When I met Farnaz Zabetian at her home, she was surrounded by other women. As we talked, more of them came out from every corner of the room. Some lay on the floor while I could see others in the living room. Farnaz’s facial features were in most of them, her long black hair and beautiful dark eyes. I could not stop looking at their eyes.
Zabetian paints the women of her native Iran. Each face conveys a great depth of emotion and hints at a lifetime of experience. I felt a connection that grew stronger the more I looked at the paintings.
In “The Beginning, the End,” an attractive woman stares at us. Her black dress strewn with small red roses has a tender femininity. Her red lips seen through the black floral veil are inviting but her eyes are distant. You can read in them a profound weariness and detachment. Her pretty face may be a mask that conceals her unhappiness.
Only by looking into her eyes can we understand her true feelings.
Zabetian has written a poem that accompanies this painting. Translated from Persian, it says ” I told my mother, it’s all over. I said, it always happens before you think of it.” Zabetian is concerned with the struggles of women in Middle Eastern societies to fulfill the roles that are expected of them. In order to appear strong and capable, they can suffer great pain within. Her goal is to let us look into the interior of these brave women.
When I was in Paris, I encountered a brave Middle Eastern woman who struggles with the expectations of society. It was in the movie “Wadjda.” Wadjda is a young Saudi girl who dreams of having a bike and racing against her friend Abdullah. Wadjda’s mother, with whom she has a warm relationship, rejects this scandalous idea. “If you ride a bike, you won’t be able to have children,” she warns her.
Wadjda remains determined and tries various schemes to raise money for the bike. She is thwarted at every turn. Finally, she signs up for a competition at her school to chant verses from the Quran. The prize will give her enough money to buy the bike. Her mother teaches her how to chant. At school her teachers are amazed at her sudden increase in piety. Her verses are concerned with love and compassion and she chants them beautifully. She wins the competition but the headmistress takes away the prize when she learns that Wadjda intends to buy a bike. Her mother is persuaded by Wadjda’s determination and finally gives her the bike that she wants so much.
In all the women that Zabetian paints, there is the spirit of a little girl like Wadjda. They have dreams and aspirations for themselves like people everywhere. As Wadjda’s bicycle illustrates, they live in societies that have strongly enforced ideas of what roles are appropriate for women. Reconciling these social expectations with the need for self expression imposes burdens with consequences for themselves and the next generation that they are raising.
The woman in “Tranquility” resembles the one in the first painting but she is at peace. She has let her guard down and is lost in her own thoughts. One suspects that this moment will quickly pass. The full title of the work is “Tranquility is a square that has no corners.”
The demands of the society constrain all of us, but most of all the Middle Eastern women that Zabetian depicts. The tension between having a connection to the society around you and the search for your individual freedom is an endless struggle, a paradox like the square that has no corners.
I had lived in Paris for many years but never spent time inside the Invalides. As a teenager, war did not attract me. Soldiers and tactics were far from my concerns but over the years my perspective had changed. My interest in history had grown deeper. Revolution had taught me how an entire society can be transformed in a moment when all the forces and conditions come together. That day, I felt attracted not only by the Baroque architecture of the building in front of me but also by the stories of great men and events that it contained inside.
The French revolution got its start there when a mob seized a large number of muskets and proceeded to storm the Bastille. The building was constructed for Louis XIV as a home for disabled veterans. Today, it houses the tombs of many eminent French generals. As I looked at the tomb of Marshal Foch, I remembered the battle scene in Paths of Glory.
This powerful anti-war movie shows the corruption and brutality of the military establishment of the time and the helplessness of the soldiers. But even in the harsh conditions of war, men still can make choices. In 1917, the French soldiers effectively decided not to fight anymore. Disregarding the generals, they freed themselves from the horror of the senseless slaughter.
What is freedom? To the Greeks, a free man was one who had no master and could live as he pleased. In the ideal democracy, said Aristotle, men are ruled by no one, or if this is impossible, rule and are ruled in turns.
Democracy in the Athens of Aristotle was limited. Women could not vote or hold office, and many of the inhabitants were slaves. The Persian Empire is often depicted as ruled by despots but its citizens enjoyed some degree of freedom. People of all religions and ethnic groups were given the same rights and had the same freedom of religion. Women had the same rights as men, and slavery was abolished. Sometimes the ancient world is surprising and does not match our prejudices about it.
