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Amazing Grace

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A poem begins with a lump in your throat, a sense of wrong. A homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching out — toward expressionism. An effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.”

— Robert Frost

Scientifically speaking, ideas spark from reactions in our brain. It doesn’t feel like that though. My ideas feel like they come up as a heartfelt lump from my soul. Before I tell it vocally, I clear my throat to bring up the thought. It doesn’t belong stuck there, so I get it out by clearing my throat. It makes a sound that gives listeners around me a heads up that I have something to say, while working my way in, mid conversation to express my feelings in words. Clearing my throat also gets up phlegm.

There is a song. It goes like this:

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Timestamp: The song was written in 1779

Grace is a tough one to describe. It is something that is always there. It protects you and gives you freedom.  Grace is forgiveness, even to those who may not seem to deserve it. Any one of us, from one time or another. Grace is that extra space that allows you to follow your heart, make mistakes and grow. Some mistakes are little and some are BIG. Grace is a second chance, a third chance, a fourth and another chance and another. Its Amazing.

One thing that we can say, is slavery wasn’t a good thing. Slavery is a horror, but this wrongness led John Newton to write Amazing Grace. With such a beautiful song, you would never believe that he was a slave trader himself. The song was developed as an expression of thankfulness, after he came to his senses.

Sixty years later (1840) Turner painted The Slave Ship. This is an oil painting of slave traders throwing the slaves — people that the traders had purposely gone on a mission to capture — overboard. Based on a true story (1781), the slave ship, ZONG, it’s captain and crew, were caught in a storm. They threw their sick and dying captives overboard to collect “slave” insurance money by claiming these people were ‘lost at sea’. Some were still alive. Imagine having to swim like hell to save yourself while feeling the sickest you’ve ever felt. Those dark rigid edges in the water are the bodies treading helplessly to save themselves. Who would want to give the people who threw living people overboard a second chance?

“I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

— John Newton, 1788

John Newton started out as a Slave Trader, following his predecessor’s footsteps. The career was profitable and everyone else was doing it. He was blinded by the excitement of making money and sailing the seas. He had gotten carried away. Some time after jumping on the band wagon he turned around, recognizing the atrocity of what was going on and did the best he could to make himself better. At one point he was trapped in Africa by a female African slave trader. This woman treated him WORSE than you can fathom. She threw cold water on him while he was sick, with out a change of clothes, starved him etc.. etc..  He had never felt so homesick. With that, Newton opened up his eyes. He realized his wrongs. He took that lump of guilt in his gut and turned it into a song.

England was the beginning of the wave to abolish slavery. It is where John Newton is from, and a few decades later, Joseph Mallord William Turner (J. M. W. Turner) was born.  Turner is the one who painted The Slave Ship. Turner grew up in Covent Garden, England. A popular area in London with shops and stores. He would walk past print sellers displaying prints directly on the glass, a galleries of Britains Churches, monuments, Abbeys, and castles. He fell in love. He spent years studying the sky, the effect of wind on clouds, weather, the shape of the country side, trees, and light during different times of day, and the way the world behaved. He understood it so strongly and accurately that he was able to passionately extend his drawings with his imagination for that fiery, emotional and romantic painting. Combining elements of roughness with order, darkness with color and light. He grew a heart for the sea. Emotion transcends from the canvas of the glossy, stormy, green sea and golden glowing sunrise to your thoughts.

The Slave Ship is passionate and emotional. It honors those that were lost and it does not minimize or pretend that nothing happened. The song Amazing Grace is so good that it fills any ounce of homesickness or lovesicnkess you might have had before you listened to it, with good. A poem isn’t simply a Haiku or a Limerick or Rhyme. a poem is an expression from the heart. It can be written with a certain number of words, but it doesn’t have to be. What makes it a poem is the expression behind it. Grace isn’t only for John Newton, it is for everyone who believes. We all need it one time or another. Grace allows that mistake to not have to be the be all end all. Grace is the space between a wrong and a fresh start. Grace is Gods unconditional love. The sun sets, the sun rises and every day is a new day.

The song has been widespread and played by many. It brought attention to a movement to dissolve slavery and share the news about forgiveness. If you have time, listen.

