Sunday, 8 March 2009

Dark clarity


Sickert in Venice at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Unexpectedly wonderful, these paintings are the closest representations I've seen to the pictures of Venice I hold in my mind. Sickert's substantial, gentle, subtle, mostly dark pictures, a mixture of portraits and architectural views, painted between 1895 and 1905, surprised and moved me. Walking through the long, narrow exhibition galleries was like reading a long, lyrical, studiedly vernacular poem.

Many of these paintings demonstrate the intense, contained power of a limited palette. My thoughts flew to a film I saw recently, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys, suffused with a similar power by a similarly limited palette, now achieved by digital film technology. "I increased the contrast and desaturated the colours and then selected one colour, generally red, and pushed it a bit after desaturation", Ceylan, who is also an outstanding still photographer, said in a recent interview. This precisely describes many of Sickert's paintings. The interviewer asks if his films are expressionist. Some seem to think so, Ceylan responds, but he'd say more impressionist. This also seems pertinent.
My perception of the paintings, I suppose, was somewhat heightened. I'm pushing myself to work on this challenging translation project, regular hours several days a week on top of the usual busy day job. This work of translating scholarly French prose is at the very limits of my mental capacities. It's hard, rewarding... and confusing. The intense intellectual exercise arouses my thought process, fills my mind with new life, no doubt about it, but not my emotions - thinking harder doesn't make me less sad and lonely. It's a kind of rebirth, but a partial one. And, oh, I'm dead tired, shivering and nauseous some mornings with it.

Perhaps at another time I'd find these paintings too dark. Just now, they are very compelling.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, beautiful!

Zhoen said...

Consider yourself warmly embraced.

liliannattel said...

The paintings are wonderful, the photos evocative. Thank you for sharing them and your thoughts.

Dave said...

"I increased the contrast and desaturated the colours and then selected one colour, generally red, and pushed it a bit after desaturation."
Sounds familiar! I've done that on still photos now and then. An intense effect, but not always the right approach for non-human environments.

PeterAtLarge said...

Wish I were in London, to see this show! Thanks for your insights, as a substitute. I've saved "Three Monkeys" on Netflix--not yet available. On another topic, though, we watched "Alice Neel" last night, and found it a provocative study of the portrait painter. If you get the time...!

Pica said...

Oh Jean, may your translation of this project be done swiftly and without making you nauseous -- ooof.

I love these paintings though.

Tall Girl said...

Good to see you back, Jean, and I enjoyed these dark images

Dick said...

Interesting reflections, Jean, on the one-sided stimulus of hard-core translation. I've only ever nibbled at the edges with some poetry translation and whilst I've found that rewarding, it demands a taxing level of concentration and application. Unsurprising that your in depth operations leave you 'dead tired, shivering and nauseous'.

Sky said...

i wish for you days filled with loving friends and affection instead of more work. i am glad you are stimulated by this project and cannot even imagine the challenges it presents.

something about close friends and warm hugs and lots of laughter that drives loneliness away. i miss my east coast friends. 3,000 miles away is a long, long way.

Dave King said...

I've always thought him a very under-rated painter. Never really became fashionable, I suppose.

Dale said...

Wow. Wow. That last painting.

Dear Jean. I can't even read scholarly French, let alone translate it. The huge complex sentences are bad enough, but it's also precise and clever, so you can't just subside into dully assuming it must mean the nearest ordinary thing that's sort of like it, which usually works perfectly well for scholarly English & German. (Or used to twenty years ago, anyway.)

Lucy said...

Dale's about said it for me on complex literary French, and Sickert always scared me too; I hate to be so tacky but the Jack the Ripper theory didn't help.

Bravo to you, but please take care.

Special K said...

The heart has reasons which reason knows nothing of....Pascal said that, and I believe art, images, sometimes stir our souls...I am often scared of my feelings and thus tend to avoid art sometimes...but your post compelled me to gaze at Monet this past week.
http://specialktreatment.blogspot.com/