Segovia and the Guitar

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The seventy-four-year-old maestro sits plump in a large wicker chair. His gut ovals as he looks out from his balcony towards the Mediterranean Sea. His home is large upon the hill, overlooking an olive grove which blinks out the Andalusian heat. Close by is Granada, the spiritual birth place of Andres Segovia.  

“This will be the first time in thirty-five years that I have spent a single summer in one place” – not pensively, but as if harboring a certain emotional depth, he slowly walks along the balcony where a young shepherd dog jumps up to greet him. The man offers his forearm for the dog to playfully wrap its jaws around. The balcony extends along the perimeter of the house, larger than the man expected: “when they sent me the plans, I was very busy, I picked what I thought to be the larger, not looking at the scale; I was not expecting this monster”.

In this summer of rest, casually strolling through the murmuring sound of water that envelops Granada – the city cut into a mountain with the blend of Moorish intricacy and the tiles of houses which bloom in the sun – Segovia muses on how a mere boy could have left his life here: “Destiny only” he emphasizes.  

Segovia was around eight when he took an interest in music, taking lessons in both the piano and violin. His experience with his teachers, whom he called ‘mediocre’, even at that age, as the story goes, reveals a characteristic of Segovia that never strayed far from him: an un-denying sense that the musician had to live the music.

It was when he heard average guitar players, be it on the street or in the bars of Granada, that he became fixed with what he called its ‘melancholy’ nature. Melancholy was a distinct representation for Segovia, and the word should not be misread as ‘depression’. The feeling seemed to incite in him, intuitively, a sensitivity to what the guitar was capable of. Thus, distancing himself from the ‘mediocrity’ of his local teachers, he became both student and teacher, working towards a closer connection with the instrument.

The guitar became a way of dialoguing with the heart, much like the prose-poem of Juan Jimenez, Platero y Yo, which Segovia admired. Platero y Yo tells of the eponymous Donkey, who serves as a constant companion and listener to the poet’s observations and confessions. The poet believes Platero can understand all that is said to him by the fact of his constancy, his tenderness, and his innocence. Like Platero, the guitar for Segovia seemed to transcribe the inner world into a living statement.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Segovia, Platero and I

Cover art work to Segovia’s 1963 “Platero y Yo” in English, “Platero and I.”

Segovia’s passion and skill lead him to an aspiration of situating the guitar amongst the canon of concert instruments (piano, violin etc.). Guitar was then considered not above a parlor performance, despite the contemporary efforts, and tours, of Miguel Llobet and Francisco Tarrega. They were among the classical guitarists Segovia respected, and although rumored to be an adequate flamenco player, and an admirer of Flamenco culture, Segovia saw the guitar as a conduit for classical compositions and distanced himself from the folk-influenced Flamenco.

It was obvious to Segovia that, despite his Spanish contemporaries, the guitar needed rescuing and securing; not only that, it needed to be passionately understood as an instrument: “I had to rescue the guitar twice: first from the noisy hands of the Flamenco players, and secondly from the devoted incompetence that was given to the guitar in the nineteenth century”. The first rescue involved Segovia’s self-taught precision in playing, and the second meant scouring through, and transcribing, pieces for the guitar which would show off its slumbering, enchanting dynamics.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, he had traveled to Europe and then to South America giving performances of a revitalized repertoire that increasingly drew the guitar into focus: a short man, left leg slightly raised, and cradled in his lap, the varying strains of a wooden guitar. This kind of guitar had only taken its form since the mid-nineteenth century. The luthier Antonio de Torres had perfected the modern guitar. However, in the first few decades of the twentieth century, Segovia was cradling another name: Ramirez.

Before his rise to fame, Segovia had met the luthier responsible for the sound, Jose Ramirez. Although dressed lavishly, as Segovia tells us, like a dandy, he was poor. He was in Madrid, playing in Tarrega’s city. After striking up a friendship with Ramirez and performing for him, Ramirez handed him his most diligently crafted guitar. Thinking he wanted to hear him play it, he did so. After the piece was played, Ramirez refused to take it back. “but I have no money” Segovia explained. “I know”, spoke Ramirez, “pay me back in another way, play that music around the world”.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Jose Ramirez

Luthier Jose Ramirez, whose guitars are still played the world over.

