Peace of Mind in Horizontal Lines

Maybe visiting art museums is like some sort of religious devotion. This thought occurred to me yesterday when I was alone in a roomful of Yamazaki Hiroshi (山崎 博) photographs.

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Yamazaki Hiroshi’s “Horizon” series

Yamazaki Hiroshi (1946 – ) specializes in shooting sunlight on the sea. His individual photographs didn’t mean much to me on their own, but looking at hundreds of them together in a row was a different immersive experience. For a moment I forgot about time and forgot about lunch plans with my friend, as if nothing else existed other than the sea and the sun.

I had a strong déjà vu feeling when I stepped into the gallery, and it took me a while to realize that the déjà vu must have come from Mark Rothko.

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Mark Rothko room in MOCA

Mark Rothko’s paintings are meant to be seen up close, so close that the painting dominates the entire field of vision. When I stand in front of a Rothko painting, a voice inside the painting is calling me, and I have a strong impulse to walk into one of the color blocks. Strangely, it’s always very clear to me which of the two or three color blocks I want to walk into, without any ambiguity.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living between a mundane world and a “spiritual” world, even though I’m agnostic and not religious. Art is one of the keys to the “spiritual” world, and so are music and literature and other things. In that sense, visiting art museum is a way to constantly remind myself of the “spiritual” world, so it’s like going to church.

For this reason, I’m always fascinated by the ideas behind the Rothko Chapel and Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, despite not having been to either place in person. The Rothko chapel in Houston is “the world’s first broadly ecumenical center, a holy place open to all religions and belonging to none”, with fourteen Rothko paintings inside. The Church of Light near Osaka is a Protestant church, but I love it as art.

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Church of Light by Tadao Ando

Last week a professor recommended Rothko’s essay collection “The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art” to me. Maybe I’ll update this post after reading the book.

 

Goblin Market

Something in my dream last night reminded me of Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market again, so I want to write down this story.

I was in Brussels with a friend who I had talked to for two years but never met in person. As we were walking past a Carrefour, we discovered that we both enjoy grocery shopping. She said, “it’s in the nature of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.” That was a good justification. We didn’t have anything planned for the next morning yet, so naturally we decided to visit Marché du Midi, one of the biggest outdoor markets in Europe.

While browsing through pictures of fruit stands at Marché du Midi, the poem Goblin Market got stuck in my head. The poem is metaphorically about two sisters’ sexual adventure, and it starts like this:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—

My friend really liked the beginning, so we read through the poem and wanted to learn about every type of fruit mentioned in Goblin Market. There are some quite obscure berries, like dewberries, barberries, and gooseberries. There are so many berries in the poem perhaps because X-berries always rhymes with Y-berries. It took us a while to Google through the entire list. Now that we had spent an hour or two looking at pictures of exotic fruits, we challenged ourselves to find as many of them as possible at Marché du Midi.

The next morning, we got up at 7am and went into the 20°F weather for Marché du Midi. The market was huge. I don’t remember finding any exotic berries in the poem, but it was my first time eating a khaki fruit.

Since then, we have continued our quest for markets and fruits, but we haven’t been very successful. A month later we went to Compi de Flori together in Rome, but only found artichokes, fungi, and creative pasta shapes. I’ve since discovered Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market, baguettes and cheeses at Marché Bastille, and fried sardines at Ballarò Street Market, but until this day I still haven’t seen any gooseberries.

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Compi de Flori, Rome

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Marché Bastille, Paris

Lemons

I have too many lemons, and I’m tired of juicing them, so I use them as bicycle wheels.

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This is based on Alemão‘s bicycle painting. Last summer in Santa Barbara, I happened to notice this painting inside a restaurant when I was walking down the main street, and later went back to the restaurant for dinner just to look at it.

Two things that I like about Alemão’s bicycle art: 1. The bicycle stays stable without any sign of motion. 2. There’s no human figure, as if the will power is on the bicycle.

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Sweet Life (Adoçando a Vida), by Anderson Lemes

Backstory: In the past two days I juiced 9 lemons and cracked 15 eggs for lemon tart and lemon poppy seed cake.

