14 February 2021

Joseph Brodsky and the light from within in Arezzo, Siena and Venice


I am cleaning up my studio and throwing things away to make room for new work to come in my head. I came across this curious study done maybe around 1975 at the Chateau.

I do remember that it was done completely out of my imagination at the time. During these years I was intently looking at the drawings of MichelAngelo and frescoes of Piero della Francesco when I made these things, and sadly though I made a number of them, only a few survived. But it was an allusive memory which created these early portraits. Where did they come from?

Yes, looking at it today reveals its devotion to a certain delicacy due to my fascination with the watercolours of Cézanne at that time, because I was then living in Cézanne's world around the Le Châteaunoir.

For a long time I thought it too clumsy and confused in its drawing, that the pale colours made no sense.

But in spite of that I never threw it away. It had in fact, survived many, many periodic culls in various studios over the  years. I am glad it survived. 

Today, what I appreciate in it, is its humanity. Despite its poorly conceived face I find a light coming from within, and maybe that is what drew me to Piero della Francesco in the first place.  

When I was small we lived in a very large house with a hundred bathrooms. My father had his own, and he decorated it with portraits by Piero della Francesco using oil paints. A few that I remember from the bathroom walls:

Amazing the affect that images makes on a small child. They entered into a library of archetypal memories stored blindly like cards in my young thirsty soul. 

And because we had gone to Italy in 1956 in our pale blue Ford station wagon (en famille), we drove all over Tuscany and Umbria. Italy, then had become for me a connection to my early memories; The Queen of Hearts.

Proust, like so many other clairvoyant writers, understood the connections between the adult and childhood. The bridge was always the memories, and how many of us trudge back and forth over that bridge throughout our lives?

I remember once I was staying in Venice at a wonderfully decrepit old palace on the Giudecca overlooking the Grand Canal. Sadly, it was renovated and has since been turned into an expensive hotel. But back in  1985, it was still quite funky and magnificent. 

One day I was passing through the enormous  salon and came across a live interview being recorded between a journalist from the BBC and Joseph Brodsky, the Russian poet whom I didn't know of at the time. But, anyway, I sat discreetly in a corner and listened in till it was over. I understand that he and his family nearly starved to death during the siege of Leningrad at the end of WWII. (from Wikipedia)
But in the interview he described a daily ritual which fascinated me, one which I have tried several times over the years with success even. He said that each day before writing he laid down on a sofa, shut his eyes, and went back into his family home through his memory bank. He would start anywhere, but would soon begin to remember what the wall paper looked liked, how the room smelled, the furniture, etc, etc,,,

It's an exercise which takes tremendous concentration. One memory leads to another one, then somewhere else, other rooms, one's family members, conversations; everything in colourful minutiae, the better one gets at it. 

Thus, a writer follows a thread from one idea to the next much like a painter moves from one passage, or plane of colour to the next, over and over, again and again.

He really impressed me at the time though I still do not know his poetry. It was a lovely thing to listen to a poet in Venice his strong Russian accent inside while the church of Sainta Maria della Salute hovered outside the enormous gothic windows, bells ringing on the hour. 

As they say, "You had to be there"

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