It seems that every single exhibition to which one goes is a new source of fascination - a good reason, I have decided, to bestir oneself and get to different shows. "Women of Rome", from the Louvre Collections, is just such an example. On exhibit in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, at the Caixa Forum until 9th October, it examines the images of women portrayed in Roman times.Read More
Palma de Mallorca
When I first came to Mallorca, Spain, so many years ago, it was still during Franco's regime. The Balearic Islands were officially forbidden from speaking their own regional language, Mallorquin, and they certainly were not allowed to have any symbol like a regional hymn.
Slowly, slowly, over the years after Franco died and Spain became a democracy and part of the European Union, the Balearics regained their identifying characteristics. One of the most beautiful aspects, I have always thought, was the song that is now termed the hymn of Mallorca, La Balanguera.
The poem that gave rise to this hymn was written by Joan Alcover i Maspons, as a children's poem that combined whimsy, beauty and instructional philosophy for their life ahead. The poem was put to very lyrical music written by the Catalan composer, Amadeo Vives, and in 1996, the appropriate governmental body, the Consell de Mallorca, declared it to be the island's official hymn.
I have always known, of course, its Mallorcan or Spanish versions, loving it when I hear its melodies sung or even hummed. I recently found an English version translated by Dr. George Giri and published in the Majorcan Daily Bulletin.
Its words contain enough quiet wisdom that I think they bespeak a beauty worth considering.
The spinning wheel’s mysterious treadler Like a spider its subtle art Reels away her flaxen distaff Into yarn that holds our life Thus the spinner treadles On and on And spins her yarn.
Turning glances backward Sees the shadows of the past And the coming springtime Hides the seeds of things to come Knowing that the roots are growing And new roots are taking hold Thus the sinner treadles on and on And spins her yarn.
Hopes that hold traditions Weave a banner for the young Like a veil for future marriage Locks of silver and gold Which are spun into our youth But with age are nearly gone Thus the spinner treadles on and on And spins her yarn.
The Spanish version is just as lyrical in feel.
La Balanguera misteriosa (del francés "boulangère": panadera), como una araña de arte sutil, vacía que vacía la rueca, de nuestra vida saca el hilo. Como una parca que bien cavila, tejiendo la tela para el mañana. La Balanguera hila, hila, la Balanguera hilará.
Girando la vista hacia atrás vigila las sombras del abolengo, y de la nueva primavera sabe donde se esconde la semilla. Sabe que la cepa más trepa cuanto más profundo puede arraigar. La Balanguera hila, hila la Balanguera hilará.
De tradiciones y de esperanzas teje la bandera para la juventud como quien hace un velo de bodas con cabellos de oro y plata de la infancia que trepa de la vejez que se va La Balanguera hila, hila, la Balanguera hilará.
Hymns always reflect the optic of the region or nation that has them. The gentle yet fatalistic recognition of life's realities inherent in La Balanguera is very congruent with the sense of long history and solid self-identity with which this island faces the invasion of visitors and potential foreign residents over the years. I love this feeling of deep-seated culture that underpins Mallorcan life in so many instances, especially away from the tourist centres.
In essence, La Balanguera tells of the art of living. An interesting choice for a hymn.
I always love it when out of the blue, one learns of the celebration of the art of drawing.
Just a small entry in today's Spanish papers, but a good piece of news for all of us who think that drawing is just as important as painting. Miquel Barcelo, the highly successful artist from Mallorca, has just been awarded the Penages Award for Drawing from the Mapfre Foundation in Spain. In his acceptance speech, he talked of the fact that he finds that, " Es gracioso pensar que la pintura ha muerto y el dibujo no" -explicó en referencia a aquellos que dan por muerto este arte-. Como si muere Dios pero la Virgen María siguiese viva" ( a quote from the Diario de Mallorca, that it is somewhat ironic to think that painting has died whilst drawing survives, as if God had died but the Virgin Mary remains alive). He received the award in Madrid, with Princess Elena present at the ceremony.
Barcelo's drawings and etchings are indeed a delight with their fluid ease and grace.
Barceló has spent a lot of tiime in Africa, especially in Mali, and his images capture the essence of Africa.
I delight when an artist celebrates drawing as does Miquel Barceló. He inspires us all to keep drawing.
I realise that I am extremely lucky often to be surrounded by very beautiful trees, of very different types according to where I am in the world. I can quite understand why people worshipped trees and why today, there are so-called tree-huggers.
There is a majesty and serenity inherent in a large tree, something that dwarfs human presumptions and quiets one's fears. Their trunks tell of their capacity for endurance, adaptation and survival; their shapes tell of past influences of weather, treatment by man or animal, drought or abundance of rain and nutrients. This huge beech, growing in Givhans Ferry State Park in South Carolina, spoke to me insistently, in the cold spring light. Before long, as I was drawing this in graphite, I was totally at peace, unaware of anything save the tree.
Every time I find myself drawing or painting a tree, I remember a remark that Paul Cezanne apparently made: "Art is a harmony parallel with nature". In the case of trees, as wonderful representatives of nature, they help me achieve a degree of harmony and serenity that is a huge gift. When I perched uncomfortably on a very hard rock to draw this Aleppo Pine on Palma de Mallorca's outskirts, I was oblivious of the curious looks given me by people walking their dogs. I was somehow in harmony with this luminous tree that spoke of times when Palma was not such a sea of concrete.Drawing in silverpoint seemed appropriate for it had the same wonderful luster.
This is another silverpoint drawing of an Aleppo pine, growing far up on the mountains above the city of Palma, where the view takes one far over the sea to the neighbouring island of Ibiza. The driving winds are shaping this pine, as it clings to the rocky mountainside. But it somehow seemed timeless.
These rugged pine trees, growing on a windswept ridge in Brittany, were equally "eternal" in feel, as I sat in a ploughed, muddy field to draw them. Farmers were passing with huge trailers full of manure to fertilise their fields, and they gave me some very curious looks. The crows were calling far overhead in the soft luminously grey sky. It was a time when my art did indeed provide me a passport to a "harmony parallel with Nature".
This quiet that comes to one as one works outside en plein air is especially magical. Nothing else seems temporarily to matter - just the dialogue between what one is trying to depict and one's hand working on the surface of the paper. Yet one hears bird song, the sound of the wind, different calls of humans or animals - but as a backdrop only. It is somehow a different experience to when one is deep in work in the studio, perhaps because of the vagaries of the weather and surroundings. Another aspect also comes into play when trees are the subject matter: they are intensely, logically complicated in their form and growth, and somehow one has to sort that all out, without depicting every single branch or leaf. Each type of tree is totally individualistic, and I liken drawing each one to doing a portrait of a person.
Perhaps, however, one is more likely to be in harmony with trees than with a fellow human being that one is drawing or painting? Who knows!
In Spain, everyone knows exactly what you mean when you talk of "la crisis". Town halls, autonomous governments, the national government - they are all pretty well broke and red ink drips in all directions. One of the first areas of government expenditure in the Balearics to feel the effects of this fiscal crisis was the cultural scene. The sixteen years of autumn-winter internationally celebrated ballet company visits - gone. The opera season - decimated. The theatre season - hacked. And so it goes at present.
Nonetheless, there are wonderful bright stars in the cultural scene - private groups fighting back and ensuring that there are events that uplift and delight. Last week, there was a week of celebrating the visual arts and music in a small, jewel-like town, Santanyi, in Mallorca. The first weekend showed off the many local artists, while the second week's musical offerings ranged from popular to zarzuela to the single, wonderful performance of Mozart's Le Nozze de Figaro. Under a full moon, a huge courteous crowd of all nationalities sat in the open to be delighted by a beautifully presented and sung version of this delicious opera. It was so clever - the Teatro Principal's stage gets "reversed" for these outdoor performances so that everyone can sit in the open air; the orchestra is at the back of the stage and the singers' stage projects out against the glowing golden stone walls of the theatre. The quality of the singing was impressive and the whole performance was a reaffirmation of what can be done, in spite of "the crisis".
Yesterday showed the same spirit of joy and defiance for the reigning pessimism. In Palma de Mallorca, thirty-one galleries and museums opened their doors at seven p.m. for a wonderful Nit de l'Art. This annual event is sponsored by the Independent Association of Art Galleries in the Baleares (AIGAB) and the Art Palma Contemporani Association of Galleries, in conjunction with the museums and non-profit art spaces in town.
There was art for all tastes - from late 19th and early 20th century painters famed for their depictions of the natural beauty of the Balearics to the most allusive and fleeting performance art, with all manner of art in between. Interesting techniques, challenging concepts, humour and joie de vivre - it was all there to enjoy as you strolled through the historic narrow streets of Palma on a warm summer evening. Restored 17th, 18th or 19th century buildings, high-ceilinged and quirkily elegant, imaginatively adapted as permanent or temporary art galleries, floodlit golden monuments, strains of music floating down the streets beneath the tree canopy, smartly dressed people of all ages strolling, laughing, studying art intently.
It was a kalidescope of scenes that reaffirmed that the arts need to be part of all our lives, no matter what the economic situation.
When I was in Palma de Mallorca a couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my indignation at seeing beautiful women used to "sell" a new hospital, Son Espases. I still feel it is a completely inappropriate way to publicise the hospital, although I was fascinated to note that various Spanish men I talked to about it were surprised and amused at my reaction!!
Now, thanks to a dear friend's kindness, I can at least illustrate what I was talking about. I will be interested to hear what other people think.
These billboards are all over the city and beyond, telling of the fact that Son Espases is (already) one of the best hospitals in Europe. The fact that the hospital has only just started admitting patients in limited numbers last week is apparently beside the point.
In Palma de Mallorca, my home happens to be adjacent to the major regional hospital. The big event at present is that this hospital, Son Dureta, is being phased out and all activity is now transferring to a huge new hospital on the outskirts of Palma. Son Espases, this hospital city, is nearly complete, and consequently, as patients transfer and the staff sorts through the complicated geography and activities, there is a major advertising campaign underway about its launch.
One of the most promient hoarding advertisements about ¨Son Espases - one of the best hospitals in Europe¨ shows a very beautiful woman, her head covered with a surgical cap and a mask over her nose and mouth. Ready for the surgeon to start wielding the knife, in other words. She has wonderfully beautiful eyes. Behind her is a fainter silhouette of a similarly garbed woman.
My reaction initially was, what on earth has a beautiful woman got to do with the quality of a hospital and its services? My second reaction was irritation. Only in a male-dominated situation could it be concluded that a beautiful woman was the best way to sell a hospital! Really!
Images of women are of course habitually the choice way to advertise watches, clothes, accessories, even cars, and alcohol in Spain – but somehow it seems to me that it is time that women start protesting at some uses of their images. I wonder what other people think of using beautiful women to sell hospitals?
Happy New Year to everyone! May 2010 be a wonderful year for all.
As I watched the New Year come in under a brilliant full moon shining over Palma de Mallorca, I could not help but think that this decade would probably be as full of radical changes in the art world as in all the other domains, be they financial, technological or environmental.
Each of us, as artists, is constantly trying to think of new and better ways to approach the creation of art. However, one of the most interesting - and metaphorically eloquent, perhaps - ways of creating art has been flowering in the United States and and further afield: the framed reproduction of your personal DNA. On sale on the Net, adorned with jewels or other items to your taste, the DNA picture seems to me to be emblematic of our lifestyle tastes of today. Good or bad - who knows? It is certainly a very personal piece of art that you can put on your walls.
Perhaps the DNA pictures could be allied to his sense of colour. The history of colour theory is enough to make any artist dizzy, but it does reward by study! Not only the history of the use of colour, but the history of paint pigments themselves make for the most fascinating reading. Having wandered into the world of pigments, artists often then get totally hooked on learning more of the dramatic stories behind the pigments' productions and discoveries. An enthralling book which I read when it came out in 2001 is Bright Earth. Art and the Invention of Color by Philip Ball, published by the University of Chicago Press. Having learned about pigments' histories, I had a far better appreciation not only of the paints I use when I am painting in watercolours, but every painting I view in a museum has an additional layer of interest as I look at the pigments the artist used.
I wonder if that will be said, ten years hence, of the DNA pictures that are increasingly adorning people's walls. Any bets on this aspect of the future art world?
There is another small museum which has recently opened in Mallorca which offers a delightful focus to a visit to the town of Soller, nestled in a grandiose valley beneath towering mountain ranges, to the north of the island. Can Prunera is a small museum of modern art, housed in a refurbished Modernist building built between 1909 and 1911, in the era when Antoni Gaudi's influence was paramount.
Many of the restored details of the house are delightfully typical of that time. Gaudi had indeed been working in Palma, restoring and improving the interior of the Seu, the wonderful Gothic Cathedral overlooking the sea. He had started work there in 1902 but by 1914, he had fallen out with the ecclesiastical authorities and stopped the work. His influence, however, showed up in many Mallorcan Modernist buildings, and especially in Soller.
Can Prunera houses part of the art collection of newpapers owner, Pedro Serra, who has been instrumental in the refurbishment and launching of the museum through his Fundacion Tren de l'Art and Fundacion d'Art Serra. His father apparently worked for the Soller-Palma train company for a time, and his son has completed this circle in time.
The day I visited the Museum, only a few rooms were open. Miró acquatints gladdened three galleries, and a collection of Picasso ceramics was exhibited in two other galleries. The connections between Picasso and Miró were underlined by big photo reproductions of the two of them together on different occasions. Apparently, most of the art planned for exhibition will have some connection with Mallorca.
Today is a day of heavy flat light, laden with humidity and heat, here on the Georgia coast. All contours are softened, distances are blurred and somehow the scene is flat and almost featureless. It is a day that makes me long for the bright sharp sunlight of the Mediterranean. It also makes me realise how much landscape artists are influenced by the ambient light.
Think, for instance, of Japanese artists. Down the ages, in their nature-based art, the Japanese have been very aware of the play of light on rocks, trees, architecture. Shadows, the corollary of sunlight, are a natural function of their architecture, for example, with the broad eaves on buildings casting wonderful angled shadows. The ultimate interpretation of the beauty of light can be seen in their black lacquer ware, flecked with gold or silver. Viewed by lantern or candlelight, this lacquer ware evokes their northern, sea-influenced light in haunting fashion.
At the other extreme are Western artists who work in the brilliance of Mediterranean light. Take, for example, two of Spain's artists, Joaquin Sorolla from Valencia and Joaquin Mir from Barcelona. Sorolla was multi-faceted in his art, ranging from wonderful luminous portraits to vast historical paintings and, my favourites, landscapes flooded with light. In fact, a quote by Edmund Peel from James Gibbons Huneker, in the book, The Painter, Joaquin Sorolla, says it all: "Sorolla – the painter of vibrating sunshine without equal". It is interesting to study Sorolla's paintings: many of his landscapes which include figures have dramatically bold, abstract shadows (such as his paintings of Valencian fisher women). Yet landscapes done in Javea, Valencia or Malaga, in mainland Spain's Mediterranean coast, are often painted in a very narrow range of values, without dramatic shadows. Even more deliriously high key are some of his depictions of the almost incandescent cliffs and headlands in Mallorca, especially the sun-drenched scenes of Cala San Vicente in the north-east of the island.
Interestingly, Mallorca, with its amazing light, was also the springboard for Joaquin Mir's greatest successes. A contemporary of Sorolla (who lived from 1863-1923), Mir was born in Barcelona in 1873 and lived until 1940. Colour and light were the keys to his art : "All I want is for my works to lighten the heart and flood the eyes and the soul with light", he said in 1928. He forged his own path to celebrating the Mediterranean sunlight and shadows, sometimes veering to realism, other times towards abstraction, but always seeking to interpret the beauty he saw in a delirium of colour and light. He borrowed the Impressionists' palette of colours, eschewing black, but he used the colours in his own highly original fashion. When you see Mir's works done in Mallorca, you can feel the wonderfully clear light pulsating over everything - the Es Baluard Museum has a number of these canvases (http://www.esbaluard.org).
Perhaps evoking the clarity of Mediterranean light will help banish the Georgian grey skies of humid heat – I can but hope!