In the 2500 years since that time, no society has achieved Aristotle’s ideal. We are all subject to authority and constrained in our actions. People will tolerate many restrictions. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” But in all revolutions, there is a tipping point. Even soldiers under strict military discipline will no longer obey if they have lost belief in their leaders.
Michel Bellaiche powerfully conveys the anguish of lost freedom in the painting Looking Back. The figures are completely confined by their tight wraps. Nothing of their humanity can be seen except for two staring blank eyes. They seem to be looking back at us in reproach. They are lost in a colorful world where their pain and isolation haunts us. In the world today, many people have been displaced by oppression and manmade calamity. Can the lonely figures in the painting find their way to freedom?
Some artists struggle to find freedom within themselves. They battle not with a government but with the inner barriers to self-expression. Bernard Mont-Reynaud is among such artists. A distinguished technical career held him back from a full commitment to art.
Now turning to his lifelong passion, he experiments with visual media and music. Painting is his practice of freedom. Mont-Reynaud says “I aim to work in joyful abandon to the rhythmical scratchy sound of the palette knife, in broad gestures, consistent yet ever changing, as spontaneous and effortless as the moment permits.”
Symbiosis shows a woman achieving unity with a tree. Perhaps like Daphne, she is preserving her freedom by a revolutionary change of her being.
Spring is here, and the bees are dancing around my lavender bushes. I have grown to like them. Their graceful dance brings me a feeling of peace and harmony.
In the last few months, we have been afflicted by bad news from around the world. From the Charlie Hebdo murders in France to the atrocities in Kenya, I found myself unexpectedly distracted and upset by each successive tale of inhumanity.
Although it was less deadly, the destruction of Nimrud made me quite sad. Its ancient artifacts were treasures that are now lost forever. Fanatics seek to destroy the past but they only succeed in impoverishing the future. Is art that dangerous?
At home, transitions in my project created uncertainty and feelings of lost trust. I wrote on several themes but never published anything. Silence can be golden. I reflected on how senseless things can be and regained my focus. I went back to what brings me peace and solace: discovery and art.
The fantastic mythological beings, the Lamassu, engraved at Nimrud were meant to protect the inhabitants but they also connect us to those people who lived so long ago. They are an expression of our common humanity. When I look at them, I am mesmerized by their blend of strangeness and familiarity. They are part bull, part bird and part human and we do not really know what they meant to the people who made them but their forms are very familiar and they convey a feeling of calm strength. The art of a culture expresses the life of its people and brings us close to them. Living peacefully together starts with understanding each other’s cultures.
“The way we live” is a subject that deeply concerns the Slovak painter, Ján Koválik. Koválik has held over 20 solo exhibitions and has taken part in several international ones. He was awarded the Perla dell’Adriatico Grand Jury Prize in Grottammare, Italy. Narration is central to Koválik’s style. He says that “People are a constant source of inspiration. My paintings are full of realistic figurative compositions situated in a surrealistic space.” Combining lifelike depiction and metaphorical symbolism, Koválik creates what he calls visual poetry. He reveals people’s motives and feelings, inviting us into the story.
Entangled shows several small groups of people, each in their intimate world, some happy, some less so. Almost invisibly to them, a complex tangled network ties them to each other. Some pull hard on the threads, trying to improve their position. However, their efforts only create more tangles, leaving them exhausted. The happiest figures in the painting seem the least concerned.
Looking at this painting brought my mind back to the bees.
Each honey bee pursues its goals individually, yet they are all connected into a single community. They travel far into the world on their own to collect tiny bits of pollen. When they return to the hive, they communicate what they have found through their dance, the same dance that relaxes me when I look at my lavender bushes.
Bees and humans represent a rare example of two species living together and helping each other. Much of the food that we consume requires pollination by the bees. Yet efforts to improve agricultural efficiency threaten to destroy this harmonious relationship. Honey bees are dying off at an alarming rate. If they do not survive, we will be poorer for it. Like the figures in Entangled, our attempts to better ourselves just increase our difficulties.
Just like the bees, we are affected by our environment. The French artist Stéphanie Poulard observes that “the flesh receives and captures the vibrations of the world. In one way or another, the landscape and the materials of the world imprint themselves on us, transforming us. ” Poulard’s series of digital photographs, Corpus is a study of the human form, the receptacle of our emotions and our sensations.
