November 27th, 2010

Monet: water lilies (by striped)

Musings on the de Young museum and various post-Impressionist artists and paintings

Maurice DenisShannon and I went to the de Young today to see their post-Impressionism exhibition, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. As I mentioned in this journal before, I've never been terribly fond of Cézanne or Gauguin, but today I saw their work in a different light -- as the gateway between Impressionism and Cubism -- and that historical context made them much more interesting to me. Always before, I was looking at their works individually, and I didn't like the severe outlines, the geometrically simplified shapes, and the blocks of fairly homogenous color, but when put in a historical context they become fascinating. The de Young is going to be hosting a Picasso exhibition in 2011, and I'm now quite interested to see it as an outgrowth of my beloved, transgressive, influential Impressionism.

Cezanne's quarryOne of the paintings that showed me most clearly the transition from Impressionism to Cubism was a painting by Cézanne of a quarry. The brush strokes still look rather Impressionistic (especially the sky and greenery), and the blendings of color look familiar to me as well, but the shapes are decidedly geometrical. I can definitely see Picasso waiting in the wings. There's a spot in the upperish rightish area that actually looks almost like a puzzle piece from the game Rumis! The exhibition *did* include some of Gauguin's Tahitian island girls, of course, but I found *them* more interesting this time around, too. Maybe my taste in art is just expanding in my old age. But I do think the sense of a historical context is making a huge difference.

Gauguin: Self Portrait with Yellow JesusOne of the strangest paintings was Gauguin's "Self Portrait with Yellow Christ," which I thought was just bizarre. I mean ... who paints a portrait of themselves with Jesus in the background? Not only Jesus, but dead, crucified Jesus. Who paints themselves with a dead body? And I'm not a Christian, but this seems kinda arrogant to me, especially when you put yourself in the foreground, much larger than Christ. Not to mention that the Jesus in the painting has mysteriously green boobies, as if someone covered in finger paint had been feeling him up while he hung there, defenseless. I had great difficulty imagining the mindset of the painter when he chose this subject matter and composition. Weird.

van GoghSpeaking of odd artistic mindsets while painting, I particularly liked one of the van Gogh paintings in the exhibit -- a vase of orange fritillaries against a teal background -- which looked kinda crazy to me. The brush strokes were very linear in the table (as is often the case with his paintings, all lines and swirls), while the background was all multicolored dots. The flowers themselves were interspersed with sort of spiky-looking greenery that seemed vaguely sinister to me. But what I really loved about the painting was that shimmering blue background, all speckled with light and shadow. Not quite pointillist, not quite divisionist, but very characteristically van Gogh. I loved loved loved it. The exhibition was showing one of his starry night paintings, as well, which stunned both Shannon and me into awestruck silence for a few minutes, but I already knew that the starry night paintings amazed me. The fritillaries surprised me out of nowhere. There was also a very famous painting depicting his bedroom at Arles, which I like. (I've actually been to Arles, as my mom is a big van Gogh fan and wanted to see his grave, right beside his beloved brother's, both covered in ivy. I didn't much care for van Gogh at the time, so I wasn't terribly impressed, but I've since developed quite an affection for his work.)

Maurice Denis: The MusesAnother artist also surprised me out of nowhere: Maurice Denis. He painted works that aren't my usual kind of thing, but there were a number of his works in the exhibition that I really liked. The image of green trees that I posted at the beginning of this journal entry is one of his paintings. Very simple blocks of color, but I found it oddly interesting. Like I said, it's not my usual kind of thing, but I appreciate the graceful curves and lines of the trunks, the surprising combination of muted and bright colors, the little touches of dark leaves near the top of the painting which give a different sense of scale ... I don't know. I just like it. It didn't impress Shannon, but there was another Denis painting we both liked: The Muses. I just love the composition, with the women ranged throughout the space, both in front of and behind the trees, both near and far, in small groupings here and there. What I love most, though, are the leaves, how they dangle decoratively from the trees, but also form a sort of elegantly patterned carpet on the ground, supplying the only significant splashes of bright color. (I say "significant" because there's a bit of color in a book in the foreground, too, but it's pretty small.) The composition of this painting actually makes me think of Magritte's painting Blank Signature, in which a horsewoman weaves in and out of the trees.

They even had a few of Monet's paintings, though they weren't ones I particularly admired. I'm more of a water lily fan, I suppose. There was also quite a bit of Seurat, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, and even some Renoir and Degas.

Over all, a very interesting and educational exhibition. I may go back to enjoy it on a less crowded day, as today many people who had the day off work were milling around aimlessly with their family members and friends.

Note: If you want to see a variety of the paintings that were in the exhibition, you can check out this webpage.