Segovia’s fulfillment of the promise awakened more possibilities in the luthier’s craft. The guitar’s awakening, especially in the concert hall, gave impetus to greater developments in the instrument: to make the guitar ring louder; to emphasize the intricacies of the dynamics which existed within the hollow body. It was a sustained effort amongst luthiers to concert new techniques for expression, and undeniably helped to shape the evolution of the guitar.

Much of what we take for granted on, and about, the guitar is realized in Segovia’s mission to obtain respect and admiration for the guitar. He speaks of the guitar as possessing all of the orchestra, only in minute forms. Tonality can differ greatly according to where the right hand is placed; it can imitate brass or the cello, beckoning attention or intimacy; and, it is polyphonic. The master of the guitar needs to control these dynamics to evoke the quality of what the guitar is.

The problem was, according to Segovia, is that those who had composed for guitar in the past did not understand the intricacy of the instrument. It was only Fernando Sor at the beginning of the nineteenth century and Francisco Tarrega at the end thereof. Segovia felt himself responsible to transcribe the music of great composers, to show the guitar could not only replicate the concert instruments, but evoke beauty in a new way. This led him to Bach, Albeniz, Granados, Handel and countless others. Increasing the repertoire exposed the guitar as an incredibly versatile and expressive instrument. Segovia and his guitar were serving as a conduit for the music of the past and present.

Segovia’s sensitivity towards the guitar as a medium of melancholy, of beauty, led him to found his own distinctive performance style. Although, in the beginning, the students of Tarrega thought him idiosyncratic at best, they would ultimately be silenced by what became known as the ‘Segovia hush’: amazement, respect, and awareness of grace.

Thus established, Segovia pushed further and began to ask contemporary composers to write for the guitar. Manuel Falla, Alexandre Tansman, Castlenuovo-Tedesco, Manuel Ponce, and many others took up the challenge. Writing for any instrument, of course, means intimately knowing the range and dynamics of that instrument. This call to the contemporaries led not only to an increased repertoire, but a heightened focus on what the guitar could do – each testing the performative style of Segovia and expanding his vision of musicality. Some virtuosos, so enthused by Segovia, took it upon themselves to write for him unasked, here we note the famous 12 Etudes by Villa-Llobos.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Composers
Italian composer Castelnuovo-Tedesco a favorite of the Carl Kruse Arts Blog and of Segovia 🙂

Segovia’s eight decades of performing permeates through the legacy of the guitar, and music itself. He was a source for many new compositions, and he was a translator of old into the new. Segovia certainly had a vision for what the guitar should transmit: Latin-based, Baroque, and Romantic pieces. This meant modern atonal, experimental pieces written expressly for Segovia were denied entry; a purist often functions by restrictions. Always happy to steal concert goers away from The Beatles, often lamenting the rise of the electric guitar, Segovia functioned as a counter to much of the popular music of the twentieth century.

Even so, the spectacle of Segovia produced a sustained image of the guitar’s inherent melancholy. Just as his obliviousness to check the scale of the house which was being built for him, his work spawned a web of influence too large for him to realise. His personal affectations were, for the next generation, something to either improve upon or rebel against. This could mean new ways of utilising the guitar or excepting new pieces into the repertoire. Either way, the guitar keeps moving; the vision of its beauty still stands.

When asked, in 1967, if he knew when he was going to retire, he responded with the enigmatic line: “Depending upon my health, yes, I will have to retire someday, but I am not to be retired”. We are brought into a state of reverie by this. Is it by listening to the guitar, we remember something of what Segovia lived for? Something of that melancholy, that intimate and wholly human expressiveness which permeated so much of his work? Or that Segovia will continue existing as his repertoire and music continued to be played, and in all his offspring in whatever form who continue to explore the strange complexity of the guitar, who feel something akin to what the maestro felt when he said “to play the guitar is to dream with music”?

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The blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Fraser Hibbitt include the Art Of Atari and Realism.
The blog’s last post was on the Beat Generation.
Carl Kruse and his music are on Soundcloud.

Bowie’s Alter Ego That Transcends Death: Major Tom

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

It is 1969, and the young David Jones, better known as David Bowie, begins to ascend the world stage thanks to the launch of his latest single, Space Oddity. Likely influenced by the space race, the tales of Ray Bradbury, and undoubtedly by 2001: A Space Odyssey. The single was supported by two video clips and would have profound influence. 