The complex physicality of Face à Face reminds me of a Rodin sculpture. The woman’s body could be made of plaster, and the bright towel provides a striking contrast. The question of living is once more examined, a faceless woman looking in her mirror while her body is exposed.
Most of us prefer a simple life. We like our adventures to be limited and well defined and the ordinary course of life to be peaceful and predictable. But sometimes events upset the regular rhythms of our lives. The chaos that follows can be stressful but often leads to a new and richer order.
Beata Lewis Sevcikova has never been afraid to embrace chaos. She divorced seven years ago after a long marriage, and moved from Slovakia to Saudi Arabia, where she teaches at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh. The transition was difficult but ultimately a happy one. To express her feelings, Beata began painting despite a lack of previous training. Her belief is that “what you see, read, hear or feel can be put on canvas. You can express your fears, aspirations, your ideals, relationships, your friends or enemies, your happiness… I consider my paintings as something very similar to music, something difficult to express in words. Each and every work is a part of me and it speaks for me. ”
In her painting “Order from Chaos,” the opposing red and blue regions meet at a chaotic boundary. The heat and turmoil of the red gives way to a tranquil blue ocean of light and peace. At the center there is a reflective globe enclosed in a ring where the two sides unite. It is as if a world is contained in the conflicting elements. Around the painting we see a frame and the leaves of a nearby plant, reminding us that this picture is part of a larger world.
In the past forty years our understanding of the connection between order and chaos has been transformed. The work of Benoit Mandelbrot and other mathematicians has demonstrated how chaotic patterns of literally infinite complexity arise from the repeated application of simple rules. These patterns, which Mandelbrot has called “bottomless wonders,” do not overwhelm our minds. In fact, they resemble the structures of nature: leaves, grass, water, clouds, and vegetables. The development of these fractal images has led to a new realism in digital imagery. What we perceive as natural embodies deep complexity which nonetheless results from simple rules.
This truth was grasped intuitively by artists in earlier times. Many styles of art from the paintings of Hokusai to the geometrical patterns of Islamic Art show a complex structure built up from the repetition of similar elements.
The computational art of Mark Stock exhibits how the repetition of simple physical interactions gives rise to complex structures in which we recognize abstract but meaningful patterns. His work “Immaculate Collision” is based on a simulation of fluid dynamics. Fluid spheres of varying density are released and allowed to move freely. Their collisions contort, twist, stretch and fold them into tantalizing patterns. Their boundaries look like smoke or perhaps the fine gauze of a wedding veil. The sense of smooth flowing motion makes one feel dreamy and romantic. It is remarkable that simple and precise scientific rules produce such an emotional impact. Mark’s work is currently on display at the Sense Fine Art Gallery in Menlo Park.
When we talk about chaos in our lives, we are usually referring to some misfortune: revolution, divorce, war, sickness, or other difficulties. Such events take a mental and physical toll on us. They force life into new channels, which sometimes bring new happiness or understanding. At a deeper level, chaos is all around us, even in the basic processes of the natural world. Finding meaning in chaos is the essence of our consciousness. Though we often shun it, chaos is what shapes the world.
In the summer of 2014, I developed a rare affinity for Switzerland. I was not attracted to Switzerland because it is a center for finance, or because it is clean, safe, and efficient. I saw beautiful mountains and lakes. On rainy days, I visited museums and got to know the work of the Swiss artists. My mind was flooded with images. As I traveled all around the country, I thought about how these images affect the viewer.
When I could not see blue skies, I could find them in the paintings of Ferdinand Hodler. He transported me to nature and confronted me with its power.
Hodler depicts the summits and calm blue lake with a directness that connects the viewer to the essence of the scene. The horizontal line of the lake shore evokes stability and calm while the vertical peaks suggest the power of nature. Hodler uses blue in his paintings to show transcendence and spirituality, and red to represent the energy of life.
Robert Zünd, an earlier Swiss artist, was a master of naturalistic landscape painting. By contrast, Ferdinand Hodler’s style evolved from a realistic to a symbolic one. Parallelism is an important organizing principle in Hodler’s work. The repetition of similar forms, intensifies our perception and shows the underlying unity of nature. His paintings explore the power of parallelism.
