has been a home for the sacred sites for the three faiths. Such obvious integration – theoretically – is ascribed to the artists’ faithful, realistic approach to the subjects of their paintings. This is especially true when it comes to the right distribution of lights and shadows, proportional measurements, horizontal and vertical succession of layers, and logical transition from clear foregrounds to less definite backgrounds. This is in addition to palettes that are almost identical due to their faithful recording of their scenes. The adoption of available printing techniques in Europe instead of manual depiction, mainly lithography, by those artists to produce their artworks added to their documentary value. Collecting large-size print books at the time was in fact a common practice among European aristocrats and a manifestation of refinement and art appreciation.
A significant number of artworks by Orientalist artists about Palestine – as in their paintings of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other North Africa countries – provide us with extremely refined and enchanting images of wide scenes from elevated perspectives. Indeed, the views were depicted by artists from mountaintops, highlands, minarets, or available towers to maximize observances and reach remote skylines. The objective was in general rendering artworks that respect the grandeur of places with expanses that succeeded each other to the remotest backgrounds creating deep views fading away within yet clear images.
This said, I can conceive digital technologies being used now to process and assimilate many of these artistic renderings whose structures and perspectives are compatible to reproduce an overall visual structure that can accommodate limitless potentials. Through an endeavor of such originality, we can approach a universal scene that is distributed among individual paintings that only a very sharp and knowledgeable memory can conceive in a single setting.
In the selection of Palestine’s paintings, there are records of structures that are more or less still existing architectural monuments. Some of them have been partially collapsed or renovated. For example, Samuel Prou’s painting from a sketch made by T. Katherwood in 1835 provided the details of the Omari Mosque’s pulpit. The Mosque, the oldest in the city, was built in Jerusalem at the same place were the Khalifa Omar spread his gown on the ground to pray a stone’s throw away from the Church of Resurrection after receiving the Church’s keys from the Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem. He did so to eliminate any prospect of changing the Church into a mosque by Muslims.
The displayed collection includes also a painting by William Henry Bartlett from 1838 depicting the city of Akka’s walls that defeated the French invaders in 1799. According to “Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948” by Walid Khalidi, the history of the city dates back to the 9th century B.C. In 1847, Bartlett made another panoramic painting of the city depicting several figures of a congregation among tombs in its foreground, in addition to other dispersed groups of people through a deep perspective with a clear view of the Dome of the Rock (ed.: a Muslim shrine built over a sacred stone believed to be where Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven.)
Again in 1850 Bartlett produced a further painting for the architectural structures in Jerusalem. It demonstrated the Tomb of the Virgin. On 431 AD, Patriarch Juvenal protected it by building a church over it and again in 490 AD Emperor Maurice built a basilica over the old one.
Bartlett’s Tomb of the Virgin in Jerusalem dated 1838 depicted the interior of the Church with its huge Roman pillars in its original shape as built by the Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century in the place where Jesus Christ was born.
David Roberts produced a panoramic collection of paintings of Al Khalil, Askalan, Gaza, Jaffa, Akka and Bethlehem, in addition to the churches of Nativity, Resurrection, St. Saba, St. George, and st. James.
In the same, many sites in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan were recorded. In the collection about Lebanon, there are depictions of ruins near Tyre, Siniq River, Tibnin Castle, Baalbek, Waterfall of Jizzine, Qamoo Al Hirmil, Greater & Lesser Temples of Baalbec, Der-el-kamar, palaces of Beteddein, Tripoli, Port of Beirut and Citadel of Sidon.
In Jordan, there are great views of Petra, the Fords on the Jordan, Plain of the Jordan, Dead Sea, Encampment of the Pilgrims, Tomb of Aaron, Excavations at the Valley of Petra, and Fortress of Akaba.
Views from Syria include Kalat Schemma, Banias Cave, Hermon Mountain, Barada River, Turtosa, approach to Antioch, Damascus and plain of Latakia.
