poetryrepairs #226 16.07: 076

MARK A. MURPHY : Canon and Gigue
: Norman J. Olson : art, art history and painting the nude – talking about art

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Canon and Gigue

1 Sunday evening in St Peter’s Gardens, the last sunlight pushing through clouds of memory that besiege you in your revelry, claiming ownership of this girl and that long last love. Unsurprisingly, night is drawing in again upon you as you wander over the gravestones alone and back to your rented rooms where you drink cheap Polish beer and insist on music. Even Pachalbel’s grave stirrings cannot soothe or consume your sadness – where your lady wife is five years and five thousand miles distant, hanging to life by a thread, unavailable for comment. 2 Where or to whom can you turn for solace, when all around, the doors are closing in your face? All you are left with is perpetual longing for the past or a future that is no longer plausible.

poetryrepairs #226 16.07: 076

Norman J. Olson
art, art history and painting the nude – talking about art

people often ask me the names of artists that I like or, when they look at my art, people tell me the names of contemporary artists who they think I will like… when I later look up those artists, I seldom find them interesting… in fact, as I have said many times, except for a few of the new surrealist/realist painters such as Dino Valles and the late HR Giger, contemporary artists are of little interest to me… what do I like?? well, the answer to that is my topic here… first off, I am a student of art history… I love European art almost from the beginning until the big aesthetic shift in the early 20th Century… I also love and have been much influenced by the matriarchal artistic tradition of the Ndebele women of South Africa… I learned to use black and pattern in my work from the women of the Ndebele and I hope to someday make a pilgrimage to their village near Pretoria, to see some of their amazing art in the original… from the prehistoric figures of Europe, I learned about abstracting the figure and moving beyond the classical in appreciation of human bodies… from the great masters of European art, I learned to love the illusion of three dimensional space made with paint, ink, etc. on a surface of painted canvas or paper… from the academic and pre-Raphaelite painters, I learned to work carefully and to love drawings of people, especially naked people… from James Ensor, I learned to trust my intuition and from Picasso, I learned that it was okay to fragment the figure in my drawings and paintings… I have learned from many many others as well… nearly all of my paintings include depictions of the nude… I am not really sure why I like to make images of naked people… perhaps that is something that a psychoanalyst could uncover… but ultimately, I guess that the reason of it is not important… be that as it may, pictures of naked people with landscape elements, which is what most of my art works are, are common enough in the history of European art that, well, that is my tradition and where my roots and my love, art-wise, lies… through most of European art history, these depictions of the nude seem to me to have been made for no other reason than that the artists, like me, enjoyed looking at and making images of naked people… I believe that an artist like Michelangelo made his art because he loved depicting, studying, looking at, drawing and sculpting images of naked men… the church was the big patron in those days (early 16th century) and Michelangelo needed to be a professional and earn money from his obsession and since the time was right with the rebirth of humanism in the 16th century, Michelangelo found a way to make the naked men fit into bible stories and so earned enough money to support himself and his parasitic family while still doing what he obsessively needed to do which was make pictures of naked men… and the same is true of most of these artists… I think that religion or portraiture or public commissions from fat cats are mostly, through the history of European art, an excuse for the artist to do something different, personal and only tangentially related to the purported purpose of the art… even though the artist may have been unaware altogether of that fact… I am not suggesting that this art is insincere, or fake but rather that it is more interesting to look at as a piece of art that exists without limiting the response to the art to that of a historian… for example, I especially love Victorian and especially Pre-Raphaelite art… I think that I understand their motivations in the sense that making drawings and paintings of figures with landscape elements also moves me… and the nude figure was very important in their work, which I can certainly relate to… on a technical level, I love the way they drew the figure as well as the landscape elements… a few years ago, I traveled to Brooklyn New York to see a show of Victorian Nudes at the Brooklyn Museum of Art… while many of these paintings are flawed and look kind of stupid to the modern eye, the use of oil paint or drawing media to represent is just so amazingly facile… and these artists all had long experience drawing nude figures from models and were very very good at it… I loved looking at those paintings… when I tell people that my work devolved directly from that Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite tradition, they say “oh, it looks more like Picasso to me…” well, there is some Picasso in my work as Picasso was jammed down my throat all through art school and a bit of that stuck… but Picasso was classically trained by his father, a classical 19th century painter, so came straight out of that 19th century tradition that I love and that may be why our work has points of tangency… but my art works are drawings and paintings of faces, nude figures and landscape elements… which also describes the work of GF Watts or any number of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite painters… but where Watts had to convince himself and everybody else that his drawings of naked people served some higher moral purpose, I say that I feel like making pictures of nudes and landscape elements so I go ahead and do it… in fact, I feel like many of Watts’s paintings would have been significantly stronger if he had ditched the sermon and just went ahead and painted the skinny naked girl on the rocks… or whatever… and not cared if the critics of the time thought he as a hopeless pervert for painting naked people without trying to make some moralistic statement… I don’t have to care what critics say because, I am a noncommercial artist in that I do not do art for money and the way the contemporary art world is set up, only artists who are on the commercial stage are subject to criticism… plus, my little drawings and paintings of naked people and landscape elements are of no interest to the commercial MOMA art work in the first place… so, being free of all that, I am able to go to the well of my intuition and let the art work happen however it seems to want to happen… which is generally with more or less distorted representations of faces, figures and landscape elements… Michelangelo was a deeply religious person but I think that his religion was more personal that Catholic… from looking at his art, I reconstruct the god of Michelangelo as a humanistic, pagan deity relating to Christ in the ecce homo sense and intrinsic to the act of being alive… his worship was modeling the images that he loved… and god was in the flesh… I recently saw an article that pointed out that the representation of god the father in the central panel of the Sistine Chapel, where he is an old guy with a grey beard reaching a finger out to the reclining Adam, is in a swirl of drapery that is exactly a representation of the human brain… and as soon as it was pointed out and I looked at the image, I saw that too… this hiding of shapes and symbols in art was common enough in Renaissance art, (for example, see the howling figure in the background hills of Hugo Van Der Goes Portinari Altarpiece)… and Michelangelo certainly had dissected enough cadavers to know exactly what the human brain looked like… so, I am positive that he used this painting to explain to those who could see that his religion came like Adam’s spark of life from the deep and mysterious depths of the human brain… well, I love that… what a wonderful religion… the religion of the brain… the true, deep and only humanism… so, while I have lost the Lutheran religion I was raised with, I am endlessly fascinated by the human brain and body and by the planet upon which I, with my brain and body live… is my art some kind of pagan religious observation?? no, of course not… I don’t really even understand what it is at all… maybe someday, I will do something besides figures and landscape elements… who knows?? but, for now, it seems like enough to trust my intuition… wrap my loving arms around the shoulders of the giants from South Africa, Venice and foggy London town who have given me so much and paint and draw whatever comes into my head… it is an amazing and wonderful life…

poetryrepairs #226 16.07: 076


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Norman J. Olson is a poet and the famed cover artist for poetryrepairs.com.