Hodler considered “The Night” to be his “first painting” because its unveiling was when his career really began. The painting was rejected in Geneva because of its sexual content but was accepted in Paris with huge success. The repeated forms of the sleeping men and women create a strong contrast to the lone figure (Hodler himself) who has been awakened by the spirit of Death.
Although Zünd creates beautiful landscapes, Hodler’s paintings move me more.
What is it about an image that makes you feel a certain way? This question has been discussed through the ages by philosophers and artists. Now science has given us new insights.
Neurobiologist Semir Zeki has done research showing that specific areas of the brain respond to beauty or ugliness in measurable ways. He has found the exact relationship between seeing an image and what happens next in the brain.
One aspect of Zeki’s result is that very different aesthetic stimuli can produce similar activity in the brain.
From the sky, it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese, full of holes. When you enter the building, you see the curved lines, the hilly ascents, the glass, and the circles where students assemble. The space feels fluid and unbounded. While Frank Lloyd Wright projected interior spaces outside at Fallingwater, Sejima and Nishizawa do the opposite. Like Zünd and Hodler paintings, the architecture brings the outdoors inside.
In Zürich, the Rietberg Museum has a vast collection of non-Western art representing the cultures of Tibet, China, Japan, Iran, India, the Congo, Himalaya, and other regions. I found myself particularly interested in the many statues of Buddha. Buddhist art is not driven by the quest for beauty, but rather wants to show the nature of the Buddha. The devotion of the artist expresses itself in works that are dignified and sublime. The statues of Buddha, even when you don’t know much about Buddhism, create a contemplative and reverential feeling.
The body of the Buddha exhibits 32 major characteristics and 80 minor ones. These include long, slender fingers, full, round shoulders, and soft, curly hair. Images of Buddha portray these characteristics, and as a result, Buddhas from India to China made across many centuries have an easily recognized appearance. The artist’s control of these elements, for instance, the symbolic choice of dress and hair, allows a multitude of forms of expression, reflecting the plenitude and diversity of our being. Whether the Buddha is meditative or awakened, the images share a radiance that is deeply moving.
Using images to express ideas in tangible form has been with mankind since its beginning. Images affect us, show our ideas and our cultures, and also help us guide others. We look at these images in search of feelings and new discoveries.
French artist Stéphanie Ciampossin-Poulard lives in Clans, a small town in the mountains above Nice. I recently met her in Paris. She is an excellent listener and observer, a very deep, introspective and sensitive person. Stéphanie likes to experiment with different forms of art, from dance and theater to photography and painting. She has created a series of photos using a technique called cyanotype. She calls it à la lumière diluvienne, a flood of light. Light pours through the dark portions of an image and unexpected patterns are revealed. Poulard describes this as creation by subtraction. The image is formed from the absence of an image. When I look at Stéphanie’s work, I feel the same as looking at Buddha’s face. I feel connected, centered and calm. I will be writing more about her in the future.
Artists can create the same feelings with so many different styles and techniques. Paris too had a very rainy summer and I continued the same quest for images in Paris.
Outside the town of Siauliai in Lithuania, there is a hill covered with crosses. No one knows precisely when the practice began but today the Hill of Crosses has over 100,000 crosses as well as other objects left by visitors over many years.
People have flocked here for many different reasons. Early visitors were commemorating victims of Lithuania’s 1831 uprising against Tsarist Russia. Along with the Poles, the Lithuanians were driven to revolt when the Tsar ordered them to help suppress the revolution in France. As the number of relics has grown, so has their power. Today, the site is a destination for pilgrims seeking solace and even for couples simply getting married. Lithuania has a folk tradition of cross building and many of the crosses are elaborately carved and decorated.
Vincent Dugast has visited the hill several times. His series titled Siauliai shows how the aggregation of so much religious folk art creates a new world. The numberless crosses lose their distinctive character and become what he calls a quasi tumulus with its own aesthetic feel. At the same time, the crosses are sacred objects of comfort and inspiration to those who come to this place to find hope in the face of challenges.
“Procession“ shows a newlywed couple descending the stairs with a Madonna looking over them. The Bride’s dress and veil are a brilliant white in contrast to the faded mass of religious symbols. Their hopes for the future fill them right now. It is easy to imagine that they have come here to ask a blessing on their marriage. Yet as shown in Dugast’s image, they seem to be moving through a strange and alien landscape. He has created a simulacrum, a distancing from objective reality to produce an image that stands on its own.