Note #2: One of the highlights of the day actually took place *outside* the museum. Shannon and I were sitting in the sun in the garden, having a snack, and a very brazen squirrel begged me for some of the trail mix I was munching on. So I threw him an almond, which he devoured with great relish, and when he was done he raced menacingly at me, as if trying to scare me into dropping the rest of my bounty. I threw him a hazelnut, and he was temporarily mollified, but when he had finished that, and he found that I was not paying attention, he jumped right up on our bench and climbed across my backpack toward my lap (where the baggy of nuts and dried fruit was sitting). What cheek! And then one of his friends arrived, having heard rumors that almonds and hazelnuts were to be had, that there was an easy mark throwing out delicious treats, and I was soft-hearted enough to give both of them more nuts before Shannon and I headed back into the museum. Wild animals! In the middle of the city! Climbing across my backpack! Neato keen!
me blue hair

A busy but Lisa-less Saturday

Cobweb has been vomiting liquid all evening, and she seems miserable and withdrawn. Poor baby. I'm worried about her. Why does this keep happening? She hasn't been doing well at all lately: no appetite, constipation, vomiting, random poopiness, just general lack of goodness. We've had a number of potential remedies recommended to us ... next up on the experimental wheel of fortune: canned pumpkin. We'll see.

Lisa is out of town, visiting her friend John for Thanksgiving as she does every year, and they are -- according to their tradition -- eating holiday Pop Tarts. Don't ask. It's a long story. But this means I was Lisa-less today, so I had an unusually solitary Saturday. But instead of just sitting around and enjoying the alone time, I was busy busy busy.

Today was my last day checking on Caruso (Ilah's adorable white cat who absolutely *dwarfs* our three petite cats) for this particular stint (I'll be cat-sitting him again when Ilah and her husband go out of town for Christmas.), and he was much friendlier this time around, since he's been permitted to go outside since I last saw him and is therefore not desperate to get away from me. When I walked up the walk to the front door, I called out his name a few times, and he answered me with enthusiastic chirrups from the neighbor's yard, running toward me and then scaling the high wooden fence far more quickly than I would have imagined possible. He wasn't out of food or water or anything, and he could easily have gotten back into the house; I guess he was just happy for the company. He came and sat with me the whole time I was there, purring a lot and occasionally meowing at me or otherwise verbally expressing himself. I set out my sweater for him, and he curled up on it and sat there for ages. I, of course, fell asleep on Ilah's couch for about an hour, after giving him lots of scritches and talking to him for quite a while. I hope that even a sleeping person does give him *some* degree of company.

On the way there, the sun was shining, everything was beautiful, but the rain absolutely *poured* down on my head. I had an umbrella in my backpack, but the sunlight kept leading me to believe that the rain was going to let up any moment, so I got pretty badly soaked before I finally gave in and pulled out my umbrella ... what's that they say about closing the barn door after the horse has gone? But I didn't mind getting wet.

On my way home from Ilah/Caruso's house, I decided to take the bus. When I walked up to the nearest bus stop (on University near San Pablo), a vaguely familiar-looking older black guy began talking to me and said he recognized me. I'm not in that area very often, so I was doubtful, but then I realized that I had seen him busking (rather tunelessly, I'm afraid) in the downtown Berkeley BART station yesterday when Shannon and I were on our way to San Francisco. What are the chances that a busker would remember the face of a stranger from in the constantly shifting crowd ... a stranger who didn't give him any money or even walk particularly near him? It was kind of nice, actually, like we were Berkeley BART buddies or something. We chatted quite a bit until the bus came.

I've decided I'm not going to the book club meeting I was previously planning to attend on Tuesday, because I've been sleeping so much that I just haven't been able to finish the book they'll be discussing, and I'd rather not show up without finishing and end up *spoiled* for exciting events at the end, especially as there's a lot of mystery in the book (Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind). In fact, the club is going to be discussing *two* of that author's novels, and I haven't even *started* the second one. Oh well. Very disappointing, but I'll get over it.

I'm tired of sleeping so much! Literally! But I spent today mostly getting stuff done: dishes, laundry, cat-sitting, Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, preparing some Thanksgiving leftovers for freezing, making various bureaucratic phone calls, and who knows what else. My only napping was that one hour with Caruso. I'm hoping to stay awake until at least 10, preferably 11, and try to sleep normal hours like a normal person.

Random note: I always carry a big bottle of water with me when I'm going to be away from the house for an extended period. The last time Shannon and I went to the dog park, I poured out some of my water into the little bowl that is set out for small dogs who can't reach the larger buckets of doggy-drinkable water, because the small bowl was almost empty. Shannon seemed to think it was strange that I would share my water with the dogs, which attitude I -- in turn -- thought was strange. There was a drinking fountain nearby, so I could refill my bottle easily, so it's not like it cost me anything. Why not share my water? Huh.
totoro catbus, happy

80's music galore! Yay!