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Meyer Lemon Tart according to New York Times’s recipe

 

 

 

God of the Crossroads by Wifredo Lam

I find Wifredo Lam’s paintings kind of creepy. The Afro-Cuban ghosts and jungle animals stare at me, as if they can read deep inside my mind. Their round eyes are telling me that they seem to be scared by what they see in me.

When I look at this painting God of the Crossroads, I imagine taking on a voyage up the Congo River like in Heart of Darkness. At some point, the river forks into two branches. I stop my boat, trying to decide which way to go. Suddenly, when I glance at the riverbank, I see a faint image of the God of the Crossroads through the dense foliage. It looks at me as if it already knows which direction my subconscious mind wants to take. It is telling me that direction is wrong, but I have no idea which direction I am secretly thinking about. The God of the Crossroads fades away, leaving me alone in the middle of the waterways…

God of the Crossroads

The Sombre Malembo, God of the Crossroads (1943)

The Hidden Banana Grove

Adapted from The Peach Blossom Spring (421 AD) by Tao Yuanming, inspired by The Jungle (1943) by Wifredo Lam.

Once upon a time, there was a National Geographic photographer filming wildlife in a remote rainforest. While drifting along a river and looking for the most picturesque red-eyed tree frog, he suddenly came upon a banana grove which extended along the river bank for about a hundred yards. The banana grove was so magically free from the usual hustles and bustles of the rainforest, and the ground around the banana trees was covered by white and purple orchids. At the end of the grove, he saw a spring which came from a cave.

A hardly visible weak light in the cave encouraged the National Geographic photographer to tie up his boat and explore further. At first the opening of the cave was very narrow, barely wide enough for one person to go in. After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were cacao and coffee plants; farmers were working and butterflies were flying around to pollinate the plants.

Everyone in the mysterious land appeared very happy and contented. They were greatly astonished to see the photographer and asked him where he had come from. The photographer told them about the National Geographic magazine and was invited to their homes, where coffee was served and chocolate was prepared to entertain him. They said that their ancestors had come here as refugees to escape from the tyranny of Henry VIII some five hundred years ago, and they had never left it. They were thus completely cut off from the world, and asked what was the ruling dynasty now. They had not even heard of the Glorious Revolution, not to speak of Donald Trump. The photographer told them about current affairs, which they heard with great amazement. Many of the other villagers then began to invite him to their homes by turn and feed him dinner and pineapple juice. After a few days, when he left, the villagers begged him not to tell the people outside about their colony.

The man found his raft and came back along the river, marking with signs along the route. He produced an extensive special edition for the National Geographic, but no one in the press believed him. The National Geographic sent someone to go with him and find the place. They looked for the signs but got lost and could never find it again. Since then, no one has gone in search of the hidden banana grove.

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The Jungle (1943), by Wifredo Lam, gouache on paper mounted on canvas

Man Ray’s Female Portraits

This year Tate Modern is hosting Elton John’s modernist photography collection. When I saw his collection of Man Ray’s female portraits, I was so touched that I felt a need to cry. The female portraits struck me intensely like a thousand rays of flashlight. I cried silently as I left the exhibition because it was too beautiful.

Since then, I’ve been wondering what exactly was it that made me cry. For some reason, as I look back to Man Ray’s photography through online images, it never feels the same. Perhaps I will never see “Glass Tears” or “Noire et Blanche” ever again in print in my life, so perhaps I’ll never know.

Maybe I was just out of my mind that day.

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Noire et Blanche (1926), by Man Ray, gelatin silver print

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Glass Tears (1932), by Man Ray, gelatin silver print

 

Village Houses – Feininger, Cezanne, Münter, Metzinger

I saw these four paintings of village houses recently at different places, and it’s quite interesting to compare them side by side.

Some random thoughts.. Jean Metzinger’s Landscape reminds me of Angela Carter’s The Magical Toyshop, when Melanie gets stuck on a tree in the middle of the night. Village in Thuringia is exactly how I picture the end of the world in Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldLower Main Street would perhaps be The Wizard of Oz.

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Village in Thuringia (1943), by Lyonel Feininger, oil on canvas

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Mont Sainte-Victoire (1890), by Paul Cezanne, oil on canvas 

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Lower Main Street, Murnau (1910), by Gabriele Münter, oil on textured cardboard

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Landscape (1914), by Jean Metzinger, oil on canvas