A different kind of faith shows itself in Juan Torre, a Spanish photographer. Torre refuses to abandon his passion for photography despite suffering from Behcet’s syndrome, a disease which has caused him to lose 94% of his vision. Using a powerful lens, he continues to take pictures but in fact his blindness has transformed his art. He is now creating images that you can touch. With computer processing and 3-D printing, he depicts local scenes in entirely new way. His message to people is that when there is a serious problem, it can be overcome. You just have to accept the new reality and approach life differently.
Torre exemplifies the possibilities of following one’s dreams even in the face of enormous handicaps. But even in less extreme circumstances following your path in life requires hard work and commitment.
The beautiful song, “Ma Liberté” by Georges Moustaki expresses the hardships and sacrifices to keep your freedom. He addresses Liberty as a demanding mistress who requires him to change countries, lose his friends, and give up everything for her.
The raven in Sophie Lambert’s painting “le Corbeau” is likewise struggling towards freedom. He is beset on all sides by the forces of nature. His own blackness is almost lost in the black storm clouds. Yet we sense his unconquerable determination to rise above the tempest.
Like the bird, we humans can weather adversity and rise to great heights as long as we are steadfast and true to our goals. When an inner purpose moves us, we can discover new realities as Juan Torre did when his blindness showed him a new way to see the world.
The outstanding Chez Mana team launched our Coming Soon pages last month. These pages use the power of art to show a glimpse of the goals that we are working towards. Looking at the pages, I reflected again on the value of this idea.
We often hear about lost dreams, the woman who wanted to become a concert pianist but never did, the couple who wished they had more passion between them, the man who feels opportunities have passed him by. It is an art to create a life of passion. While life can become dull, at times even depressing maybe with the death of a loved one, or just from monotony, we can reshape the material of life just as artists create new art.
Chez Mana will provide an environment where participants gain a new perspective on life by experiencing social connections, events and the work of talented artists. It will be a place where people open themselves to many new forms of creativity and bring passion into their lives through simple activities. While we cannot all be Van Gogh or Ray Charles, we can still create a life that is passionate and rich in ways that bring us closer to what we dream of. Art shows us how to live and deal with problems better. It is that vision that is at the core of Chez Mana.
Art helps us see things better. I felt this in Montréal when I saw a concert of Juliette Gréco, Gérard Jouannest and Jean-Louis Matinier at the Festival of Lights. Gréco, the symbol of post-war Paris is now 87 years old. She still sings on stage and lives her life as passionately as years ago. Gréco is the last link to the golden age of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. She sings with passion and energy and continually strives to innovate. She sang J’arrive (I am coming) by Jacques Brel and Gérard Jouannest, accompanied by Jouannest and the accordion virtuoso Jean-Louis Matinier. In her black dress, Gréco rendered the song powerfully, a song that talks about death and the regret of getting there. Gréco’s white hands shone brightly in the spotlight. Their movement dramatized the words of the song.
I am coming, I am coming
But how much I would have loved
To drag my bones one more time
To the sun, to summer,
To spring, to tomorrow
I am coming, I am coming
But how much I would have loved
To see one more time if the river
Is still a river, to see if the port
Is still a port, to see myself there again
It was then that I realized how every minute of our life is important.
As we went back to the hotel together, Gréco gave me a glimpse of her long and eventful life. The snowflakes were falling. It was La Nuit Blanche, a magical night of white covering the dark, a night when the museums stay open past midnight, and people come with their friends to look at art, hear music, and be happy. The short-lived beauty of the night made me think again of her song. “This looks like fun,” Greco told me. I thought she has stayed youthful just like the paintings in the museum that we never get tired of looking at. Art is ageless.
The yearning for life is expressed in the painting “Stay” by Kourosh Salehi. It is part of the collection “Children of Adam,” based on photos Salehi has taken in Esfahan, Iran. A woman embraces a man lying inertly on his side. We sense that some kind of separation is imminent. The man seems resigned to the fact almost at ease with the notion, the woman holds on tightly. The red clothing of the woman emphasizes the power of her feeling.
Kourosh Salehi has been deeply moved by the pointless war in Syria, and the suffering throughout the Middle East. People losing loved ones, feeling emasculated and helpless as the world looks on. His work connects us to that anonymous suffering. Art is to see simple things that we pass by.