The Levant Exhibition displays paintings for more than 3o Orientalist artists, the most known among them are David Roberts, W. Finden, Muller, J. Jacottet, Eug. Ciceri, Laurens, Deroy, L. Sabatier, Terry, W.H. Mc Farlane, Danas, W.H. Bartlett, C. Stanfield, Hon. W.E. Fitzmaurice, Wheley, J. Williams, S. Prout, A.W. Callcot, E. Benjamin, C. Bentley, Whimper, J.M.W. Turner, P. Meerer, Harley, Bacheher, Daniaud, Deshayes, R. Meeder, S. Fisher, and T. Allom.
The selection of artworks bears a great artistic value. The accomplishments of those artists could indeed record and perpetuate historical features that – unless for their timeless creations – would have been lost forever. Thanks to them, today researchers have a treasure of credible visual documents about aspects of our history where so many have been lost forever.
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 Walid Khalidi; Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History Of The Palestinians 1876-1948, the Palestinian Studies Organization, Beirut, 3rd version, 2006. P 259
September 25, 2012 Comments Off on Art News: The Levant Exhibition
Interview with Nikolai Buglaj
“… Art in itself, if you just pursue it all the time, is just career building.
Anybody, who is building a career is going in a straight line to nowhere, in my opinion.
I learned that from (John) Cage, (Sari) Dienes, and others….”
By Josè Rodeiro and Christie Devereaux
July 19, 2012Nikolai Buglaj was born in Polish Belarus in 1942 and came to the United States as a nine-year-old child of WWII. Buglaj is a master draftsman. Over the past forty years, he has managed to establish himself as an acclaimed and noted fine artist in a unique way without compromise and always on his own terms. After receiving a Masters of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute, Buglaj worked for famed industrial designer George Nelson and also worked on the Seville World’s Fair and Motorola Museum. In 1979, he exhibited a major thought-provoking installation at P.S. I titled “Four Identical Rooms.” In the early ‘90s, Buglaj decided to devote himself primarily to the fine arts. He generated a series of intellectually intriguing drawings based on the concept of perceptual illusion while exploring varying topics, such as cultural, political, economic and racial illusion. His current work proposes a 3-D installation that facilitates the viewing of the environment by incorporating the environment’s milieu into the illusion. Therefore the environment becomes part of the illusion. His art delves into an essential question about our perceptions that will leave any rational minded person, when looking at his art, asking, “Is this cultural illusion or merely perceptual illusion?” At present, Buglaj lives and works in Manhattan. The below interlocution between Buglaj, and New York City artist Christie Devereaux (see Ragazine.CC Volume 8, Number 3) and Dr. José Rodeiro occurred in Madison, New Jersey, during a visit to Rodeiro’s quaint and charming Tudor home (against the backdrop of the monumental whitish-gray structure that houses the New York Jets’s indoor training stadium, which resembles an architectonic “Mont Sainte Victoire”).
CD: In general, artists want to share their work with the public. What is the rationale for not wanting to show your work?
NB: Well, I don’t look at my work as single paintings or single works of art. I never saw it as putting up paintings or sculptures, etc. That process never hit me. My work is about bringing out what is within your perceptions and keeping what is hidden out in the open all the time. My work claims that illusions, cultural illusions, hide perceptual illusions, or vice versa, perceptual illusions hide cultural illusions. If I bring attention to them, then they pop out. Thus, the distortion in what we perceive makes reality become more visible. Hence I am saying that the work of art is distortion itself.
I don’t want what is being distorted to be the main goal of my art or my art process. Hence, my pieces are extremely simple, almost simple minded. They get to the point, because in my art there’s “no art” attached to it; for that reason, I desire that no poetry be attached to it, because people are over preoccupied with poetry and art. One reason I don’t show is because people hunger too much for art. They don’t hunger for the process itself that underlies art; instead, they want ART (as a finished object). With the process of distortion itself, they always want to attach an image to the distortion, consequently, the big issue in my work has been to just stay with the distortion itself without getting sidetracked by what is “being distorted.”
CD: Would you say that the process is more important than the product?
NB: The process is more important because the product is what goes on the wall. The process is constantly more important. So in a way, the process between two paintings or sculptures is what is more important. The two paintings or sculptures are two illusions. One could be a sculptural illusion or a cultural illusion or a sexual illusion, etc. The other one could be purely a perceptual illusion and both are end products. The push/pull in-between perceptual illusion and cultural illusion is far more important and exciting to me than the tedious concept of ART.