Here we meet Major Tom for the first time: an astronaut readying to leave Earth who communicates with Ground Control. After takeoff, the shuttle (or rather, the Tin Can) soon floats in space. Looking back at earth, Tom sees it blue — “Planet Earth is blue and there is nothing I can do,” a meditation perhaps on abandonment, isolation, and the smallness of humanity compared to the vastness of space. From earth, Ground Control is triumphant, enthusiastically wanting to know everything about Tom and telling him the mission is a success. But Tom loses interest in earth, decides to cut contact while drifting towards the immensity  of space, towards the infinite. 

There are two versions of the Space Oddity video. The first is from 1969, and is part of the film Love you ‘Till Tuesday (a collection of Bowie’s promotional videos). Bowie plays the parts of both Ground Control and Major Tom, displaying his skill at acting. It is an experimental video, following the dystopian science fiction atmospheres of the 60s. The second version, the one we know as the official one, dates to 1972: Bowie appears with the garments of his new alter ego, the androgynous, histrionic, alien Ziggy Stardust. This time the atmosphere is darker and heavier, fragmented by turns of red and the occasional overlaps of an oscilloscope. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Major Tom image
First appearance of Major Tom: Space Oddity’s video clip, 1969

Time passes, Ziggy Stardust gives way to the White Duke. The Spiders from Mars have disbanded, Bowie has crossed the streets of a short dystopian path in Diamond Dogs; drug problems, the contract disputes with agent Tony Defries, as well as the general discomfort caused by the growing celebrity, threw Bowie into a deep crisis. 

Perhaps the need to cling to new ideas, to renew his music, his figure, and himself, led him to resurrect in a new song, extending his hand once again to his old alter ego Major Tom: this is the time of Ashes To Ashes. Perhaps the most autobiographical, deep, and poignant track of Bowie’s music trajectory. After years of launching into space, Major Tom, lost in an alien world, halfway to an asylum and to a wasteland, contacts Ground Control. But he isn’t the old Major Tom: he is a character still in the throes of addiction, depression, a glimmer of madness, an uncomfortable person ( “we know Major Tom is a junkie” ), one to be avoided ( “My mama said to get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom” ), inept ( “I never done good things, I never done bad things, I never did anything out of the blue” ). But it is only a reflection of the past that breaks in the condition of this dystopian and introspective present. Bowie abandons Tom in a wasteland, and it will be ten years before the insane astronaut returns to the scene. 

Carl Kruse ART BLOG - David Bowie in Ashes to Ashes
Major Tom in Ashes to Ashes’ videoclip, 1980

In the inimitable masterpiece, certainly not easy to understand, which is 1.Outside, our old Major Tom returns. The concept album, dark and complex, tells the story of the murder of the young Baby Grace Blue at the hand of the artist Minotaur, followed point by point by Nathan Adler’s investigations in a New Oxford Town bordering on dystopia and a materialized paranoia (Nathan Adler writes: “it was art alright, but was it murder?” ). It’s in the track that follows the girl’s last words ( “ … and I think, something is going to be horrid ” ), that with an angry, contemptuous, and explosive fury returns to the stage, Major Tom. The song is Hallo Spaceboy (an interesting pun on the words “Hallow”, “Halo”, and “Hollow”). Tom no longer recognizes his world, nor any other world. In a state of confusion, drowsiness, loss, the astronaut has become a static figure, motionless in various dimensions in which he traveled, he wants to be free, but what is, after all this time, the true meaning of the word “free”? Tom curses those who listen to him: “the moon dust will cover you”. In the live video of the song, played by Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys, a second verse is added: PSB, as Ground Control, say goodbye to Major Tom. The countdown does not work, the circuits are damaged, so bye-bye Tom. 

But Major Tom is not dead. He always disobeyed death’s call, reappearing in different scenes in Bowie’s life. The end of the first alter ego of David Bowie coincides with the end of the songwriter himself. We are at the most complex and most difficult to digest movement, more than everything in his path — Blackstar

Shocking eulogy to himself, the Blackstar album was announced at short notice and released only two days before the death of Bowie. The track that gives the title to the album brings together rhythms and sonorities of jazz with ecstatic interludes, text functions as a long prayer of repetition, litanies, and different quotes to Aleister Crowley. The refrain is evocative, symbolic, and poignant: “Something’s happened on the day he died, Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside, Somebody else took his place and bravely cried: I am a Blackstar “. 

