25 April 2021

Tracy Emin is desparate to sleep with Eugene Delacroix!


                   Eugene Delacroix, watercolour 

I have had this postcard of the Unmade Bed by Eugene Delacroix for decades. It has somehow enough found a home on every piano I have ever owned, always stuck to the left of where the sheet music rests in plain view. I used to have a postcard of Ray Charles always to the right, but it got lost in the last move. 

'Continuity, in continual change, is always a good thing' I imagine a grandfather telling a young boy of 10.

This watercolour is small but not tiny if I remember correctly, maybe 30 by 20 cm. I have always loved it. It is a complicated subject made from layers of linen, and yet it looks as if it had just blown into the bedroom like a leaf through an open window. It also feels modern, unlike most things done in 1827 France. But strangely, if I look at it in a particular way, without blinking for instance, in order that the eyes don't focus as usual; It somehow reminds me of a Christ figure hanging off Mary's lap in a Pietà painted by Titian. One needs an imagination, that is for sure, but then, this is the realm of Art where magic and mystery are twins. 

Then again, I do see 'things' 'everywhere'. My brother has always confirmed this to me when I forget. 

For instance, driving to the beach to paint not 10 minutes away in the late afternoon, I take a small stretch of the highway. For the past month I saw a dead dog on the left shoulder. And every afternoon I swore I would come back with my truck to remove it and place it in a resting spot on our 100 acres. Every day I forgot until last week when I wrote a note to myself next to the coffee grinder which said simply: DeaD doG.

So the next morning after a coffee I put a tarp in the cab along with some gloves and drove to take care of the deaD doG on the highway. As I slowed down to approach it I pulled into the shoulder lane and stopped in front of a faded black tire on its side with a small thin bit extending from the left side. (!)

I still take the highway each afternoon, and I still see the DeaD doG laying there. Go figure.

Anyway, I used to see the Unmade Bed in the original Atelier Delacroix in the Place Von Furstemberg in Paris, a sweet square behind Le Cafe des Deux Magots where the Americans like to go sit on the sunny terrace contrary to most Parisians who will always go to Cafe Flore just a block backwards on Blvd St Germain.

I used to visit this small intimate studio whenever I was in town. In the old days I believe it had been a small museum run by the city of Paris and it functioned in its own quirky way. But sometime in the 1990's it was pulled into the Réseau des Musées which now includes 1,220 museums all over France, a system basically designed to facilitate the smooth operation between them and allow for National funding from Paris. It was also a skilful way to pillage certain smaller museums of works which it wanted for the larger ones.  

But years before, it was like a postcard from Paris. Entering the modest lobby one would note only the small sign indicating the Atelier Delacroix in a deep blue ink attached to the side of the door. It was a discreet entrance, so much like the man himself.

The aroma of Sauerkraut or Potato Onion Soup hit you immediately and would quickly guide you up to the 1st floor landing after climbing the old stairway in a circular fashion. One stepped out onto the second floor where a woman, the concierge, sold the visitor a small ticket with a blue stripe at one end from an old-styled ticket stall of yesteryear, like at a carnival. Behind her was the Potato Onion soup cooking on a stove.

The building in those days had a worn feeling as did many of the buildings in Paris in the 1970's. The patina in those days even had its own patina. I liked it though, infinitely more than the contemporary museum of today which can sometimes feel like an airport. 

Indeed all of Paris in the 1970's looked a tad gloomy, the ornate buildings had not yet been pressure-cleaned so there was a brackish-looking shadow everywhere, even on sunny days. Paris still looked a little like the city I imagine it did after the war, but the grit really came from the coal-fired plants outside of it. Buildings in New York too, where I grew up in the fifties and sixties, wore a veil of darkness around its own edgy eaves. 

The studio space is sumptuous, and painted red. One went through part of a house to get there, but what a treat when one arrived; this fellow lived well after all! It was full of the artist's paraphernalia, paints and palettes on view, a few large drawing cabinets, glass cabinets which housed drawing pads, etc, etc. There were many original drawings and watercolours hung everywhere. For a young painter from America, it was like Alibaba's cave. And for some reason I usually found myself there at mid-morning in order to enjoy it before it closed at noon (the potato onion soup) but it would again open at 14h.

For a time I went through a period of extreme obsession with Delacroix. I read his diary twice and searched him out in every museum I could, even following him to North Africa though Matisse and Marquet, by then, also played a large part in this travel bug. 

It was irrational now that I look back on that part of my life. My peers in the Art world of that period were all out either in California carving up cars and glueing their parts onto canvas's or in downtown New York, where Punk prowled at night, and painters worked in dark lofts with layers of dark paint preparing for the boom of the 80's. But I was in France, and a cultural orphan, so I dove into life there like it was a swimming pool full of wine or cafe au lait depending on the time of day.

The studio overlooked a large garden which was accessed by a stairway off to the side of the studio. Once there, one could stand admiringly for hours in any season. Now, one can sit and gaze admirably in any season because a few benches have been added. It is a very contemporary space now, very different to what it was in the 70's.

I read in John Rewald's wonderful History of Impressionism that both Renoir and Monet would climb up the wall from the neighbour's place next door to watch Delacroix work through the huge window. He was a giant to this young generation of Romantics, soon to be Impressionists.

Below is a photo of the infamous installation piece by Tracey Emin. I believe it won the prestigious Turner Prize many years back. I guess I include it here because it shows just how cultural values change over generations. It certainly caused a ruckus at the time. What does this Unmade Bed mean today? I find it all interesting to say the least. 

All we have, it seems to me, is our own memory. And what is important in this regard is always deeply personal. This personal memory cannot be transferred to anyone else except through the means of Art. Proust has taught me that. 

The more successful is the Art, the more successful is the transcendence, and this
is what Art is all about.

No comments:

Post a Comment