Visit to the Met, and a Picasso Enigma

My friend Bernie and I went to the Metropolitan Museum the other day to see the Turner show. The beautiful, inspiring, elegant Turner show I should say. Seascapes, landscapes, and some of the best watercolors you’ll ever see in your life. It’s the talk of the town not only among art world insiders, but also plain old art-loving New Yorkers who are Met “regulars”. And deservedly so. It’s one of the best Met exhibits of late. Much better than that tacky, overrated and ridiculously overhyped Courbet show a few months back. Hey, what can I say, that just wasn’t my thing. But Turner is glorious. Sensitive, aesthetic, graceful, and sincere. A beautiful artist.

Since I mentioned “Met regulars”, of which I am one, I should point out that it’s a common practice for us to linger in the museum even after we’ve finished viewing the “hot” show. You have to. You can’t just leave, it’s the Met! All of us have to make some kind of detour before we exit the building; a detour that leads us to a personal favorite which consistently pleases us, makes our inspiration soar, and fills us with awe. You guys, my New York friends and artists, all know what I’m talking about. The detour is different for everyone, and that’s fine. As long as you pay a pilgrimage visit to your special work of art while you’re still on the premises. In general, the Met Museum is a hard place to walk out of, it’s that great.

For me, the exit-delaying detour is the second floor, where one can find some of the finest pieces of the Met’s permanent collection, specifically early 20th century European works. Among them is one of my all-time favorite paintings, Picasso’s Woman in White. So after we finished viewing the Turner show, I just had to stop in and see it, for the 800th time.

Bernie accompanied me to the Picasso and we enjoyed it immensely. And while I was looking at it, it occured to me that I have so far neglected to post it on my blog. What an oversight! I should be ashamed of myself! So I’m doing it now. But for Museworthy, I have to discuss the identity of the sitter, which turns out to be shrouded in mystery and confusion. Of course, make my life difficult!

For many years it was held that the model for this painting was Picasso’s wife at the time, Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova. Now, thanks to the inquiring, investigative minds of Picasso biographers and art historians, it’s speculated that the model may be not Olga after all, but American socialite and expatriate Sara Murphy.

Sara and her husband Gerald Murphy moved to the French Riviera in the 1920s. Active patrons of the arts and “Jazz Age” icons, the Murphys became the central vortex of an impressive clique of friends and luminaries, which included writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos, the composer Igor Stravinsky, and artists, most notably Pablo Picasso, with whom they had a close friendship. The Murphys are believed to have been the models for the Nicole and Dick Diver characters in Fitzgerald’s book Tender is the Night.

Although no hard evidence exists of an actual affair between Picasso and the vivacious Sara, he was at the very least, infatuated with her. By all accounts, Sara was a charismatic and somewhat eccentric figure. Attractive and intelligent, she was famous for wearing her pearls while sunbathing on the beach. She had all the captivating qualities of an inspiring muse, that’s for sure.

I’m inclined to believe that the Woman in White is, in fact, Sara Murphy. Poor Olga! But either way, the painting is exquisite, and while I’m happy to post it here on Museworthy, it can’t compare to seeing it in real life, hanging on the wall of the Met.

Sculpture Rhythm

I haven’t posted a video in a while, and this one is well worth sharing on Museworthy. My sculptor readers especially will appreciate it. It’s from California based sculptor Marco Cochrane. Set to some groovy, upbeat music, it shows the progression of a dynamic figurative sculpture. The pulse and energy of both the pose and the creative process are palpable. Really amazing. I, for one, would love to know the logistics of how he worked with his model.

So enjoy the “Bliss Dance”!


Matisse & Co. – The Flashy Fauves

Three years doesn’t a “movement” make. Or does it? Tell that to the French Fauvists of the early 20th Century. A brief period in art history, Fauvism certainly made its mark and exerted considerable influence in its transient life span.

It began in 1905 and *poof* it was gone by 1908. The chairman of the board was the one and only Henri Matisse. His right hand man was his good friend Andre Derain. Other members of the gang were Raoul Dufy, Kees van Dongen, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Georges Braque, who jumped the Fauvism ship to go off and develop Cubism with Picasso. Deserter!