The music video narrates the demise of Major Tom. In a desolate planet, dotted with black stars, humanoid creatures find the remains of Tom in an astronaut suit, whose skeleton is crowned with jewels. They make an altar where they revere his skull, while the remains of the skeleton are seen floating in space towards a black star. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog - David Bowie Blackstar
Major Tom in his last appearance: Blackstar’s videoclip, 2016

Major Tom is the first alter ego of David Bowie and the only one that has never abandoned him, marking his beginning and his end. It remained floating in a forgotten space, metaphorically material, but probably abstract and internalized. Originally, perhaps, embodied the American dream, the exploration of new worlds, which corresponded, paradoxically, to the launch of Bowie in the circle of celebrity, vices, and drugs. Then confused, lost, inept, insane, always hovering between the destruction of himself and a glimmer of sanity which never allows him to gain the awareness of the dimension that he is passing through. There are plenty of wires that connect the evolution of Major Tom to the arc of Bowie’s life, his figure is always a return to the past and a new launch to the future: from the moment when he leaves earth to the moment he fluctuates towards a big, sad and desperate black star. 

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The Carl Kruse Art Blog homepage is here.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com.
Other articles by Asia Leonardi are on Filippo Brunelleschi, Marina Abramovic, and Lost Architecture.
The blog’s last post was on artist Yury Kharchenko.
Carl Kruse is also at USGBC.

Van Gogh’s Chair: Omens of Tragedy

By Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

I first saw Vincent Van Gogh’s painting ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’ (1888) in secondary school, in the middle of an art class.

My art teacher had no particular regard for art history. She found it uninteresting, and it was never a fundamental part of the classes she taught. She was a tiny thing, my teacher, always dressed in bold, screaming colors and imaginative accessories. She more often than not wore startlingly high heels, which retrospectively I suppose must have been rather agonizing considering how long she wore them for. I remember a certain pair – they were hot pink stilettos, with some sort of adornment on the front that looked like a piece of candy.

I do believe she was quite the darling of many of the boys and it seemed like she played up to this role quite readily. Come to think of it, I reckon a few of my secondary-school teachers played up to that side of juvenile sexuality, probably to encourage good behavior and obedience. That isn’t to say it was only the female teachers. On the contrary, I have had a few (borderline) flirtatious male teachers teach me at one time or another during my secondary and college education. I have always been quite obsessed with the forbidden sexuality of those in authority, and I’ve certainly had many a teacher-crush.

Anyway, back to the art class. In my last year of secondary school, we had to paint a ‘final piece’, and deduce its contents on a separate written piece, dissecting it and commenting on the techniques we used to create it. I must say I really do despise self-reflection with regards to artwork. I know that, for myself, when I create something, whether it be written, painted, drawn, played…whatever it is, it is almost always spontaneously generated. Occasionally I will vaguely plan the ongoing trajectory of a piece I’m in the middle of so as not to lose creative fire, but I won’t generally plan prior to beginning it. Inspiration sparks at the most bizarre of times, and no plan or bullet point list tends to help me to get there, to that perfect peak of creative energy that suddenly begins to flow like a flood and ignite the best work. But, of course, one has to ‘feign’ planning in order to escape being reprimanded for not doing so. Dutifully, I searched through the limited collection of art books we had in class to search for ‘inspiration’. I came across a short text about Van Gogh, which detailed a few of his paintings along with a mini biography. I flipped through the paintings in the center of the book, then stopped abruptly. The chair looked back at me, and I stared at it. Such a lonely piece. So isolated and sedentary. I fell into a silence, and the noise of the world around me became a dull, quiet roar, like the sound of distant waves. It was like I was waiting for the occupant of the chair to return and light up his pipe. But he never came.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Van Gogh's Chair

Van Gogh’s Chair

I had a class in art history this year, and in one of the weeks my teacher brought up Van Gogh when speaking of post-impressionism. While my teacher swept through pictures of the sunflowers, the beautiful night skies, and the vibrant cafes up on the interactive whiteboard, I thought about the chair. I decided it was essential I delve into it, that I dive into the painting that near brought me to tears upon my initial viewing of it. I was not always a believer in the dissection of art, as I was of the opinion that it would inevitably ruin the intrigue and beauty of it through over-analysis. But, through my study of literature and more advanced music theory over these past few years, I have learned that studying art in any form can bring one to enjoy a work even more than one did prior. I decided to dissect Van Gogh’s melancholic painting, to see what I could find in it, and whether I could find that lonesome character that had left his seat and his tobacco in such a hurry. Here is what I have come up with:

In deciphering ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’, an approach concerning the metonymy – substituting an object or attribute for a person or emotion – prompted by the painting I feel is essential. The chair, illustrated in oil-on-canvas, is clearly a daylight rendering, with a light source suggested as emerging from the top left, unseen, corner, and reflected onto the light-colored wood in thick, golden brushstrokes. The brightness and air of simplicity in the painting could reflect Van Gogh’s self-reflection. However, simultaneously, ‘Omens of tragedy [rumble] beneath thick smears of beaming yellow’, as contemporary poet Niall O’Sullivan suggested in a poem framed side-by-side with the image in the National Gallery.

The positioning of the chair in the center of a sombre-toned brassy kitchen tiles is to me melancholic. The chair’s emptiness creates an unsettling sense of loneliness, which is further emphasised by its asymmetry; unequal bars connected to dumpy, shapeless chair legs. Supposedly “Empty chairs had a very personal significance for van Gogh, who appears to have associated objects strongly with people” [1]. Gogh’s inspiration for the painting was most likely Victorian magazine ‘The Graphic’ which published an illustration in 1870 by Luke Filde, dubbed ‘The Empty Chair, Gad’s Hill’. This was painted after Charles Dickens’s death, a chair with no owner, yet an object so completely synonymous with its owner (Dickens) that it became an embodiment of him in itself. It is well documented that Van Gogh was a huge admirer of Dickens’ works, and supposedly wrote letter emphatically proclaiming his love for the writer, using phrases like: ‘I want to paint what Dickens has done with words’[2]. Van Gogh continued to show his admiration for Dickens through his art, and ‘The Arlésienne’ (1890), which was painted in his last year of life, depicts a Dickens novel on the table in front of the female figure. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. The emotionally charged use of symbolism (using symbols to represent ideas, and in this case a person) in Filde’s painting could certainly have deeply affected Van Gogh, leading to his own chair portraits.

The personalizing of his own chair as being metonymically associated with himself can be furthered by his positioning of his own personal objects on the chair; the hastily painted pipe (it is believed Van Gogh followed Dickens’s prescription of smoking for melancholia) and the open bag of tobacco. These intimate objects seem to be connected with the candle depicted on the painting Van Gogh did of fellow artist Paul Gauguin’s own ‘Chair’ (‘Gauguin’s Chair’ 1888). Perhaps he considered Gauguin’s ‘light’ as essential, not only to light the tobacco in his pipe, but to light up his own work. I will comment on Van Gogh and Gauguin’s artistic relationship, as well as the significance of the contrasting chairs he painted, in a moment.

The complexity of the configuration of the painting with areas of wider, continual brushstrokes (see the first front rung of the chair) juxtaposed to thicker, busier areas (the foremost chair leg), create a distorted three-dimensional image, elevating this mundane object to something rather more sinisterly representative of a despairing mental state, potentially pointing to Van Gogh’s own mental deterioration. This supports Victoria Charles’ notion that ‘Van Gogh’s life and work are so intertwined that it is hardly possible to see his pictures without reading in them the story of his life’[3]. Does this indicate that, for Van Gogh, ‘painting had become identical with life itself’[4], the only way for him to communicate the difficulties and pains of living?

I feel that a further analytical comparison of this painting to Van Gogh’s contrasting depiction, ‘Gauguin’s Chair’, is necessary to contextually analyze this painting. Both canvases were painted once relations between the once-amicable artists had become strained due to Van Gogh’s poor mental health. Van Gogh has hoped that his artist’s studio, the ‘Yellow House’, would become a studio for himself with Gauguin as his artistic mentor. But his vision of harmonious living with Gauguin did not last long, as after 9 weeks of living together Van Gogh started falling through a downwards spiral into deep depression and bipolar disorder. After Van Gogh sliced off his ear in a fit of violent anger he was sent to an insane asylum, and his dream of working with Gauguin swiftly ended. Van Gogh painted both chairs just as his relationship with Gauguin was becoming strained.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Gaguin's Chair