Inspiration and Research

  1.  Turner, J. M.W. Slave Ship. 1840. Oil on Canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Web.  MFA Boston — Turner, Slave Ship
  2. http://britishromanticism.wikispaces.com/The+Slave+Ship
  3. Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Print.
  4. Turner, Steve. The story of America’s Most Beloved Song Amazing Grace. An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. 2002. Print.
  5. McQueen, Steve, et al. 12 Years a Slave.
  6. Moyle, Franny. Turner, The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. Penguin Press. 2016
  7. Django Unchained. Dir. Quintin Tarantino. Perf. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson. The Weinstein Company, Colombia Pictures. 2012. DVD.
  8. Tomlin, Chris. “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).” See The Morning. September 2006. Six Steps (SIX). CD, MP3, Streaming.
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Dance Like Nobody Is Watching

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At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance // Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec // 1890 // Oil on canvas // 45 1/2 x 59 inches // Made in Paris, France, Europe // 4

“He throws large parties and I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”¹

Dance like nobody is watching. NOBODY is watching? ah! You need privacy for that! You can dance like nobody is watching in large parties. Beats are pumping, lights are streaming, arms in the air, floating, frenzied feet, lots of people, it is not possible to get through the crowd with out saying excuse me. Laughter is roaring and cocktails are spilling. Lights are streaming through the spaces of the legs on the dance floor. Who could ask for a more intimate world? At small parties there isn’t any privacy.¹ At small parties there isn’t any privacy because everyone is focused on each other.

Dance like nobody is watching. A little party never killed nobody² because parties invite happiness. Right here right now is all we got.² Not withstanding the dramas of today, tomorrow and yesterday — time is frozen when you’re having fun. In party mode the main focus is self-happiness. Friends are laughing and chatting away. If you want to take a break you can step aside off the dance floor, grab a cocktail or a water and have an intimate conversation with the person you just squeezed yourself up against at the bar. Big parties, especially ones with dancing, allow the soul to be filled with passion, energy and happiness. No one else can hear you and no one else cares to pry in and listen, and even if people are watching you, no one cares, because everyone is focused in their own bubble of joy.

Toulouse Lautrec found a career whose office was the Moulin Rouge. In the end of the nineteenth century Montmartre, Paris was the talk of the town. It was a time of prosperity and entertainment, known as ‘belle époque’ or the beautiful age. The Moulin Rouge was a festive new music-hall which opened in 1889. Here Toulouse captured the sense of movement and freedom of dancers. In the Moulin Rouge the public came in mass to discover this extravagant place with its huge dance floor, mirrors everywhere, and galleries that were the last word in elegance, to mix with the riffraff and girls of easy virtue, in a garden decorated with a big elephant with rides on donkeys for the ladies’pleasure. There was such a wild atmosphere that the show was not only on the stage but all around : aristocrats and louts in caps had fun side by side, in an atmosphere of total euphoria. 6 And Toulouse captured this distant world that surrounds them with his paintbrush.

To make a long story short; Toulouse was born in 1867. He was a lively, noisy and curious boy. He was a smart kid but always got himself into mischief. He was raised from an elite family with a father who was an outdoorsman, a mother who loved him and an uncle who was an artist. Toulouse instinctively took to the excitement of his fathers horse riding adventures but he could not always ride them himself because he possessed a frail physique. When he was too sick for the outdoors with his father he stayed in with his uncle and sketched. His legs were frail but became disfigured after particular events. In May of 1878 at the age of thirteen, he stepped off a low chair with the help of his walking stick, tripped, fell and broke his left femur. Fifteen months later, on a walk with his mother Henri fell into a four – five foot dry ditch and fractured his right femur. With two broken femur’s his limbs healed improperly and refused to grow, but his torso grew normal with age. His total adult height amounted to about five feet. Despite his differences he filled his spirit with life in the Moulin Rouge.

When he was a boy, his father gave him a book, and in the book he wrote remember my son that an outdoor life in the fresh air is the only healthy one; every thing deprived of freedom wilts and soon dies. 5 So Lautrec spent his life submerged in freedom and made a career of painting parties.

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Here he is in 1891 // 5

“He throws large parties and I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”¹

Lautrec’s post impressionist works reflected the energy of his soul and his passion for life. He spent late nights in the Moulin Rouge drinking to capacity and sketching. Contrary to drinking consequences, drinking did not effect his talent. Opposed to the latest impressionists techniques, Toulouse stripped off the detailed analysis of light, shadow and colors, his emotions brought out simplistic shapes and color values of yellows and pinks reduced to their essentials. Inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints. 7 he used areas of flat color bound by strong outlines, silhouettes, cropped compositions, and oblique angles clear and delicate, simple tones and vigorous and eloquent lines. In “At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance” visual hierarchy and movement is designed of the smallest point of the person in orange towards the upper left corner towards the back of the crowd bouncing closer to the front through the orange tights of the woman dancing in the middle and then landing on the fair skinned woman with the pink dress and yellow hat in the foreground.

All though this painting ‘At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance’ presents a full house, a sense of privacy is depicted by putting the surrounding friends in the darker hues. Privacy is offered because our eyes pay little attention to our friends in the dark. Lautrec’s color blocking technique from his selected point of view captures the passionate energy shining throughout the crowd along with the women dancing, (as if no one is watching), with her orange socks in the air and drapes of her brown dress in flight and in the foreground, the woman in the pink dress is happily enjoying the crowd.

Furthermore, Lautrec was notorious for his love affairs with the brothel workers of the Moulin Rouge, they cared for him and he cared for them. By doing so Lautrec left these party goers a legacy of privacy by not revealing the status of their lack of virtuous ways through his forever renowned paintings. He left no indication of a comparison of the distinct class between the prostitutes and women of higher class society. His works were documented only incidentally; they were in no sense records of prostitution. In the first instance, they were works of art, but they were also, in their own way, a plea. Lautrec disassociated these women from their profession because he wanted to paint them as he would have painted any other woman and with the same implacable truth. He could then state with all the greater firmness that no one in the world had the right to make anyone an outcast. Lautrec watched, drew and painted. Yet his canvases have neither romanticism nor vulgarity; he evaded to the equivocal and the lewd as much as he did the sentimental. Much of the women he painted were brothel workers, but to Lautrec, he saw right through them to their joyful heart. No where in his paintings does it indicate the sadness and sorrow of their life as an object. Even ugliness had its beautiful aspects; you simply had to be able to see them. The dancers would perform for their own pleasure and for these regular customers, inventing the most acrobatic steps, their whirlings reflected in the mirrors on the walls which multiplied their wild improvisations. 5 In parties there is no judgment. Parties fill the soul with joy and happiness. In these parties it did not matter the past present or future, they were all simply there to have fun.

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Here is Mr. Lautrec painting “At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance” in his studio in 1890 // 5

“He throws large parties and I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”¹

Dance like nobody is watching. You can dance like nobody is watching in large parties because nobody is focused on you, they are focused on their own self-happiness that they feel when they are dancing with you. Toulouse’s legs were not up to par of the standard adult size but he loved life and spent his time designing visual images of  parties and happiness. Mr. Toulouse Lautrec drank himself to death, and he died at the age of 36 in 1901. Observing by his passion for painting, dancers and joyful night life… he seems to have had a lively soul. According to Feng Shui; a Chinese decorating system of harmony (it would’ve fit so perfectly with my story if Feng Shui was Japanese, like Toulouse’s painting style!), it isn’t the way the picture looks, it is the energy that the picture emits. The Dance by Toulouse Lautrec fills the soul with energy,  joy and freedom. So if you don’t want any more sluggish days, keep “At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance”  displayed on the walls of your house and you’ll feel like you are in a party with Toulouse-Lautrec every time you look at it.

Please watch this clip below of the movie The Great Gatsby to understand the idea of the parties and energy I am describing from his painting, and listen for Jordan Baker and her statement “He throws large parties and I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”¹ Lautrec’s paintings emit a sense of something like this…

 

Lautrec has applied himself to capturing hundreds of scenes with canvases, water color and drawings. If you’d like to see more of his work you can find him on Artsty’s website on their  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec page. If you browse around you will even find some of his drawings of horses, as referenced in this story.

FYI – If you happen to be in Madrid sometime between October 17, 2017 to January 21, 2018, be sure to check out the Picasso/Lautrec exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where you can see his work up close and in person!

 

 

Inspiration:

¹Scott, F. Fitzgerald. Book.  Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1925. Print.  

² Fergie, Q-Tip & Goonrock. “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody(All We Got).” The Great Gatsby Soundtrack. Interscope 2013. CD.  

³ The Post Impressionists – Toulouse Lautrec (Full Documentary)

At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance. 1890. Oil on Canvas. European Painting / Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

5 Perruchot, Henri. Toulouse Lautrec, a definitive biography. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company. 1958. Print.

6 Brightman, John. “The Great Periods” Moulin Rouge. Le Bal Du Moulin Rouge. 2013. Web. 18 March 2015. http://www.moulinrouge.fr/histoire/grandes-periodes

7 Michael, Cora. “Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/laut/hd_laut.htm (May 2010)