Monday, June 30, 2008

Carivaggio: the master of realism, architect of modern painting

A study of the Carivaggio masterpiece, Death of the Virgin finished in 1606, scanned out of my sketchbook from a day at the Louvre.

One of the things that our two weeks in Europe can be seen as was the complete reeducation of myself when it came to art history. Sadly, art students usually have to form our opinions on the "major" works from postage stamp sized reproductions in Janson, or faded slides or low rez graphics on the internet. It is, and always has been, another thing to see the pieces in the flesh as it were. While I've been to Italy and the Vatican Museum, there is no substitute for going to the British Museum, the D'Orsay and the Louvre in a small span of time. It is a gut wrenching, heartbreaking and altogether inspiring trip as an artist.

It makes for a complete reassessment of paintings and sculptures that you thought you knew. How awesome to stand mere feet from the other Da Vincis in the Louvre, and how crushing to realize how much more you like some of the other works? Follow the hall down, past the Rafaels, which vary dramatically in size, and some face to face with Carivaggio's magnificent painting, "Death of the Virgin".

This was a dramatic departure from the earlier works by painters with his skills. They tended to pretty up and encode a level of storytelling through, what can appear now, as rather arch figures. In "Death of the Virgin", we have the astonishing skill of a painting master not given to trifles but to realism: Mary is given swollen ankles, as a woman of her station, with a lifetime of work behind her, would have, and lacks the ever important plate on her head. It is the death scene of an old woman, with all the attendant grief, but it is truly the death scene of a woman, not a mother of the child of god who will soon be assended. The grief of a woman in the lower right of the piece floored me, and I worked up the above sketch while standing in the hallway, beset by other tourists. A small price to pay to get quality time with the first Baroque painter of his age.

The Louvre is, by far, the most amazing museum in the world. Bar none. The work is astonishing. It is also, as a space, beautiful to behold. That the pyramid as gotten so much flack is beyond me. Gotta go rent Da Vinci code just to see the shots now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

We're back! In Review Of: Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry

Back from travels to England and France, and I've actually gotten my body back on this time zone, which is no small feat. Getting away from the computer is also no small feat as i'm a bit of an email junkie, but all in a good cause. Plenty to share as well. Lets start here: found on the recommended shelf of London's Forbidden Planet is Hannah Berry's Britten & Brulightly.

I was taken by the first few pages, with Berry's shop worn and time worn private investigator Britten waking to yet another painful day. Why it should be so bad is something that she does an excellent job of explaining to us over the first part of the story. Berry's subdued watercolors and limited palette are we used in service of setting the mood. Frankly, it is an excellent, if not perfect effort is giving us a good run round this story. A little bit Marlowe, a little bit Chinatown, a little bit of something that I've not quite found the words to describe, its a heady little mix.

I usually despise reviews that lay bare the plots of the books that they're reviewing ("This book as about a man who finds out that...") and especially in the case of a detective story, half the fun is the joy of discovery of a new cast of characters, half in the world that the story lies. happily, Berry does an excellent job of making the cast work on the run, giving us bits and pieces of who they are as part of the story instead of cranking up the clumsy exposition machine and stopping the story dead.

One of my few criticisms of the book has to do with the reveal of Britten's partner, a fanciful and, perhaps, unnecessary, addition to a book already packed with a number of interesting ideas. Again, I refuse to spoil the reveal.

From a craft standpoint, Berry makes a good mix of her watercolor work to portray a wet, sodden London and gives us an interesting mix of cartoony stylized characters with realistic backgrounds. In some ways its a mix that, while not seeming to, owes a bit to the manga approach of giving us a solid, real world for the characters to inhabit. The approach works, and Berry's art skills only fail her a bit on an early scene when Britten goes to a dead man's apartment to search for clues, and finds that he's not the only one there. Sadly, there is less menace that there should be in the scene. The writing is solid however, and the scene ads that much more to our protagonist's character.

I'm not sure if the book is available here in the states. published by Jonathan Cape, a division of Random House. Worth looking up.

A few words about the London Forbidden Planet: I've heard about this store for a good 20 years now, and I have to admit that it did not disappoint. I never realized that the New York version that I remember walking into back in '92 was trying to replicate the two story set up that the London version has. The upstairs of London is a bit of a monument to comics as pop culture more than comics themselves, and it has, for instance, a better collection of Doctor Who merchandise than the official Doctor Who exhibit does over at Earl's Court (more on which later).
Downstairs was a collection of graphic novels and comics that just about threw me into a coma. Floor to ceiling in most cases, a reasonable thing in a room with a ceiling that low, there was simply more that you could possibly search through, and thankfully they do a good job of organizing it or you would be completely lost. they deserved a few more of my pounds than I gave them, but considering how packed they were, i hope that are there for another 20 years.

Coming up: into the Tardis at Earl's Court