Thursday, 25 July 2013

Franz von Stuck, Two Dancers





Dancers can be like jousters. Fear and excitement wring their hearts so into tangled skein. Fluttered air brushes against their skins like chill. In anticipation of a good, likely interminable, fight both cannot be more well-prepared, grimacing to each other some distances afar as menacing demonstration of their unconquerable audacities. Everything is all so punctiliously rehearsed and choreographed. Even when darkness descends and everything is shrouded in utter invisibility, each dancer will know by heart when to put which foot forward, to which direction she will sway elegantly her supple bodice to duck narrowly from her opponent, and when the time is ripe, she will let her skirt billow like an arch of rainbow, the more fiery and colourful the rainbow the likelier the chance the dancer is going to claim the final victory.

It is always something with Art Nouveau that, when beholding a piece that epitomises most substantially the essence of the said art movement, engenders within the viewers a prickly sense of disquietude. Note that smile, that exhilarated smile that unwittingly betrays hints of villainy, the smile that will most likely dwell on the face of a femme fatale, when she tries tactfully to talk herself out of a crime. Those paintings invariably present a world like an endless nightmare, in which one happens upon a gaudy carnival, and whatever passes his curious observation is dazzling, fiery, lurid, fun and neurotic.

Whilst still grounded by the laws of Nature, Art Nouveau tends more towards the artificial aspect of art- therefore out produces various forms of perverted nature, which pristine ordinariness is now tainted by gilded adornments: a butterfly is immortalised under a thick crust of blinding jewels. The same can be applicable to the portrayals of human figures. They are all apparently enjoying their lives to the fullest, so much so that one cannot help suspecting that they are conscious of the prying painter, and thus endeavour to put on an affected performance. Art Nouveau dislikes being vague about human sentiments.

But how myriads secrets are hidden in that secretive smile? The smile that eclipses the opponent and makes her feel diffident about. The ostensibly triumphant smile. The smile that, in reality, masks the immense unease. The unease that deviates not the rhythm of every dance. The rhythm of dance that accords to the serpentine course of life. The life that is constantly bouts of fights with an imaginary foe. The imaginary foe, the damnable of all.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Pieter de Hooch, The Mother (1659-60)





Heedless of her mother’s gentle call the little girl stares outside, into the very far her gaping eyes can perceive. Always when a door is blown ajar by some intractable wind the little girl will rush towards it in excitement, but stands stationary before the threshold as if awestruck by something wondrous or foreign to her yet unspoiled mind. And the sun will flood in, shafts of them will penetrate her tender heart like swords. Blinded by such gilded haziness the little girl forgets to moan. Nor does the mother, kept busy rocking a restless baby, notice the Lights are creeping into the house like troops in encroachment. The little girl is no sooner aflame as Deities are within her.

This painting is a typical example amongst Pieter de Hooch’s oeuvre- like the most characteristic of Vermeer’s, the depth of space is enhanced by the division of the room, and always there is an opened door that leads to the unknown. The focal point should be on the mother but our eyes are trained to follow the curious- in this case it is the little girl, on the point of walking calmly into a perilous adventure, with sunlight enveloping her ominously, as what often admonished in various cautionary tales, that the most beguiling is always the most dangerous.

Why do we always want to chase after the most glorious? Is it merely because of vanity? Or the mirage of the eternal happiness? Outside of her snugly home is a world enmeshed with evil and dangers. The little girl is well aware of that, as her ears are already burnt with the lurid tales of how the world is consisted of forests of thorns. But every time she stands before the gateway opened to a view that is so impregnated with Lights, nothing but Lights, that any precaution of potential harms dissipates.

The mother hums a lullaby as the final means of appeasement to the growingly silent baby. Labyrinthine melodies with refrains like the most monotonous chant, the lullaby is an invisible force that spurs the little girl onto her own adventure. Just go, run, leave your old home, the music seems to tell her. But first of all she needs to be divested of all Deities reside within her. The golden light gently surges out of her bosom to mingle willingly with the blinding light of the world. And a fox straggles furtively in the wake of the hesitant little girl, ready to give advice.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gustave Courbet, The Beach at Trouville at Low Tide





One who is too eager to befriend nature will get a cold shoulder. Little wonder. Who can possibly read into nature, so inscrutable and silent? But any human creature, feeling belittled as he is under a sky stretching afar to the infinity, inspires in him suddenly a quixotic urge to conquer the unassailable, to provoke the laconic nature, who sleeps seemingly soundly but with eyes open.

Every day the person wakes up to a scenery immutable from the day before, saves that periodically a stroke of lightening galvanizes the slumberous earth, the ear-splitting roar sounds to him like the mocking laugh at his futility of power. Or, fortunately enough, scant stars embellish the darkening sky; their flimsy light nonetheless a sufficient comfort to his desolate soul, disheartened from yet another prolonged day of battles, against the impossible, against the unknown.

Like his genre paintings, Gustave Courbet’s landscape scenes are rarely innocent or peaceful. They all seem to be impregnated with meanings- some are intricate like unsolvable riddles, others a shade too suspicious or sinister, still others, thanks to their age-old wisdom, mask well their true intentions, and appear effortlessly in what the human creatures perceive with their naive eyes: a sleeping beauty. Nature in Courbet’s paintings is never static.

In The Beach at Trouville at Low Tide (1865) pillars of clouds come from nowhere, flit and traverse to a destination indefinite. They seem to be driven by the phantom horses, speeding towards the only human creature on this vast earth. The colours of the soil are a marked contrast to the pallor of the heaven- these two do not mingle as they should be. Clouds are blown by frantic winds but the earth stays stubbornly unperturbed. Within such an intense war zone between the celestial and the terrestrial a lone creature morosely walks.

Nature is restless. Once the human creature is acclimatised to his surroundings he obtains guiltlessly the wisdom Nature accumulates. He ceases stomping the ground or crying aloud in anger and distress, but simply whispers, so dimly that no sooner Nature becomes indifferent to his voice, and mentally wiping out his presence altogether. Gratified with the hard-won peace he finally settles himself with the human creature recalls what he once heard from his ancestors, that there is a holy land not too far-off which is blessed with the absence of all echoes and undue noises. The human creature toys with the imagined vision of this holy land tirelessly in his dreams, sweet or fitful.

Does he resent that, in dearth of a guidance from Nature, he never reach the holy land he so pines for? His obsession tails off without traces as he consciously takes a drink from Lethe. Nature prophesies it all but cares little to inform. The human creature roams the vast earth still everyday, and with unopened eyes he always stares towards the infinity. Beneath the earth only the dead groan.