Gaguin’s Chair, 1888

‘Gauguin’s Chair’ is a baroque-style envisioning in its exaggerated features and emphasis on ‘tenebrism’ (the dramatic use of light and dark). It is of a deep, sensual palate that is startling richer than that used to depict his own chair. This image seems to suggest a nocturnal exoticism and complexity that appears juxtaposed to the garish simplicity of Van Gogh’s own chair. These chairs are both ‘alive, like strange creatures’[5]. Van Gogh here employs the ‘intense colours and dramatic shapes…[that] anticipated Expressionism [the use of artistic distortion to create different emotions]’[6]. The light sources – a candle and a gas-lantern – create a far more claustrophobic image than that of Van Gogh’s own chair, which is lit by external sources, symbolic perhaps of Van Gogh perceiving Gauguin as self-interested and thus self-illuminated in this painting, though one cannot say for sure he felt this sort of animosity towards his fellow artist. By all accounts, Van Gogh was utterly bewitched by Gauguin’s artwork and was highly insistent that Gauguin should come and work with him to help him better his own art. Gauguin recounts in his memoirs how much of a dutifully hardworking artist and loving man Van Gogh was prior to his ever-increasing episodes of ‘madness’. Maybe the use of this internal, unattainable light indicates that Van Gogh perceived Gauguin as his last hope, hope that was swiftly dwindling.

Another aspect of the painting I wish to briefly discuss is its musicality, as I believe it is integral to understanding Van Gogh’s artistic technique. Before moving to The Yellow House, Van Gogh articulated to his brother Theo that the paintings he so viscerally envisioned he would come to paint in Southern France would be ‘a symphony in blue and yellow’[7]. Van Gogh’s persistent application of ‘words related to music – such as ‘harmony’, ‘piano’, ‘note’, ‘register’, ‘clarion’ and ‘scherzo’’[8] in written correspondence during his life can be used to analyse the painting of his chair. This painting seems indeed an homage to the so-called ‘Yellow House’ gallery he so dearly endeavoured to pursue with Gauguin. Its vibrantly warm autumnal palate echoes the ‘dark ochre to bright cadmium’[9] that Van Gogh ‘was continually comparing [to] the sounds made by the piano’ [10] during his piano lessons in Paris. The melodic use of a simple base palate in this painting isolates the chair in its own lonesome song, lingering on the edge of a climax into chaos. To me, that is what this chair evokes. An all-consuming loneliness fuelled by rejection and solitude. An attempt to create an image out of a void of emptiness, to make beauty from estrangement and a desperation to connect. I find it achingly beautiful and overwhelmingly sad. In this piece I feel that I can hear the profound music that so deeply affected Vincent – Wagner, Beethoven, Berlioz – and inspired his own creation. This chair, to me, is a painting of Van Gogh himself, of his life, a life despairing for a friendship and a dream so soon blighted, fearful of the darkness yet to come.

Bibliography:

Natascha Veldhorst, translated by Diane Webb, Van Gogh and Music: A Symphony in Blue and Yellow, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018)

Josephine Cutts and James Smith, Intro by: Lucinda Hawksley, Essential Van Gogh (Parragon Publishing, UK, 2000)

Victoria Charles, ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, (Parkstone Press International, 2012)

Ed. Ingo F. Walther, Impressionist Art, (Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis, Koln, 2016)

Guardian Online: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2004/mar/06/art

The National Gallery Online: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/vincent-van-gogh-van-goghs-chair

Quoted in Thompson, Paige, ‘How Vincent Van Gogh was Inspired by the Works of Charles Dickens’, pub. In ‘Sotheby’s’ (URL: https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/how-vincent-van-gogh-was-inspired-by-the-works-of-charles-dickens), July 29th 2019


[1] Josephine Cutts and James Smith, Intro by: Lucinda Hawksley, Essential Van Gogh (Parragon Publishing, UK, 2000)

[2] Quoted in Paige Thompson, ‘How Vincent Van Gogh was Inspired by the Works of Charles Dickens’, pub. In ‘Sotheby’s’ (URL: https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/how-vincent-van-gogh-was-inspired-by-the-works-of-charles-dickens), July 29th 2019

[3] Victoria Charles, ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, (Parkstone Press International, 2012), p. 7

[4] Ibid. 324

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ed. Ingo F. Walther, Impressionist Art, (Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis, Koln, 2016), p. 326

 [7] Natascha Veldhorst, translated by Diane Webb, Van Gogh and Music: A Symphony in Blue and Yellow, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018), p. 1-2

[8] Ibid. p. 2

[9] Ibid. Anton Kerssemaker, pg 7

[10] Ibid. Anton Kerssemaker, pg 7

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Blog Homepage: https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com