If you like color – intense, in-your-face color, that is – you’ll like Fauvism. Ridiculed by critics as undisciplined, brash, and primitive, they were given the nickname “fauves” as an insult. It means “wild beasts”. Nice!! I like it πŸ™‚ Using unblended colors, aggressive brush strokes, and with little regard for shading and depth perception, Matisse and his cohorts allowed color and color alone to propel their work in a style that was without subtlety or nuance. It rattled many. But while snooty art reviewers accused the Fauve style of being flat, simplistic, and lacking complexity, the movement ended up serving an important function in the art history timeline; a transitional bridge between Impressionism/Post-Impression to Cubism and Expressionism.

The Fauvists amplified the colors of life and nature, taking each hue and “kicking it up a notch” to the more saturated version. Realistic? No way. Representational? Not a chance. Bold, vivid and vibrant. You bet.

While many of the notable Fauve works are landscapes and interiors, for Museworthy I’ve chosen, like I always do, some works with human subjects.

Andre Derain’s Dancer at Le Rat Mort:

This is probably the most famous Fauve portrait. Mme. Matisse, Matisse’s painting of his wife, Amelie. Also known as The Green Stripe:

And this is Vlaminck’s version of the Rat Mort girl. That chick really got around! But those ladies usually made for very good – and willing- art models:

Just a Number . . .

::The 40 year-old woman boogies into the room. Raises her hands over her head. Snaps fingers. Bounces to the beat. Shakes her money-maker::

Helloooooooo!!! Greetings friends! Did you miss me? I sure missed you guys. What have you all been up to? I’ve just been doing a little thing like turning 40. And you’ll be happy to know that I’ve emerged from the ordeal unscathed, untraumatized, and wrinkle-free (so far).

I posed at Spring Studios on my birthday, a booking I actually requested of Minerva a few weeks back. And it was a wise decision on my part, because there’s no better way to cope with such a birthday than by doing the thing you love most – the thing that gives you joy, inspiration, and which you have a profound passion for. Many of my artist friends came down for the auspicious occasion: Dan, Fred, David, Eleni, Bernie, Peter, Larry. And Minerva brought out a cake! We all had a really good time πŸ™‚

To show my appreciation for my artist friends’ support and good wishes – and just for seeing them sitting out there in the “audience” – I did really the one thing an art model can offer- personalized, “targeted” posing based on individual preferences. So I stood for Dan, reclined for David, and twisted into a pretzel for Fred. It’s wonderful to know people so well and therefore be in a position to fuel their artistic inspiration. Like I always say, art models are givers, not takers.

After work, I met my family for a fabulous dinner at a SoHo restaurant. We ate voraciously, and I got fairly lubricated on wine. Woohoo!

As if I haven’t received enough beautiful birthday presents, my dear friend Fred Hatt sent me some of his sketches from my birthday posing session at Spring Studios. As you can imagine, they mean a great deal to me for symbolic reasons. They chronicle my first art modeling at 40! And I spit in society’s eye as I posed. I was defiant and noncompliant. Laughing at everything sexist and restrictive and retrograde. Asserting my reality as it IS, rather than what it “should” be.

So thanks to Fred’s observant eye and fast hands, I have a record of my work on that special day. And I have to say, it looks like I’ve still got it. In other words, still museworthy! Thanks Fred, for the pictures. You’re the best πŸ™‚

Here are some quick poses:

Life is good . . .

Natal Day Notions

Tomorrow is my birthday – July 22nd. And it’s not just a “garden-variety” birthday. It’s one of those big “milestone” birthdays (whatever that’s supposed to mean). On Tuesday, I will turn 40 :groan: Trust me, readers, when I tell you that I am not so hopelessly vain and insecure that I’m getting all flustered about turning 40. I swear I’m not. I was fine with it, until about a month ago, when it suddenly hit me like a brick, “I’m going to be 40 years old in a few weeks!”. It’s a crappy sounding number. “39” is cool; lively, rhythmic, still has sparks of youth. “40” just sits there; leaden, drab, cheerless, middle-ageish. Any numerologists out there? Help!

For the past few days, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I blog my birthday?”. How do I present it in such a way that doesn’t bore the hell out of my readers, come across narcissistic or whiny or self-indulgent? Or reek of maudlin sentiments like a Hallmark card.

