Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Fire

* Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross (c. 1435)

What is most appealing with the religious paintings from Early Netherlandish period is the unabashed display of emotions, but besides the apparent tears and frowns, the ingenious painters would resort to other means to represent a mourning state. Amid the saints’ ruffled garb and the scatter of assorted objects that perfectly emphasized an intractable imbroglio is the rather beautifully parallel posture of the descending Christ and the swooning Mary. The orderly arrangement of those two epitomizes the solemnity, or the serenity, of a hallowed death.

People once said when you were born that you resembled a firebird emerging out of an encompassing inferno. The gaping throng marvelled such flaming beauty, but a discreet distance was kept when the sight proved too overwhelming. Not many were aware of the pain that distorted your face when the fire threatening to tear you to smithereens; the pain was a mixed ecstasy of pleasure and agony, likened to the curdling of blood that pitched mercilessly your stomach. The primordial feeling that surged through your breast, although your eyes and ears had yet accommodated to the shifting scenes, was abhorrence.

The abhorrence plagued you so, that eventually it became a self-loathing affliction. You were inclined to wander around the gardens, said you that the evil inside vexed you so, that neither was it proper to internalize in a constricted space, nor were you impudent enough to flaunt your distemper before everyone, but you were told to content yourself in that walled garden, and gleaned the colourful flowers you whiled away your youth. Sometimes you begged me to spurn the looming shadows behind your slouchy self. I scoured to every possible nook to reassure that not a third presence was sharing our enjoyment and company, yet you sighed in disapproval, that not even a slight stir of the nearby bush escaped your notice. Your sense was always sharp, always cautious; to care not a whit was by no means your abiding principle.

I promised to cover everything behind your mass destruction of things. I failed to keep my words, however, should I then act remorseful? When you were insistently dissatisfied with your garden and ventured out, discovering beyond the wall was a world rather the opposite of Eden, everything resulted in collision and you countered. You battled back so hard that something unsavoury tended to happen. I therefore witnessed you prevailing all, claiming all the champions, in which the victory was foreign to you, or you were rather conversant with being your own king in your remote kingdom? The sight of those defeated soliciting any vestige of your mercy with tears, you share them with the people, but mingled with unabated sniggers.

It was deemed miraculous when you survived the conflagration unburnt, but it took comfort habitation within you, the fire, and you suffered to learn fraternizing with it. You harboured the fire like hatching a crystallized jade, selfishly refusing to share it with others. Every time I coaxed you to vent the fire, your impish smile muted my further entreaties. Your eyes were then clouded but the fair weather dispelled everything so fast.

On your very last day and your very last moment, I ask you to smile at your executioner, for his face will be the last dwelling on your mind. Crane your neck slightly and stare into the infinity of the sky, if you still have the spirit to do so, and you will probably find a desperate longing for happiness pounding your heart. I promise you the pain is scarce, and it fleets; the last breath of yours you will dissolve into thin air in form of a red butterfly, and let the reigning coldness descend eventually the world and me.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Impressionism and Spring Fashion

Impressionism embodies the most buoyant celebration of colours and rhythm. The motion that best dictates Impressionism is fleet: this statement is best exemplified by Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (1872), in which the artist captured the transient but consistent movement of the sun rising to the apex and its reflection on the placid water. With spring reaching to its maturation, the fashion one displays should be blatantly heralding the coming of summer. The Book of Hours illustrated by the Limbourg Brothers represents aptly the fashion shift from the tail-end winter to the sprout of spring, or what also come into mind are the more serene, uninhabited landscape paintings by J.M.W. Turner. Impressionism, I suspect, keys to the fashion worn in mid-spring.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, On the Terrace (1881)

(from left to right: Betsey Johnson, Anna Sui, Doo-Ri, Spring 2012 via

Renoir stimulated my earliest admiration for art. The artist’s portrayal of wide-eyed ingénue constructed my childhood notion of what an idealized beauty should be. I only realized then as I grew older that such beauty remained illusory. The felicity Renoir’s paintings exudes, however, hardly diminishes even when situating in a world where everything is encouraged to be judged rationally and pragmatically. The exuberance of colours plays a key role in many of Renoir’s famous work. The subtle inflection of tone reminds me of what a typical Romantic music piece will be- the layers of build-up toward a dramatic climax. The climax of Renoir’s painting is its overall presentation, with the pervasive opaqueness created by the Impressionistic loose brushstrokes.

Mary Cassatt, Nurse Reading to a Little Girl (1895)

(from left to right: Carolina Herrera, Lanvin, Oscar de la Renta. Spring 2012 via

With the art world still squeamish to give attention to women artists in the 19th century, Mary Cassatt’s Nurse Reading to a Little Girl (1895) posed as something rather groundbreaking. The painting’s pastel-softness of green and yellow and its sketchy and wilful strokes presaged their prevalence seen in post-Impressionists like Van Gogh and Munch. However, the green and yellow in Cassatt’s painting are a staggering contrast to the unsettling derangement in Van Gogh’s, nor are the strokes indicative of an inferno burning menacingly in most of Munch’s. In Cassatt’s painting, the serenity and harmony will finally prevail.

Camille Pissarro, The Woods at Marly (1871)

(from left to right: L'Wren Scott, Alexander McQueen, Anna Sui. Spring 2012 via

Pissarro’s later work heralds Pointillism, initiated most notably by Seurat and Signac. Being recognized as a landscape painter, it must be a frustration for the work to be classed as something quotidian. Pissarro’s landscape is never quotidian. Amid numerous colourful dots is a passage visibly extending to an unseen end; the depth is thus created. It was an intent for the Pointillists to create an optical illusion by atomizing the painting into dots (at least that was my surmise when I was young, that the artists dissected the painting instead of painstakingly spotting on the colours), such technique does not render the painting into two-dimensional, however, it almost seems like those little dots are endowed with substance.

Edouard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass(1863)

(from left to right: Burberry Prorsum, Paul Smith, Yves Saint Laurent. Spring 2012 via

Manet’s nudes are my favourite, despite their bodies were once criticized as ill-proportioned. Not one beautiful nude seems irrefutably idealized, not even those in the classical antiquity. Seems like almost all the famous nudes have stirred up controversies and questions of their beauty. It took me painstakingly to glean for sartorial ensembles that match the complementary effect of black and forest green, since dark colours are best avoided for spring fashion. Differing from the other Impressionists’ penchant for using light colours, there is always a dark tonality lurks beneath Manet’s work. This painting seems almost anachronistic to juxtapose a nude with two well-dressed gentlemen. Here Manet reintroduced something known rather as an oblivious fact, that pictures can be staged.

Berthe Morisot, Child Among Staked Roses (1881)

(from left to right: Alexander McQueen, Giorgio Armani, Herve Leger. Spring 2012 via

In style and technique Morisot bore not a slight resemblance to her brother-in-law, Edouard Manet. The painter dexterously captured the refraction of light when it touched the flowers, and myriad rays of light created a diaphanous effect. Such otherworldly treatment of light is hardly an anomaly on other Impressionists’ canvas, one notable example can be seen in Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare’s series.

It is not mainly nature scenes that the Impressionists were renowned for depicting, but also the flaneur scenes- the cafés, the brothels, the theatres, the circus, the everyday. Viewing the Impressionists’ paintings gives the manifestation of pleasure-seeing. It is not to negate any the pathos or disturbance underlying those joyful fusion of colours and cursory brushstrokes, but that Impressionism invites the viewers to review all the pure and the simplicity of aesthetic elements.