More writing by Hazel Anna Rogers here and here.
The blog’s last post discussed Activist Art.
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Yury Kharchenko – Upcoming Hamburg and Berlin Exhibits

by Carl Kruse


It has been a busy season for my artist friend Yury Kharchenko with the completion of several new works, the latest being a series that is generating controversy though the artworks have yet to be publicly exhibited.  In these latest works, Kharchenko depicts comic and pop culture icons at the entrance to Auschwitz, with the unmistakable towers of death juxtaposed in the background, creating conflict and tension by bringing two worlds together that never should have met.  The works include Scrooge McDuck Protects his Money in Front of Auschwitz and a series titled Waiting For A Super Hero, all raising the question why didn’t a Superman or a Batman or any Disney hero save the Jews? The super heroes always saved everyone but why not now?  One of Kharchenko’s main preoccupations is whether what happened before — the horror of the Holocaust — could ever happen again.

Carl Kruse At Blog - Scrooge McDuck
Scrooge McDuck Protects His Money In Front of Auschwitz

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Waiting for a Super hero - Yury Kharchenko
Waiting For A Super Hero (In front of Auschwitz)

Meanwhile, a work by Kharchenko, “House of Hope, Number 2 (oil on canvas 2019), formerly of the Paul J. Schupf collection, has been donated to the Colby College Museum of Art as part of the last will of Mr. Schupf who passed away December 4, 2019.  Besides Kharchenko’s work, Schupf was one of the largest collectors of Francis Bacon, Alex Katz and Richard Serra, works that will now be featured at the Colby College Museum of Art.  For more information on the museum visit:  https://www.colby.edu/museum/

Yury was also featured in a New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/08/world/europe/germany-identity.html ) on the topic of  Jewish/German identity in Germany – a prominent thread that runs through his art — where he defiantly says he is a German Jew in spite of, or maybe because of, the armed guards in front of his son’s school in Berlin.

In the latest news, Yury will participate in the upcoming “Heart: 100 Artists. 1 Mission” project at the Hamburger Kunsthalle (one of the largest art museums in Germany) that runs from October 20 through November 8, 2020.  The exhibition then re-launches at the Berlinische Galerie from November 18 through 26, 2020.

The “Heart, 100 Artists. 1 Mission” seeks to raise money for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) and to help projects that aid refugees in Germany.  In a government-approved lottery, the project will sell tickets for Forty Euros a piece with the money from the first 25,000 tickets handed over to the UNHCR.  Each ticket gives the participant the opportunity to get an artwork from the exhibition, all of which have been donated by the 100 participating artists, including Yury.   The list of artists is available at https://www.hamburger-kunsthalle.de/en/heart-100-artist-1-mission

The exhibition is organized by the U.N. Refugee Aid – Germany in an effort to strongly express solidarity and support to the many millions of people fleeing their homes due to conflict and poverty.  Since its beginning in Bonn, Germany in 1980, this organization has worked to ameliorate the living situation for refugees and to help them fully integrate in new host countries.

Learn more about Yury’s art at https://yury-kharchenko.com

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Carl Kruse Art Home Page

Latest blog post on the art of Francesca Woodman.

Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT org

Between Introspection and Surrealism: the Photography of Francesca Woodman

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Francesca Woodman image

One day in 1977, a young girl entered the “Maldoror” art gallery in Rome, handed the owner a gray box and exclaimed: “I’m a photographer!” She is not yet twenty and her name is Francesca Woodman.

Born in Denver in April 1958, Francesca was the daughter of a potter and a painter. Her father George initiated her into photography, giving her a camera he never used, and which he would return to after his daughter’s premature death in 1983.

“We were all artists, and all our friends were artists themselves,” says George Woodman in an interview. “It was therefore something normal for Francesca. But she didn’t try what we already did. She immediately went her way.” He gave to her that camera when Francesca was only 13 years old and was about to start her first art school – more or less the age in which today you get your first smartphone, but at that time starting to photograph so early meant being precocious, even for a daughter of Art.

Her first self-portrait dates to 1972 (“Self-portrait at 13,” Boulder, Colorado), a square shot, in a soft blackened white and set indoors, in which emerges a strong relationship of the body of the subject against the surrounding space, thanks to the play of perspectives. As in selfies you can often see the arm of someone holding a smartphone or a camera to shoot, here you see — and occupies half the scene — the wire that connects the camera to the self-timer button. Francesca’s face is partially hidden by her hair, in a play of the visible with the hidden that will continue to captivate her throughout most of her future experiments. This work inaugurates all of her considerable production with precise rules, even if only a small part of these are known. Incredibly prolific, Francesca Woodman in the only eight years in which she worked with photography produced ten thousand negatives and 800 prints before taking her own life. Only about a hundred of these images have been published and exhibited.

