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by mana on August 31st, 2014

View from Mesocco Castle, ©

View from Mesocco Castle, © Chez Mana

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.

Ferdinand Hodler, "Silvaplanersee," 1907

Ferdinand Hodler, “Silvaplanersee,” 1907

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, "The Oak Forest," 1882

Robert Zünd, “The Oak Forest,” 1882

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.

Ferdinand Hodler, "The

Ferdinand Hodler, “The Night, ” 1899-1890

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.

While visiting the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, I discovered the Rolex Learning Center. Its astonishing architecture was conceived by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.

The Rolex Learning Center

The Rolex Learning Center

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.

Head of Buddha, Indonesian, 9th century

Head of Buddha, Indonesian, 9th century

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.

Stephanie Poulard, "Illuminations 4," 2013

Stéphanie Poulard, “Illuminations 4,” 2013

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.

From → Musings

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