Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Strange City in Shimmering Color

This week: the visit of my very talented photographer/artist friend Jeff Lefever in Paris and our side trip adventure to Prague. Jeff is the founder of the Foundation for the Biblical Arts and conducts ongoing photo-documentation of Sacred Spaces in Europe.

Prague is a world unto itself. We saw a documentary that described it as "a strange city in shimmering color". This is an apt description, as I was immediately struck by the fairy tale Bavarian architecture and vibrant colors in this city that is situated on a wide, calm river. ("Sunset Prague" study)

Buttery yellows, coral pinks, and oceanic turquoise animate the buildings. In contrast - Dark, pointy Gothic spires slice into the skyline.

Baroque sculptures and dramatic monuments line the famous Charles Bridge and the public squares of the city. As a painter who focuses on the expressive power of the human form in art, Prague is a treasure trove of inspiration.

Jeff and I had the opportunity to visit the Alphonse Mucha Museum - an entire museum dedicated to the artist who is the face of Art Nouveau, the decorative arts movement of 19th century Europe. It was humbling to see the scope and magnitude of the prolific artistic legacy Mucha left us. His skillful draftsmanship shows in the gorgeous serpentining linework and arabesque floral patterns adorning lyrical drapery-clad women.

Another high point (literally and figuratively) was The Cathedral of St. Vitus is a hike up to one of the highest points overlooking the city. This Cathedral has by far the most beautiful and vibrantly colorful stained glass windows I've ever seen in all my travels, one of which Alphonse Mucha designed. Stories from the Scriptures as well as the lives of the Saints and Slavic history are illustrated in vibrant, colorful glass.

I had the opportunity to tour the Jewish quarter of Prague, which impacted me deeply. The Czech Republic has had a rich Jewish history since the Middle Ages and at various times throughout history has peacefully fostered a flourishing Jewish community. (the exuberantly colored Jerusalem Synagogue below)

The oldest surviving European Synagogue is here, as well as a touching Hebrew cemetery, crowded with centuries-old tombstones and wildflowers springing up in purple and yellow, bringing a playful levity and remembrance of life in this heavy resting place of the dead. One of the synagogues is now a tragic memorial for some 80,000 Czech Jews who were deported during the Holocaust, and never returned home.

I was also moved by the Convent of St. Agnes, a medieval convent which has been transformed into a museum for Medieval art. It's thick stone walls are covered with gilded jewel-toned paintings, altarpieces, and intricate wooden sculptures of the Mystical life and Legacy of Christ that speak just as powerfully to us today as they did to their faithful but illiterate audience 700 years ago.

Prague lends itself well to leisure. Tourists and locals congregate by the river to relax, watch the sunset, listen to live music, and of course, drink beer. Prague is known for it's legendary beers and, more notably - for Absinthe. Jeff and I satisfied our curiosity by buying the most potent flask of pure Absinthe we could find in stores and renting a rowboat to venture out on the river and sample our new purchase. Hilarity ensued.

As is customary with our friendship, Jeff and I spawned earnest conversation, truthful introspection, and hearty laughter in everything from live blues to Medieval art and Absinthe. Thank you, dear friend - It was priceless.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Prague, Czech Republic

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A 'Ladies Lark' to the Lush Vineyards of Bordeaux

This week I had the joy of hosting my 2 friends Linda and Betsy in Paris.

We took a side trip to visit Linda's friends who own Chateau des Tourtes, a sprawling and gorgeous vineyard estate and winery situated in the heart of the Bordeaux region in southwest France.

We stayed at the estate of the Miller family - the product of a romantic story about an American man who met and fell in love with a French woman during a summer internship at a winery in the US. Darren Miller and Manu Raguenot married and moved back to France to work for Manu's parents at the vineyard in Bordeaux that her parents had owned and nurtured since the 1960's. Darren and Manu would soon buy all the vineyards from Manu's parents and build their own homestead on the estate where they now live with their 2 beautiful girls and Manu's parents.

They are among the most gracious and hospitable people I have ever met, and they let me have quality time among their vineyards to paint!

Manu gave us a comprehensive tour of Chateau des Tourtes. Wine making is a fascinating and nuanced art - the painstaking details involved from the growing of the vines in the soil to the harvest of the grapes and removal of their skins - the temperature, the fermentation, the distilling process - all combine to create a wine that has a story and a life of it's own. It is a process that is perfected over many years and generations, and has given me a deeper appreciation for this labor of love. I see many parallels between the discipline of wine making and my own discipline of painting. Great wine and great art never come without great risk, hard work, and humbling failures.

Manu was a great tour guide, shuttling us around the Bordeaux region to see beautiful Medieval hill towns and towns on the banks of the Gironde River. St. Emilion, Blaye, and Bourgh were among the highlights.

Betsy proclaimed this trip a "Ladies Lark'. Indeed it was - filled with sunlight, incredible landscapes, warm hospitality, great food and heartfelt wine.
All my thanks to Betsy and Linda for including me on their Ladies Lark!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Bordeaux, France

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Ballad of Love and Death

Today I waited in line for nearly two hours to enter a church that I deemed worthy of the wait - Sainte Chapelle. This Gothic masterpiece, built in the heart of Paris in the 1240's, is an example of high "Rayonnant" Gothic architecture. I have never seen such massive towering expanses of stained glass look so delicate and weightless. It's as if the stone structural skeleton is not even present.
Below is my little homage to Sainte Chapelle - sadly I wasn't allowed to paint it on-site due to tourist traffic, rules etc.

King Louis IX built Sainte Chapelle inside the Palace as a private chapel for the monarchs, and also to house some high-profile religious relics that were once in it's possession - most notably Christ's crown of thorns. Thank you Dave H. For insisting that I add this gem to my itinerary.

I then moved on to the Musee d'Orsay to see a newly hung exhibition that I have anticipated since I arrived in Paris - "Une Ballade d'Amour et de Mort". Translation: "A Ballad of Love and Death" (sounds more beautiful in French, doesn't it?) This show centers on the photography of the PreRaphaelite artists in 19th century Great Britain.

This group of painters known as the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" retreated into their own romantic ideas about beauty in a time when Victorian England was becoming increasingly industrialized, urbanized, and modernized. They looked to poetry, history, and religion for inspiration. Arthurian legends and Biblical metaphors frequent their works. Admiring the detailed narrative work of Italian artists who came before Raphael, they took the name, the "PreRaphaelites". John Ruskin, their contemporary, an artist and critic, encouraged artists to spend as much time outdoors studying nature as possible. The "daguerrotype" photograph was a new invention that allowed artists and photographers to capture extreme detail on the delicate silver surface of the exposure. Many artists used daguerrotype photos as references, and these photographs comprised the exhibition I saw today. Gorgeous sepia photographs of landscapes with gnarled trees, crusty moss-covered rocks, dense forests, craggy mountains and curling ferns as well as romantic and theatrical figures and portraits in enchanted literary settings.

My favorite of the entire exhibition was work of the great prolific female photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, friend and neighbor of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

At a time when portrait photography was dismissed because the long exposure time made the sitter appear stiff and unnaturally posed, Julia Cameron perfected the medium of portrait photography as an exquisite art form that revealed the soul of the subject and could tell a powerful story.

These haunting photographs will always be in my mind's eye. Ms. Cameron is my new "she-ro".

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Location:Paris, France