Vincent Dugast‘s series Balloons captures both the dangers and the ecstasy of the traveler in the clouds. The swirl of the wind and waves around the black disk of the balloon create a dramatic feeling of density and vibration.
To me this series is particularly powerful because I have been fascinated with simple flying objects ever since I was a child.
I imagined myself a weightless balloon flying over the world, my colors reflecting the scenes that passed beneath me. Whenever I saw a balloon rising in the sky, I would be transported in my dreams. There were times when the balloon would get caught in a storm, and like the doomed men in Turner‘s Shipwreck of the Minotaur, my dreams were overwhelmed by chaotic and powerful forces.
Despite life’s storms, I think with satisfaction of the exciting places to which my balloons took me, where I observed new worlds through my long binoculars. My inner being was shaped by the people that I met and the new experiences that I went through. Even today, I continue to dream.
The Iranian-British painter, Kourosh Salehi left Iran in the late seventies for the UK. During his early teens, he lived in the seaside town of Margate. It was a challenging time for the young boy. When he recently found a photo from that time, he felt an affinity with the characters, representing hope, fear and innocence. “Misspent Youth” is his look back at the yearnings of his younger days.
One of my best balloon journeys was over the mountains and rivers of Colorado, where my dad came to visit me when my first child was born. The air was fresh and cold. Proud to be a grandfather, and at ease in his element, my father had a gorgeous smile on his face.
As we hiked through the streams and rocks, he started talking about his love of geology and his fascination with nature. Although we had hiked many times in the mountains together, he had never opened up like that. He talked about his youth, his studies in geology, and the composition of the rocks around us. He enjoyed the air, the freedom in the nature and his connection to me and my son.
This season, as we gather with family members, we remember those who left a legacy behind. Together like the two balloons, those who have affected us travel with us through the air, the tempest, and the calm times. Their love guides us on our journey.
As we celebrate the holidays, let us remember to fly kindly next to those around us, those who are less fortunate, those who are struggling with envy, those who are sad and finally those who have nobody around. Let us go forward with a quest for the unknown, and keep our innocence although mixed with fears.
This Halloween as I look at ghosts and monsters all around me, I think differently of devils and angels, evil and good, the ugly and the beautiful. A friend invited me to join her at the San Francisco Opera which opened its season with Mephistopheles. Even before the curtain went up, I saw an extension beyond the proscenium with angels’ wings, cherubs, sections of legs and other body parts. The desire of flesh with angels, all mixed together. This romantic set with a modern feel enticed me to enter into the story that was about to begin.
As the 90 adult choristers and 30 children sang Ave Signor degli angeli e dei santi, I was lifted up by the rising tones towards the sublime. The experience was both powerful and frightening. The choristers with their emotionless masks and golden crowns seemed like plaster statues, distant and artificial, yet their voices penetrated every cell of my body.
The music came from all corners. The mystical chorus was a fitting opening for the epic drama of Faust. Arrigo Boito, the composer and librettist, based this opera on the great work of Goethe. My friend and I looked at each other both touched by the visual and musical statement of the prologue. Just then, Mephistopheles appeared in his red outfit. With his jacket half open over his nude torso covered with hair, he was a fleshy contrast to the heavenly atmosphere.
This devil, who happens to be Ildar Abdrazakov, was an entertaining, and attractive rogue with an enchanting bass voice. Mephistopheles presents himself as the spirit that destroys everything but he does not have to work hard to convince Faust to sell his soul. He will serve Faust but their positions will be reversed after Faust’s death. Faust’s condition is that he must experience some moment of joy so great that he cries out “Stay, for you are beautiful!” In the adventures that follow the two seem like equal partners and dueling monsters.
Vincent Dugast is a French painter, photographer, and graphic artist who has studied the history and philosophy of art. His work explores the perception of images of the world around us. Through photography, he questions differences between the perception of the world and its interpretation, with the aim of making the spectator question what he thinks he knows. In his words, he tries to produce a simulacrum of reality.
In Dugast’s painting, the Duel of Blue Monsters, I see the conversation between Faust and Mephistopheles. The demon and the philosopher are adversaries yet feed each other. But who is a devil? In the traditional understanding, the devil is a universal archetype of evil and rebellion against God’s authority. This is an example of what the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard refers to as a metanarrative.