CD: If perceptual illusion is the underpinning concept for your inspiration and work. Why does the topic intrigue you and how does it relate to your personal history and experience?
NB: That’s an interesting question because I’m Mr. White Man. I’m not the underdog. When I consider the friends that I have and my environment, I’ve been privileged in many ways. Poverty is not an issue with me. I’m lucky. I was fortunate to be born with certain innate ability to experience that awareness. Thus, there is something in my mind that’s open to people who have not experienced that and are not as lucky as I am. So I picked up right away on it as a child. So, it was important for me to over-exaggerate the magnitude of my being rejected and diminished, etc. This opened my mind and made me more aware of what’s going on in the world. The truth is that in our society, we are the freest people on earth and richest, etc. And, I know underneath it all that this sense of rejection is a basic cover up for the real stuff that is going on deeply within.
CD: Therefore it is a perceptual illusion.
NB: Now a very, very clear example of the illusion at work is “Three Men in a Room” (Racial Optical Illusion). It’s so clear. There’s almost no art to be seen there. But it’s like that on purpose. There are three guys in a room, a white man, a black man, and a brown man. The room, which is actually created by the U.S. flag, is exaggerating the size of the white man, which is perceptual illusion at work, because he is in actuality identical in size to the other figures. That perceptual illusion is so clear in the drawing that it almost hides the cultural illusion. The cultural illusion is basically the intermingling of class and status, which is hidden. One of the first people of note to notice that message in my work was Dr. Henry M. Sayre. He later wrote about it in the book Writing About Art published by Pearson-Prentice Hall. Some of the other illusions, the illusion of progress being hindered by the actual progress, which is going sideways is illustrated by thirteen men racing sideways in which racial progress and class progress are actually going sideways. When I say “class progress,” in my case, I have a subtle reference to “class” by using the color of people’s shirts to indicate their societal status, such as the blue collar and white collar, so that you have class denoted by the actual color of their clothing. People’s race is denoted by the color of their skin. In reality the mobility is all going sideways and nothing is going forward except for the illusion of people seeming to run forward. It’s a complete contradiction to what is actually happening. So you have all these various conflicts of illusions layered one on top of the other. One thing opens up and the other thing is hidden. The hidden portion is opened-up and something else is hidden. I bring to the viewer an open process that unwraps (opens) more and more, so that nothing is ever closed up.
JR: When you were starting out 40-50 years ago, you were very much attracted to the art of Ad Reinhardt. You focused on his work especially the Black Paintings where he used lamp black, ivory black and other different types of black all in exact squares. You kept saying, “This is what I want to do.” Then you ended up doing this art that appears to people that are not alert that you are doing representation, but in actuality you’re distorting representation in order to do a kind of Reinhardtesque thing.
NB: Oh yes. The allusion to Reinhardt is very clear in one of my drawings where there is a slum area and superimposed is a black rectangle. To see the poverty that is inside the black rectangle it takes time. It takes time, in a similar way, it takes time for your eyes to adjust when you move from darkness to light. In like manner, your mind must adjust to see what’s going on in society. Ad Reinhardt’s painting is the same way, because it requires time to truly see what is going on in the black rectangle, which, in my case, isolates poverty. Therefore, I call the piece “Poor Timing.” It’s a play on the term “time,” but, in that context, the black rectangle is inside a white neighborhood. Reinhardt’s concerns were more formal, while mine are iconological.
JR: Yes, that’s very much like Reinhardt.
CD: Can you tell me about any other defining moments in your life that influenced your particular artistic path?
NB: I can tell you one thing. I studied Industrial Design and that was a defining moment for me, in a way, because it pushed me towards fine arts. It’s not as though I was attracted to something. That was clearly pushing me in a direction. Also , the society as such, growing up in the ‘60s and going to school in the ‘60s, it opened up all of those perceptual doors for me to pass right through, because it was such a beautiful and interesting “open” epoch in history.
JR: As a follow up to what Christie was asking, what were your experiences as a child growing up during WW II. What was it like?