Among my many hairbrained theories, I have a theory about birthdays, and it’s honestly helping me to cope with tomorrow’s doomsday and put things in perspective. See, it’s natural and logical to treat birthdays as an occasion for soul-searching and self-absorption, to ask ourselves all sorts of profound, introspective questions about our lives “so far”, make personal assessments, weigh our accomplishments, and rue our regrets. To hell with all that. A better alternative is my trusty theory, that birthdays should focus not on your autonomous, isolated self, but yourself in a larger context, and function as a reminder that there are things much bigger than you. And especially for our gang who turn 40 this year (that includes you Steph!), we should consider our birth year and the state of the world into which we came.

I was born in 1968. What a delightful year! Assassinations, riots, shootings, military invasions. I think all dictionaries should be altered to put “1968” as the sole definition entry for “turbulence”. It’s as if every act of political upheaval and social unrest are encased within those 12 months. I can’t even watch a PBS documentary without being reminded that some violent and horrific event took place in 1968. Sure, there were some bright spots amid all the unrest. But not many. So I invite you all to take a nostalgic stroll with me through the significant events of 1968. How uplifting it will be!

American soldiers kill 500 innocent Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre.

Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia in the “Prague Spring”.

North Vietnamese launch the Tet Offensive.

Lyndon Johnson announces that he will not seek Presidential re-election.

Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated by James Earle Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Paris surgeons perform the first successful heart transplant.

Football stampede in Buenos Aires leaves 74 dead and 150 injured.

Robert Kennedy is assassinated by Sirhan-Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, just hours after winning the California Democratic Presidential primary.

Saddam Hussein becomes Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Council in Iraq after a military coup.

The Beatles release The White Album.

Columbia University students stage protest, shut down the school, and and seize control of five campus buildings. Violent conflict erupts with New York police.

Pierre Trudeau becomes Canada’s 15th Prime Minister

Andy Warhol is shot, but not killed, by Valerie Solanas.

Stanley’s Kubrick’s groundbreaking film 2001: A Space Odyssey opens.

Chicago police clash with protesters at the Democratic National Convention. 100 go to emergency room, 175 arrested.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in debuts on NBC.

Shootout between the Black Panthers and Oakland police.

Yale University goes co-ed.

“Bloody Monday” revolt of 5000 Parisian student demonstrators fill the Latin Quarter. Riot ensues when Paris police throw gas grenades.

Medalists Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos raise black power salute during the Star-Spangled Banner at the Mexico City Olympic Games.

Frankie Lymon, lead singer of The Teenagers, is found dead of a heroin overdose.

Richard Nixon narrowly defeats Hubert Humphrey in Presidential election.

Ok, in retrospect maybe my “larger context” idea isn’t so great after all. Ugh, that was brutal! It’s a miracle that the year didn’t end with total Armageddon. I think we should all be grateful that most of those events are 40 years behind us. But thank god for The White Album! And Laugh-In πŸ™‚

Amid all the turmoil and tragedy and anarchy of 1968, on a hot day in late July, a husband and wife in New York City welcomed their second child; a daughter, who they named Claudia, a future artist’s model. I thought the best way to close this post is with a drawing by the woman who gave birth that summer night. Yesterday, I posed down at Spring Studios for the Sunday portrait drawing session. Upon my request, my mother obligingly came down to make a drawing for me, and for Museworthy! It is the most meaningful birthday present I’ve ever received. And what better way to mark my 40th year, than with my image by the hand of the woman who brought me into this world, in the midst of one of the most tumultuous years on record.

This is me, on the eve of 40, through the eyes of my mother, Elaine Hajian. Charcoal on paper. Created at Spring Studios, July 2008:

Thanks for the drawing, Mom. I love it. And thanks for everything else . . .

40 . . . here I come! πŸ™‚

Francoise Gilot

I employ the word “muse” on this blog always with complimentary intent. I myself am a muse to artists, and I revel in that role, as you all know. I even made sure to incorporate it in my blog title. But the word “muse” alone is woefully inadequate to describe Francoise Gilot, Picasso’s companion for ten years, and the mother of two of his children, Paloma and Claude.

Of all the biographies I’ve had to research for this blog, none has absorbed me, impressed me, and inspired me more than Francoise Gilot’s. I have come to admire her immensely. Fascinating, beautiful, intelligent, and accomplished, Francoise is a woman who stands fully on her own. Her “attachment” to Picasso need not define her life, her vision, or her place in history. While I am certainly no expert on Picasso’s psychology (nor would I want to be!), I will go out on a limb and editorialize for a moment. I believe the biggest blunder of Picasso’s personal life was his failure to hold onto Francoise Gilot. He attracted a woman of great depth, ambition, intellect, and artistic talent, and blew it in the end with his abuse, disrespect, and mistreatment. Major fuck up.