Lyotard distrusts metanarratives which are untrustworthy because they can be created and reinforced by power structures. He advocates that they give way to petits récits, more modest and localized narratives. These bring into focus singular events, expressing the diversity of human experience. In this sprit, Dugast has investigated the interaction between a work of art and the spectator.
From this post-modern perspective, the relationship between Faust and Mephistopheles cannot be placed in the context of a struggle between good and evil but is a quest for the expansion of human experience.
When you walk at night on Halloween your mind is full of images of ghosts and witches. This perception of the darkness is not universal but depends on the specific occasion. In a different setting, an embracing darkness can bring a great calm and feeling of well being, as Dugast discovered when he explored the primeval forests of Eastern Europe. He captured the experience in his painting “Forêt Primaire.”
Forgetting is an inescapable part of life. We often forget the details of yesterday and as the years go by we forget much more than we remember.
Paradoxically, it is sometimes the most important events of life that we forget. Traumatic or stressful moments can cause memory to be repressed. It is a survival mechanism to let us escape and function normally. But the repressed memory is not truly forgotten. The feelings remain with and the issues get harder to resolve. Art expresses emotions in a way that can unlock those feelings. Michel Bellaiche’s new painting, Les Fleurs de l’Oubli, expresses this dilemma vividly. The flowers that fill the man’s head have left him on the verge of disintegration.
Forgetting is effortless when it happens instinctively but lesser pains can be hard to forget. Many times we wish that we could just erase our memory of those moments we regret. Our minds stubbornly refuse to let go of these unhappy recollections. Barzin is facing the same issue.
Barzin is a Canadian singer-songwriter of Iranian origin. He is intrigued by memory, how it works, and the fine line that separates forgetting and repression. His often melancholy music reflects a deep appreciation of quietness and minimalism. Barzin has released three albums and toured extensively throughout the world. His music has been featured in several films, documentaries, and TV programs. A major motion picture directed by Luis Prieto uses a song from his latest album. Barzin’s song Nobody Told Me is about the struggle to forget.
Is forgetting ever really the right decision? Isn’t it an escape from discomfort leaving issues unresolved? To be truly free from them we must not flee from unpleasant experiences but transcend them. This is the lesson of the Zen parable of the Ten Bulls. Leonard Cohen’s Ballad of the Lost Mare tells this story in a beautiful poetic form.
Say a prayer for the cowboy
His mare’s run away
And he’ll walk til he finds her
His darling, his stray
but the river’s in flood
and the roads are awash
and the bridges break up
in the panic of loss.
And there’s nothing to follow
There’s nowhere to go
She’s gone like the summer
gone like the snow
And the crickets are breaking
his heart with their song
as the day caves in
and the night is all wrong
Did he dream, was it she
who went galloping past
and bent down the fern
broke open the grass
and printed the mud with
the iron and the gold
that he nailed to her feet
when he was the lord
And although she goes grazing
a minute away
he tracks her all night
he tracks her all day
Oh blind to her presence
except to compare
his injury here
with her punishment there
Then at home on a branch
in the highest tree
a songbird sings out
Ah the sun is warm
and the soft winds ride
on the willow trees
by the river side
Oh the world is sweet
the world is wide
and she’s there where
the light and the darkness divide
and the steam’s coming off her
she’s huge and she’s shy
and she steps on the moon
when she paws at the sky
And she comes to his hand
but she’s not really tame
She longs to be lost
he longs for the same
and she’ll bolt and she’ll plunge
through the first open pass
to roll and to feed
in the sweet mountain grass
Or she’ll make a break
for the high plateau
where there’s nothing above
and there’s nothing below
and it’s time for the burden
it’s time for the whip
Will she walk through the flame
Can he shoot from the hip
So he binds himself
to the galloping mare
and she binds herself
to the rider there
and there is no space
but there’s left and right
and there is no time
but there’s day and night
And he leans on her neck
and he whispers low
“Whither thou goest
I will go”
And they turn as one
and they head for the plain
No need for the whip
Ah, no need for the rein
Now the clasp of this union
who fastens it tight?
Who snaps it asunder
the very next night
Some say the rider
Some say the mare
Or that love’s like the smoke
beyond all repair
But my darling says
“Leonard, just let it go by
That old silhouette
on the great western sky”
So I pick out a tune
and they move right along
and they’re gone like the smoke
and they’re gone like this song