NB: I was born in ’42. I was passed around by my mother’s sister, my aunt, who died about five years ago. I didn’t know my mother that much because she passed away. My experience, I was born in ’42, as a result, I would have been three years old at the end of the war. Basically, I was passed around by these people until I met my stepmother, who married my father in around 1948.
CD: And where was that?
NB: That was in Germany. So my introduction to a stable family life was sort of late for a child. I guess, I was around six years old at that time.
JR: You were in displaced-persons’ camps (“DP-camp”) at the end of the war?
NB: For a while, in the beginning.
JR: Then your father found you?
NB: Then, I guess, my father found me. I was too young to remember. I don’t remember my real mother. She died young.
JR: You were about five when you were in a displaced persons camp?
NB: I think so; maybe . . . four or five.
JR: At what age did you arrive in the United States?
NB: I was nine years old. I went toNew Jersey outside of New Brunswick. It’s a small town, so I got exposed to small town life in the United States, seeing the USA, for the first time, through the eyes of a nine-year-old kid living in central New Jersey. I never was exposed to blacks or minorities of any kind. Accordingly, the reality of what was going on was completely beyond my parameters until my parameters slowly started increasing, once I started going to Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. Then slowly I got hooked on the new things that my parameters were attached to, like art, etc.
JR: During the height of the Viet Nam War you entered the military.
JR: Talk about how you rose to officer status in that organization, the U.S. Army.
NB: Well, I wound up in the military because I didn’t want to be drafted as an enlisted-man. So in reality, I went into ROTC and went in as an officer.
JR: And that was in high school?
NB: No, no, ROTC was done at Pratt. They had a ROTC program. I don’t know if they still do. Once I got into the army, I quickly formed friendships with basically pacifists, people who were pacifists in the army. I remember once when I was stationed in California I was exposed to this middle-aged gentleman, who happened to be a colonel from San Francisco. At that time, he was visiting my post for summer training. He told me that he was a pacifist, while I was having breakfast with him. We spotted each other right away. I spotted that he was not the regular military guy. He was a member of the Society for Democratic Society or something like that. I don’t remember the exact terminology; but, it was quite obvious that he was already on to the pacifist side of the military experience.
Now at the time pacifism was happening on many levels. I remember also that when I was in the army, General Gavin, who during WWII was the head of the 82nd Airborne Division, was one of the most outspoken generals against the war, etc. So there were quite a few military men that were openly against the war. I was leaning towards that. That was the beginning of my period of social consciousness. But, then I started to realize that it doesn’t stop at politics. I mean, the distortions that go on inside our brains happen in every field, in every experience that we have. So it almost doesn’t pay to produce art that is purely political in nature, because no matter what field you choose, you’re going to be dealing with the same problems. Human problems are not just “political” in nature; although, they are structurally all the same. There is something wide of the mark in human beings that can’t be fixed politically.
JR: What rank in the military did you ultimately reach?
NB: I went in as a 2nd Lieutenant and then was a 1st Lieutenant. At the end of my reserve period, which was about four years, I guess I was a Captain. So I went out the door a Captain.
JR: And, then you went back to Pratt for your MFA?
NB: Yes, it was paid for by the Army – surprisingly. Then it was a Masters of Industrial Design. Now, it is an MFA program.
JR: You worked for some of the biggest firms.
NB: I worked in the 1992 Seville World’s Fair, the Motorola Museum, and for George Nelson. He’s in all the museums as one of the pioneers of modern industrial design. But my basic industrial design stint was only a few years and then I started drifting away from it.
JR: And, you stumbled on to people like Oscar Nitzchke, John Cage, and people like that.
NB: I stumbled on Oscar Nitzchke through a gentleman who gave me my first show, Hans Lindblom. He is long dead now. But Hans was an architect and he was a protégé of Oscar Nitzchke. The interesting thing about Oscar Nitzchke was that he was the senior architect under Le Corbusier. Oscar Nitzchke is like a slice of 20th century art. He was at the same table when Picasso and James Joyce met. He was Bunuel’s roommate in Los Angeles when Bunuel was a pauper. In Harlem, he knew Basie and Ellington, the whole group. He knew everybody. He used to drive around with Peggy Guggenheim in her pink Cadillac throughout the United States. So he had contact with the whole crew. In his pauper years, he would borrow money from Calder. Calder would give him little works of art that he could sell for money. From Satie he would get original manuscripts that he would turn into money. In that sense, he was an interesting guy. When his hearing got bad, people refused to hire him. But at age 80 or 83, his old students from Yale University got him a show at Cooper Union. Once he got the big show at Cooper Union, Cooper Union produced this fancy catalog of his work. The Museum of Modern Art bought his drawings and put them on display a few weeks later.