This evening I went crazy on iTunes and bought a bunch of music. For a long time, I felt like I *should* buy music that was unfamiliar to me, expose myself to new things, and it meant I ended up listening to a lot of stuff that didn't excite me much. But tonight I splurged on 80's stuff that I can sing along with, 'cause I know all the words. Many of them are songs off vinyl LPs I owned when I was in high school. I was particularly looking for boppy, cheerful music, because I noticed recently that a heck of a lot of music on my iPod is depressing.

Here's what I bought:
  • Come Dancing, The Kinks (I've liked The Kinks since I was a little girl, but I really fell in love with them when I saw the movie Absolute Beginners, in which the lead singer had a beguiling role.)
  • And We Danced, The Hooters (I loved this album for a while in high school. I think few people besides me were fans of The Hooters, but I was a rebel.)
  • Pop Muzik, M.
  • Sex Dwarf (Original), Soft Cell (I remember listening to this on KROQ while getting ready for school almost every day for *years*. The dj always played it around the same time in the morning.)
  • Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go (Extended Version), Soft Cell (Two great songs with a graceful segueway, resulting in one of the best songs ever!)
  • Tempted, Squeeze (I didn't really appreciate Squeeze until the 90's, but now I love them.)
  • Black Coffee in Bed, Squeeze
  • Pulling Mussels (From the Shell), Squeeze
  • I Confess, The English Beat (I had a huge crush on both lead singers -- Dave Wakeling and "Ranking Roger" -- who later formed the band General Public together.)
  • Tenderness, General Public
  • Always Something There to Remind Me, Naked Eyes
  • Centerfold, The J. Geils Band (This was my absolute favorite song for a few months when I was 14 or so. I often had favorite songs that were racy without my really listening to the lyrics: "Don't Stand So Close To Me," "Little Red Corvette," etc.)
  • Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, Ultravox (Okay, so this song isn't so upbeat, but I adore it anyway. I first listened to Ultravox because the members of Duran Duran mentioned them as an influence. Embarrassing. Ultravox is a *much* better band.)
  • Bizarre Love Triangle, New Order (I've always loved dancing to this song. It reminds me of a dozen -- or more -- nights going dancing at New Wave City parties in San Francisco with Fred, Katherine, Jay, & co. in the 90's. Also, 80's nights -- was it every Thursday? -- at The Stud.)
  • Strangelove, Depeche Mode (I remember dancing to this song in the yearbook room -- I was an editor -- in 1987. I'd been a DM fan for years already, introduced to them in 1983 or so by a neighbor who was a very hip dj. They've been one of my favorite bands for about two decades, and I've seen them in concert a couple times.)
  • Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode (gotta love the irreverence)
  • Policy of Truth, Depeche Mode (I'm not sure why, but I love the blatant cynicism of this song.)
  • People Are People, Depeche Mode (This is one of the first DM songs I remember hearing, and I've always loved it. It's basically an expression of disbelief in the face of racism, homophobia, and just general xenophobia, and I loved the sentiment immediately upon hearing it.)
  • Enjoy the Silence, Depeche Mode (I think one of the reasons I like this song is actually the interesting video.)
  • World In My Eyes, Depeche Mode (I find this song uncharacteristically romantic. "Uncharacteristic" in that isn't really DM's usual style. They're more of a "let's play master and servant" type.)
  • Friday I'm In Love, The Cure (Who doesn't love this song? Crazy people, that's who.)
  • Stand and Deliver, Adam & The Ants (I had *such* a crush on Adam Ant when I was 13! I still think he's gorgeous, especially with the face paint and the crazy outfits.)
  • Antmusic, Adam & The Ants
  • Europa and the Pirate Twins, Thomas Dolby (Everybody else seems to prefer "She Blinded Me with Science," but I've always preferred this song, because it tells an interesting -- and romantic -- story.)
  • All You Ever Think About Is Sex, Sparks (This song runs through my head frequently, whenever Shannon mentions socks, because I start silently singing, "All you ever think about is socks. All you ever think about is using me. All you ever think about is socks. That's all right with me.")
  • Beds Are Burning, Midnight Oil (I was blown away by this song when I first heard it in my teen years, because it had never occurred to me that white Australians might feel any guilt for stealing an entire continent from its indigenous people. It made me kind of fall in love with the band members as really cool people. I had a similar emotional reaction to the South African band Jaluka, because I found the idea of a South African band composed of both black and white musicians very heartening.)
  • Money, The Flying Lizards (I must admit that I didn't really dig this song in the 80's -- I don't even remember it from back then -- but after seeing it used to hilarious effect in the 1995 movie Empire Records, I can't help smiling when I hear it.)
  • Every Beat of My Heart, Rod Stewart (I'm not generally a big Rod Stewart fan, but this song includes *bagpipes*. I love bagpipes, and they aren't really a common instrument in pop/rock music.)
Now I have lots of "radical," "tubular" music on my iPod!