Francesca Woodman used herself and various objects, even symbolic ones, to explore themes concerning the adolescence she was going through: the question of identity and body image, relationships and sexuality, alienation, and isolation. “It’s a question of convenience, I’m always available” the photographer replied lightly with a touch of irony to those who asked why she always chose to be the subject of her photos.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - #2 Francesca Woodman

To find answers about her identity, Francesca Woodman often strips, literally, and naturally photographs her naked body, which is ever-changing as she progresses through adolescence to adulthood, and which is never quite resolved, often hidden behind furniture and objects, wallpaper, plants mirrors. This staging of the nude never comes across as with sexual intent, but more functional in the exploration of the relationship of full and empty in space, between the presence and the absence of the body and the status of the self, which is both subject and object, conscious, explorable, purely material, beyond any transcendence. There is no intent of celebration, but a desire for communion with the world and with nature that is accomplished in transfiguring oneself and becoming a work of art.

Francesca experimented not just in composition, but also, on a more technical level, with the long exposure modes of the camera, seen as a tool for making possible one’s presence in the negative, capturing movement, creating ghosts, a mysterious atmosphere, and playing with time, challenging its limits: even if the photographs were taken by her during the 70s, thanks to the settings, between abandoned interiors and peeling walls, and to the timeless clothes, which could belong to other eras, to her taste for the image and black and white, they seem placed in an atemporal moment, suspended between past and present.

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In 1975 Francesca Woodman attended and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD): her career had already begun and her self-taught training already advanced, and here she was able to stand out among her classmates, recognized by all as a sort of natural star with a more than a promising future. After graduation, she moved to New York with the desire to prove herself, and launch her career, but providing for herself and getting recognition turned out to be difficult for her. She held various jobs, from secretary to assistant to photographers, to model, while sending her portfolio of self-portraits to galleries and fashion magazines in the hope of being published. However, the positive feedback was slow to arrive, thanks to the loss of attention for the photographic medium towards the end of the 70’s, and the fierce competition common in a big city like New York, where too many tried to make their dreams come true.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Francesca Woodman - image #4

This precariousness and the difficulty in establishing herself, after the school years in which her precocious talent was recognized and exalted by everyone, slowly led her to depression, until the National Endowment for the Arts — a U.S. federal agency that offers support to the most promising artistic projects — refused her request to obtain funds and in the autumn of 1980, Francesca attempted suicide for the first time, without success. “I have standards,” she wrote a few weeks later to a former classmate in Rhode Island, “and my life, at this point, is like an old coffee ground, and I’d rather die young, leaving behind a series of succeeding works, some jobs, my friendship with you and others … intact, instead of letting these delicate things vanish”.

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The great hopes, combined with the impatience of youth, made the rejections received in the New York years unbearable and a few months later, in January 1981, Francesca took her life at the age of 22. Although Woodman’s self-portraits are not narcissistic products, the artist’s ultimate goal obviously could only be to live off her art, to be recognized, a feat in which her parents had succeeded before her. “She was much more sophisticated than a lot of us,” says Betsy Berge, her friend, journalist, and writer. “She was 21 and many were jealous of her talent. When you are twenty, everything seems very urgent. You think you have to achieve fame in 20 seconds, especially in her case, having started to do a really good job since she was 14. There was a lot of pressure on her”. The recognition she sought came shortly after, posthumously: the first exhibition was organized by Ann Gabhart, director of the Wellesley College Museum, in 1986, followed by a critical text by Rosalind Krauss and Abigail Solomon-Godeau. Immediately after, her work began traveling the United States, arriving in Europe in the early 1990s. Without being able to witness it, with her self-portraits, which we take so much for granted today, and the obsessive research of the self that belongs to everyone in the years in which one becomes an adult, Francesca Woodman has managed to change the history of photography.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Francesca Woodman - image #6

Homepage: https://carlkruse.net

For another take on Francesca Woodman, see a review of “The Long Exposure of Francesca Woodman.”

The blog’s earlier snippet on Jack Delano is here.
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