You are probably all familiar with Robert Capa’s famous photograph of Picasso and Francoise cavorting on the beach. What a great shot. Francoise is radiant, and I love that Picasso is holding the umbrella for her. That’s right, Pablo. Treat her like a lady!

Born in the Paris suburbs in 1921, Francoise knew at the age of five that she wanted to be an artist. While her mother and grandmother were supportive of her aspiration, her autocratic father, Emile, was not. His own dreams for Francoise included law school and a prestigious career in the mainstream. She dutifully attended classes and exhibited solid academic ability. She earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Paris and a degree in English Literature from the British Institute. But Francoise doggedly held onto her artistic pursuits throughout her youth, and had to do it all covertly so as not to anger her father. She learned etching and drypoint. She sought out art classes and instructors to give her guidance and support. She set up an art studio in her grandmother’s attic. She appeased her demanding, despotic father by attending law school, all the while knowing that her passion for art would not, and could not, be quelled.

In 1940, Francoise joined other students in Paris for a rally at the Arc De Triomphe to honor the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and commemorate the armistice of World War 1 – a brazen, impudent act since Paris, at that time, was already under German Occupation. Needless to say, the German soldiers didn’t take kindly to the students’ activism. They harassed them, a melee ensued, and many were arrested. Francoise found her name placed on the “watch list” and was considered a hostage. She was “trapped” in Paris for months, and had to report daily to the local police station.

Picasso’s drawing, Portrait of Francoise, from 1946:

When Francoise finally announced to her father that she intended to devote herself completely to her art, Emile Gilot became livid. He cut her off from the family, and their relationship was irreparably damaged. Resilient, resourceful, and determined, Francoise moved in with her sympathetic grandmother, and supported herself by giving horseback riding lessons in the Bois du Bologne.

In 1943, Francoise was in Paris for an exhibit of her art at the Madeleine Decre Gallery. She and her good friend Genevieve were sitting in a cafe when they spotted Picasso at a nearby table. Although he was with his then companion Dora Maar, that didn’t stop Picasso from approaching the young women with a bowl of cherries and asking his friend for an introduction. The friend obliged, and presented Genevieve as the “pretty one” and Francoise as the “intelligent one”.

Francoise had invited Picasso to her art exhibit and, to her amazement, he came. He then reciprocated by inviting her to his studio. After a courtship dance of studio visits, walks through Paris, afternoons at the museums, and drawing sessions, a May-December romance started to develop between the 61 year old artistic giant and the independent 21 year old free spirit. But Francoise did not jump impulsively into a relationship with Picasso. She likely had some trepidations. So Picasso had to chase her – a predatory role-play he no doubt enjoyed.

Another photo of Picasso and Francoise. Although he is positioned in the background, ostensibly like a subordinate, he seems to be eyeballing her, like the control freak he was:

Picasso and Gilot’s circle of friends included some very prominent figures of the 20th century cultural scene. Among them were George Braque, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, and Picasso’s longtime good friends, Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse, both of whom were very fond of Francoise.

Picasso and Francoise in Antibes:

They were happy for a time, their greatest source of joy undoubtedly their two boisterous children. They both drew inspiration from the kids and created art which featured the children’s spirits, curiosity, and playfulness around the home.

A charming Picasso family portrait:

But the good times wouldn’t last. Francoise became increasingly frustrated with Picasso’s domineering ways, oppressive temperament, and infidelity. He was jealous of her friendships, as they represented time and attention taken away from him. Once, in an angry rage, he burned a cigarette out in Francoise’s face.

The breakup was inevitable, and ugly. Francoise left with the two children. Upon hearing that their home had been ransacked by Picasso, Francoise returned to discover that Picasso had indeed emptied the place and taken many of her belongings; her book collection, drawings he had given her, letters and correspondence from Matisse. But the final vindictive blow came when Picasso used his considerable influence to have Francoise dropped from her gallery.

So by the still young age of 31, Francoise Gilot had already endured more than her share of totalitarian forces, from every which way; her personal relationships and a wartorn Europe. All trying to keep her down, manipulate her, and break her will. But they failed. Throughout it all, Francoise evolved as an artist, fed her passion, raised her children, and kept her sanity! Amid war, controlling men, and a tumultuous European 20th century.