JR: And, he still has work there now?
NB: He still has work there. He died about ten years ago. When he died I was looking through the New York Times and there was a big write up about his death.
JR: How did you get into the entourage of Sari Dienes, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham?
NB: I got into that entourage through Hans Lindblom and Sari Dienes. Hans knew John Cage. They lived roughly in the same area. John had an apartment on 109 Bank Street. He also had a house up in Stony Point. Also, Rauschenberg had a place there, and I think Jasper Johns had a place there. Sari owned all these works by both of them. The interesting thing was that Sari was also close friends with Yoko Ono. So one day Hans told me that he went to Sari Dienes’ house. Do you know who was there? John Lennon and Yoko Ono and John Cage. Apparently Sari told me that John Lennon tried to give John Cage a gift. John Cage refused to take it. I don’t think Cage took Lennon seriously as an artist.
JR: So from that period of hanging out with Sari Dienes and John Cage, what did you learn that had an effect on your art that you’re doing now?
NB: I learned from all of them that art is not everything. I learned that you have to get away to see the other things. Art in itself, if you just pursue it all the time, is just career building. Anybody, who is building a career is going in a straight line to nowhere in my opinion. I learned that from Cage, Dienes, and others.
JR: That’s true. John Cage’s real passion was identifying mushrooms.
NB: He had multiple interests. He was interested in far eastern thought, Zen Buddhism. You can see from his works that he was connected to universal themes in a totally different way.
JR: For a while, you were involved with what would be considered Photorealism. You knew John Baeder, Malcolm Morley, Tom Blackwell and other people like them.
NB: The realism itself never interested me except if I saw it in Velazquez, of course, a Vermeer. I’d be interested in it. But on the whole it didn’t interest me. Personally, it interested me only from the viewpoint that it was a tool to get to something else. In my case, I have to use realism to portray illusion. Otherwise you wouldn’t catch the meaning.
JR: You have no real attachment to representation?
NB: No, none whatsoever. I’m not into realistic or realist art. It doesn’t interest me. Even Morley outgrew it.
CD: If it’s not important to show your work in venues, who do you want your audience to be? Tell me something about your publications.
NB: No, I have no answer as to who my audience should be. Hopefully, it’s an audience that sees what I am aiming at. With my numerous publications, since it’s not involved in “selling pieces,” it’s easier to spread the message – as such. That’s why I’m more oriented towards publications. For me, it’s the course of least resistance. I have no idea who the audience has to be. In a sense, I guess I will be open to the whomever my audience is — provided that they are open to what I am doing. Like anybody, everybody wishes that there is an audience for what they do. That’s about it. I’m not pinpointing anybody. That audience could be anybody. It’s not predictable.
JR: You’ve known practically everyone in the contemporary art world to one degree or another. You have been ubiquitous in exhibitions and you go to openings. You know everyone.
NB: Yes, I went through a period like that until age 35, or so. Then, I got tired of the art world because to me the message was “move on.” I stopped pushing it. You see, I’m a total atheist and that includes art. I don’t pray to it, nor am I going to pursue it. In fact, the less people pray to it, the less their egos are involved. All this killing right now is people’s ego. People kill for religion. You could switch art for it. You could wind up killing people for art. In fact, that’s not too far off. There was a riot in 1830 in New York between two acting groups. That eventually turned to violence. Twenty-two people got killed in the process. It’s a famous riot over art or attitudes about art and religion. After a while I change channels. I don’t want to listen to it because I’ve gone through it – the crucible of art – so much. There is no originality in worshiping art, even when you’re worshiping original art. There is originality in art. You must just put the originality back into your art, and see it for what it is and nothing beyond it.
CD: Tell us something about your publications.
NB: Yes, I was fortunate enough and lucked-out in some of my publications. I would say, it occurred thankfully because of a friend of mine, who is now living in Bolivia, Kristina Suarez, who is the wife of the Bolivian poet, Nicomedes Suárez-Araúz. Through her and her contacts, she was able to get me in touch with various Pearson-Prentice Hall publications. In fact, it cascaded and I guess it eventually wound up with me being on the cover for a publication at the University of Texas at Dallas. All of these publications are really superb publications.
JR: And, they are read all over the world, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and everywhere.
CD: So that becomes your audience?
NB: That’s my audience, the readers.
JR: Did your parents encourage your creativity?
NB: No, they discouraged me absolutely. I have been discouraged by my parents and also by my friends. I’m just going my own way. In fact, most people don’t think that I have any talent whatsoever. The most interesting thing is that originality is not produced by talent. It’s produced by people who don’t have talent. Originality of vision only occurs among those people that really are capable of removing themselves from what’s going on around them. Real genius and real originality derive from people who live in his-or-her own world. It might be painful; but, that’s where people find the utmost originality. They don’t find it in what’s going on in the various art worlds, nor politically in society, because anything that is too popular is probably wrong.
JR: You’re speaking of artists like William Blake, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Jackson Pollock.
About the interviewers:RAGAZINE’s Contributing Art Editor, Dr. José Rodeiro, is Coordinator of Art History, Art Dept., New Jersey City University. You can read more about him in “About Us.” Christie Devereaux is a contemporary artist whose works and career are explored by Rodeiro in Ragazine Volume 8, Number 4, , and in the artist interview.
September 25, 2012 1 Comment
“A Tati Moment”
by Christopher Panzner
We walked down to the lake to have a picnic on an isolated, rare-for-France empty bench. It was so close to the edge of the water we could almost dangle our feet in with a stretch. We settled in, ripped into the baguette and faked it with some ham tranches and a flat brick of fresh Gruyère from the riverside market in the “Venice of Haute Savoie,” Annecy. Off to the left, a small efficiently-built municipal dock with four or five tiny or two-man skiffs tied up. Before us, the placid expanse of mountain lake on a gorgeous day, a few Sunday boaters here and there – the women rowing, this is France – far enough out to be a part of the lakescape, objects. And those even rarer Latin commodities of peace, quiet and space.
La la la… puffy cotton clouds, iris-blue sky, my girl, my sandwich, hours to kill.
From the periphery, under the temple of my sunglasses, the bow of a row boat slid into view from beneath the overhanging limbs of the sparse but leafy trees. Gradually, the shiny white hull of a brand spanking new, canoe-sized, flat-bottomed wooden toy slipped into full view, the bony figure of a middle-aged man rowing, his blanched napkin-white back to us. With amateur, elliptical strokes, the French fry arms dipped, splished and struggled with the tubular metal oars (tipped with white plastic paddles) in the locks, the crunch of bread crust and jawing of cheese providing the ambient soundtrack in my sun-dulled skull.
The first fissure in the tableau of apparent normalcy was… the captain’s hat. Even though habituated after twenty-something years in-country to the French penchant for buying the entire panoply of catalogue outfit, equipment and sundry frivolous accoutrements for any sporty outing, the accessory caught my now policing eye. A cursory inventory of his ensemble and the bristol vessel revealed what’s known in Yankee predatory retailing as a “sales job.” The hat, semiotically-speaking, indicating not only the unfortunate meeting of too big a budget with monstrous self-indulgent naiveté, but a rare bird, a wild hair, a Lilliputian Narcissus. In one fluid movement, the muscles of my face twisted into a bemused question mark, I bowed my head and peeped over my sunglasses sideways at my young French wife. Behind dark plastic lenses, onomatopoeia: crunch, chew, chew, chew, chew, swallow (pause, repeat.) “Nothing unusual here” answered the only slightly-lifted eyebrows.
Our protagonist, methodically awkward, clumsily paddled his way backwards through things that go bump in the day as we watched from balcony seats. Oblivious to our presence – our existence, even (characteristic of the self-consumed) – the dapper Argonaut made his triumphant return to terra firma, met at the quai with the deafening applause of… cicadas.
Tying up – or, at least, thought he was tying up – to a small, conical, anchored plastic red and white buoy nearby, he maneuvered parallel to the dock to disembark (etymological precision notwithstanding, only partially accurate in fact.) Starting with the oars, he then set down a tackle box, a duffle bag, and various other sparkling, anal-retentive kit with the precision of the Swiss. Then stood. Yes, stood, bolt upright in the middle of the small craft, miraculously defying the laws of equilibrium, the entirety of my own nautical experience (having grown up on the water), and brute common sense. I dabbed at my smile after finishing my sandwich, cracked open the Evian, took a swig and passed it, then settled in for what was certain to be a classic Slapstick highlight of my afternoon.
Our hero – our Osgood Fielding, our Harold Lloyd, our very own Monsieur Hulot – had other, grander ideas, however. Moments are the domain of the unwitting, victims of circumstance, accident; cameos on the stage of life, child’s play. No, what happened next was Comedy, Tragedy’s twin, the stuff of true plebeians (the Greeks, Shakespeare, Molière, Jerry Lewis) and possibly the most challenging theatrical art form there is. What followed was the work of a true artiste, an anonymous genius, a maestro; a nimble funambulist’s slippered foot on the slack rope between success and utter failure.
Know what the key to great – timing! – comedy is?
At close to 2 meters, the captain was approximately as tall as the small boat was long. Mathematically, the chances of not falling in the water fully-clothed were slim to naught. Physics having its own peculiar relation to risk, as luck would have it the sailor “fell” with a step to the dock. (Nervous giggling and reverse whistling together, rare even for the circus, is especially rare for an audience of two.) The tease of anticipation had temporarily blinded me to the other, deeper mysteries of human foible, however… but my disappointment was fleeting. As myriad other occult but punishingly real laws of Newtonian physics came into play, the true essence of Comedy began to emerge: it has a “logical” basis. Meaning, if your assumption is erroneous but you dogmatically apply the ironclad logic of the mathematician and the empiricism of the scientist, no matter what your conclusion, it will be absurd.
But Nature will not suffer fools.
Straddling the ever-increasing gap between the boat and the dock, the skipper became aware of the alarming logical consequences of the growing distance beneath him and the pain in his stretching gracili, the inner thigh muscles normally used for squeezing the legs together and now useless for their intended purpose. Looking down as his mind raced with solutions, the hat slid off the balding crown of his head and hit the water – blop! – “butter side up.” Giggles turned into chuckles and head-shaking. Helpless to pick it up without falling into the water – only narrowly averted mere seconds before but now with the prospect of falling ass over tea kettle – the handsomely crafted white-with- black-patent-leather-brim-and-stitched-anchor-emblem chapeau drifted on its top between split legs and behind him, eased out by the wavelets produced by the rocking of the boat onto the lake. Abandoning it temporarily to deal with more pressing matters, lightning mental calculation now meant choosing between the dock and the boat, with the caveat being that if he chose the dock, the boat would drift away (ergo, somehow getting wet to retrieve it); and if he chose the boat… unfortunately, circumstances would not permit going to the end of the reflection. He chose the boat, landing with a thud in a squat after a deft two-step, hands on the rolling gunwales.
Three minds, suddenly thinking as one, became simultaneously aware of a rift, a tear in the cosmic curtain, a tragic oversight in the chronological re-ordering of the universe: the oars had been the first to go ashore. Now sitting squarely beyond reach, the captain assessed the damage, disparagingly alone in his lifeboat. Smirks were exchanged by two of the three minds, the third forced to deal with yet another drama slowly unfolding: in order to secure a ring to the buoy, little known to the uninitiated, the hinged bolt on the “C”-shaped ring had to be screwed tight (to complete the reverse “D”) or it would not hold. Although our novice seaman had surely secured his line with one of the complex knots he had no doubt seen neatly affixed to a varnished oak plaque in some harbor curio shop and had no doubt practiced unceasingly (to avoid ridicule from seasoned fellow seadogs), the hardware had not come with instructions. This unfortunate contingency meant that the now oar-less boatswain was soon to be truly adrift, the knotted bolen on the end of the bow line, with a dip of the buoy and a discreetly audible cling, slipping from the ring and into the water. With deadpan, mime-like gestures, he pulled the rope back into the boat, stowed it and pondered.
The pause and deafening silence almost betrayed us as we struggled to remain anonymous, voyeurs, having simultaneously concluded that the only way to avoid detection was to stifle our laughter in each other’s arms. Bursts of muffled guffaws were interrupted only to eye-check the progress, his mental processing of the scope of the calamity. Undaunted and, apparently, still unaware of his appreciative audience, Capitaine Haddock drifted some distance from the dock, swept along by a meek but determined current.
Our laughter, now tinged with pathos, somewhat subsided. Alas, the intermission was soon to end.
Imperturbable, the seaman – having been defrocked from captain to simple deckhand–pushed up the sleeves of his double-breasted, brass-buttoned, epauletted waistcoat and went to work with a will. Unable to reach both sides at the same time, he paddled on one and then the other with his hands, getting soaked and, on his knees, dirty in the bargain, succeeding only in zigzagging further from his destination. Humiliated at the indignity of the task his cruel mistress, the Sea, was imposing on him – or Vanity finally getting the best of him since someone, somewhere, on his way home or, heaven forbid, at home, would have to see him filthy and soggy (no one dressed as he was would have thought to bring a change of clothes) – he paused to collect his tortured thoughts and consider the options.
What I learned about Slapstick from this man’s gift, up to this point, was extraordinarily simple: set up an ordinary situation with an extraordinary accent (i.e., a peacock in a hen house); have a theme (“The Colossal Vanity of Man”) and sub-theme (“Ineptitude”); keep it simple, but elaborate (“e-la-BOR-ate,” not “e-labrit”); and pile on just enough consequences to prolong the action not stop it.
But the key, finally, is to take your time… because the payoff is all in the rhythm.
And to that cue, our obliging leading man grabbed his shiny new “snag” (a short aluminum pole with a hook on the end to catch up lines) and started furiously raking, windmilling his way back to the dock; punting, as it were, without the advantage of touching bottom… allegrissimo. Finally, with the head of steam you could muster with a pool cue for an oar, he made it. Fortunately for us, too, since we were out of breath, having clapped and thumped one another on the back in repressed, convulsive laughter for the duration of the cruelly comical final act.
Once safely back at the mooring, our intrepid adventurer tended to unloading the remaining gear from the boat and set about fixing the buoy. He tightened the bolt on the C-ring and, when satisfied that it would hold, set the wrench back on the dock. The seamanship learning curve being what it is, he was soon aware of yet another academic but unwritten rule of thumb: always place things down perpendicular to the dock since there are spaces between the boards (in this case, just wide enough to accommodate the thickness of the wrench if set down, by some casino odds, on its side, exactly parallel to the boards and dead center in that space.) Ba-loop! It was more than we could take but we bit our lips and held on for dear life. After some prolonged and careful consideration, our mariner left the only-once-used wrench where it lay (and where it probably lies to this day), packed up and, his arms overflowing with gear, limped off inland.
As the sun began to duck behind the mountains, bringing dusk hours early, the curtain fell on a lone, white captain’s hat bobbing in the middle of the lake… a gift, a lesson and a warning.
Illustration by Nadja Asghar
About the author:
Christopher Panzner is an American writer, illustrator and fine artist who lives and works in Paris. For many years he worked in the film and television industry, essentially in European animation. Three animated features he contributed to, double Oscar-nominated The Triplets of Belleville, Venice Film Festival selection The Dog, the General and the Pigeons,and Blackmor’s Treasure (as Associate Producer), were part of an eight-film retrospective of contemporary French animation at the Museum of Modern Art in 2006 called “Grand Illusions: The Best of Recent French Animation.” He currently illustrates books of contemporary poetry, classics, and is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of LHOOQ magazine.
“A Tati Moment” is the first in a collection of short stories by the author called SLOW.
September 25, 2012 Comments Off on Christopher Panzner / Nonfiction