A 1956 trip to Tunisia inspired this painting by Gilot, Entering the Souk. It depicts a busy marketplace:

Figure drawing by Francoise, The Pink Veil:

You guys didn’t think Monet had the exclusive rights to paint waterlilies, did you? Here they are a la Gilot:

I am so pleased that unlike many of Picasso’s female companions (or most of the other muses I discuss here) Francoise Gilot did not live a “post-Picasso” life of misery and loneliness, or meet with a tragic demise. What a relief! She continued to evolve as an artist, worked tirelessly, exploring new themes, and mastering diverse media. In 1970, Francoise met and married Dr. Jonas Salk, discoverer of the polio vaccine. The marriage was solid, extremely happy, and lasted 25 years until his death from congestive heart failure.

Francoise Gilot is alive and well, living in New York, still working, exhibiting, lecturing, writing, and as vital as ever. Her legacy is breathtaking; painter, illustrator, lithographer, author, and, perhaps most challenging, mother. Any woman who could survive and withstand both the Nazis and Pablo Picasso is officially my hero.

The website which served as an invaluable resource for me in composing this post was the Francoise Gilot Archives. There you can find detailed biographical information on Francoise and incredible images of her life and art. It’s an overall excellent site, and I highly recommend it. The extraordinary life of an extraordinary woman.

Also, YouTube has an hour long interview with Francoise on the Charlie Rose Show. Unfortunately the sound quality is terrible. I watched it, but it was disappointing for that reason. If you’re willing to give it a shot click YouTube-FrancoiseGilot

Never Leave the Art Model Alone With Her Camera

It was kind of funny checking my blog stats just now. Among the search engine terms which brought someone to Museworthy today was “depressed woman painting”. Another one was “depression model”. Something tells me that the latter searcher didn’t intend “model” as in art model. Anyway, I got a kick out of it and thought I’d share it with all of you. Gotta love Google!

I’m working at the New York Studio School all afternoons this week, and even though the beast is still with me, I found a way to amuse myself and indulge a little of my own creative vision- some of it moderately respectable, some of it pretty juvenile. But at least I was able to elevate my mood a bit. I’ll take anything I can get.

I realized today that the Studio School is an ideal place to take pictures. Probably the best out of all the places I work. It drips “art school”. Vivid colors, battered props and objects everywhere, piles of fabrics, student artwork stacked against walls, areas of clutter juxtaposed with areas of open space. It is sublime disarray. Ordered disorder. It’s really pretty cool. The building is old, and an architectural oddity in many respects. It contains many secluded little spots and illogical transitions from room to room. With no elevator, creaky staircases wind through the interior like a labyrinth. One can easily get lost in there, even if you’ve been working there for over two years (yes, I’m guilty). I like to call the maze of corridors, studios, and stairwells of the Studio School the “catacombs”.

So today during the long break, the painting students bolted the building to roam 8th Street, in a quest for coffee, soda, a cell phone call, or a cigarette. I got dressed and took a leisurely stroll to Washington Square Park. When I returned, I was alone. Not one student had come back yet. So I had both North and South Benton studios all to myself! Wheee! Out came my camera. With my blog and its readers on my mind, I scoured the floor for things to shoot. I was on the loose.

This scene just begged for a picture. Someone’s clay sculpture sitting on the open window ledge. Poor little guy just needed some fresh air. Those are the rooftops and fire escapes of Greenwich Village in the background:

I happened upon this one purely by accident, like most good pictures. It’s the corridor between South Benton and the Green Room. I was really struck by the light streaming through and how it reflected off the blue walls. Also a nice shot of the “catacombs”:

OK, now is when things get stupid. I became obsessed with this crud-covered mirror just outside Benton. Splattered with paint spots and some white gook, it created this weirdly festive look in my camera window. I dig it! It’s like confetti!!! So this is me in front of a paint and crud-covered art school mirror. Hey, I have nothing against crud. Plus a little boobage for you guys. Wish I had more to show:

Me again, with my imaginary “confetti”. Fighting the beast. Or, ignoring the beast. He can’t ruin my fun. Why I look completely psychotic I have no idea:

This last shot is art school in a nutshell: an easel, a table, and a cup of coffee. The only thing missing is a crazy art model. Oh wait . . . never mind: