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We went to the Musée d’Art Moderne with the express purpose of seeing a mural called “The Electricity Fairy” by Raoul Dufy. Joy’s discovery of this mural’s existence was an occasion for amazement, since she loves Dufy and, well, electricity is her career and her passion. So off we went to the museum, only to discover that the mural is not available for viewing.

One silver lining to this disappointment was that, as I wandered the permanent collection looking for the mural, I came across this painting by Anton Räderscheidt, a German artist who lived 1892-1970.

raderscheidt

 I looked at the face of the artist and the face on his drawing and said to myself, “It’s going to be called ‘Self-Portrait.'” And it is! He painted it in 1928.
Genderqueer? Surrealist? Both? Other? Whatever, I wanted to share it with all my gender nonconforming dear ones. And Räderscheidt joins the growing list of Artists I Need to Learn More About.
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Today, our third full day in Paris, the schedule was:

  • Musee de L’Orangerie, with its two oval rooms immersing the viewers in Monet’s water lilies. There are lots of other Impressionist paintings as well, and a temporary exhibition on the influence of Impressionism on U.S. American Abstract Expressionists.
  • On the walk over, a surprise encounter with the United States’s biggest Francophile. You know how you run into your countryfolk whenever you’re abroad . . . This one was in Paris meeting lots of different ladies.jeffersoninparis
  • Musee d’Orsay, the former train station that’s a work of art in itself and that houses hundreds of Impressionist and related works.
  • Great food before, after, and in between.

Favorite overhead remarks from Musee D’Orsay:

(pointing) “That’s famous, and that’s famous, and that’s famous . . .”

This made me smile because, as far as I could see, she didn’t give the famous paintings more attention. She just wanted to note which ones she’d seen before. Many years ago, I was given a book of this museum’s collection, so today I didn’t always know whether the familiarity of a piece meant I’d seen it in the book, it was widely known, or maybe it had showed a dangerous alien in a window, galvanizing the 11th Doctor to travel to Auvers to find van Gogh.

The Church at Auvers, Vincent van Gogh, 1890. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

If you look closely at the windows, you will note that there is no longer an alien. Thanks, Doctor! (You’ll just have to watch the whole episode, which is called “Vincent and the Doctor” and aired June 5, 2010. It’s a really good one.)

Mother, with daughter by a Van Gogh painting: That’s a self-portrait.

Daughter: How’d he do that? Oh, wait. I bet he took a picture of himself.

I heard no response. I’d really like to know how the mother answered, if at all.

Person looking at same self-portrait, to friend: Do you think he was really a redhead, or just painted himself that way?

I love that painting. The swirls of the background and the swirls of his hair, face, and clothes meld, as if he is trying to express how much he is at the mercy of his environment, or perhaps how seamlessly he fits into it. His expression makes me lean toward the former interpretation.

The Musee D’Orsay also had a temporary exhibit of beautiful Baltic paintings of the same era, and not enough time left for us to contemplate them. The exhibit focused on symbolism in the art, much of which drew on folktales of the region; Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were becoming independent nations, and artists, like others, might have been pondering what created a sense of national identity. Now I want to find out more about Mikalojus Čiurlionis, Balder Tomasberg and Pēteris Krastiņš–the three whose pieces, in my too-rapid trot through the exhibit, caught my eye enough for me to stop and do that annoying thing of snapping photos of the pieces and their labels rather than taking the time to look at them. But it was almost 6 p.m., and needs must. About half of my ancestors emigrated from Latvia, yet I know nothing of these folktales or these artists (Krastiņš was Latvian).

Amongst the stunning works by Degas, Cassatt, Cezanne, Sisley, Seurat, van Gogh, Gauguin, an artist neither of us had ever heard of named Eva Gonzales, and another named Maximilien Luce who was a political (!) pointillist (!), we saw many by Renoir. Only a very few of these last did not make us want to scratch our eyes out. I cannot stand his paintings, which, as Joy articulated perfectly, look like someone smeared Vaseline on the lens, the way, for example, a Star Trek director will do to show Jill Ireland from a smitten Spock’s point of view. I’m so glad to be married to someone who also loves to go to art museums and hates Renoir, as does God. She’s wrong about Rothko, but you have to have some differences in a marriage.

The Mona Lisa is instantly recognizable by the crowd of people standing before it, most of them taking photos. It’s in a large hall with lots of other paintings, most of which aren’t very interesting to me, but one of which is.

tintorettoIt’s a self-portrait by Tintoretto. He looks thoughtful, even sad, and directs his gaze straight into the viewer’s eyes. He isn’t getting a lot of attention. As with every other painting in this room, most visitors have their backs to this one, as they strain to see the celebrity nearby.

mona lisaOn the other hand, even when one is looking right at the Mona Lisa, it’s hard to see it. It’s a gorgeous painting–did Leonardo paint any other kind? But there are so many layers of marketing, jokes, pop culture, parody, etc. making a thick veil of familiarity between us and her. Simply encountering the painting face to face is impossible. So maybe Tintoretto’s sadness is not for himself, but for her and her creator. Or even for us.

bicycles, Amsterdam
angel in Nieuw Kerk, Amsterdampigeons, Amsterdam

Each year for the season of Lent, since 2011, I have undertaken three spiritual practices: one subtractive, one additive, and one giving.

This year, as I have done a few times before, I will subtract social media: no Facebook or Twitter. (I’m not cool enough for Instagram, so nothing to give up there.) It’s good for my soul.

For the additive practice, I’m participating in #UULent’s photo-a-day practice. This is in direct contradiction of my subtractive practice, since I’ve proposed to my congregation that we post our photos on the congregation’s Facebook site–sharing a spiritual practice really helps it stick. However, I think it’s in the spirit of my social-media fast if I do nothing on Facebook other than post my photos and look at others’. I’m also encouraging folks to post selected photos (only their own) on the bulletin board between rooms 9 & 10 at UUCPA. When I did this (spottily) a couple of years ago, Barb Greve was someone I knew mostly by reputation and occasionally running into him at installations or ordinations, but currently, we are working together at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, so using a resource he created is extra special.

Last year I did art every day, and I would love to do it again, but along with the daily photo it seems too much. I’ll see.

And I always choose a cause to which to give money, and this year it was easy to choose: Black Lives of UU. The UUA has committed to raising $5.3 million for BLUU, and individual contributions are part of that work, so this is my mite. You can contribute yours at the BLUU website. I am excited, occasionally even hopeful, about the UUA’s renewed commitment to shift us away from the dominance of white culture and help us shake off the effects of white supremacy, and it will take thousands of us to realize this commitment.

ghost ship 1

Ghost Ship, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

A year ago tomorrow, 36 people died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. At the time I did these three drawings in my sketchbook. I was haunted by the stories of people being trapped, trying to flee the fire by going down a staircase that ended only in more fire.

The larger story, that haunted me at least as much, was (and is) the extreme scarcity of safe, affordable housing in our area. These people lived there because actual apartments, which have stricter codes, were out of reach to their budgets (as they are to an increasing number of Bay Area residents). Their landlord got away with housing them in a warehouse because everyone concerned wanted it to work, even though it wasn’t safe. The housing crisis is another rapidly narrowing space that leads to suffering and possible disaster.  I knew when I drew these that I wanted to do more, a piece with specific allusions to the cost and scarcity of decent places to live, the way people are trapped by a poverty we have created. I haven’t yet. But I am still haunted.

 

ghost ship 2

Ghost Ship 2, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

ghost ship 3

Ghost Ship 3, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

Joy spotted a sign for an etching workshop here in Oaxaca (grabado en metal, in Spanish): three days, five hours a day, various techniques. Investigation confirmed that the artist, Marco Velasco, would gladly teach a ten-year-old how to work with acid, something not all printmaking workshops here have been willing to do, so all three of us signed up.

The germ of this piece came to me seven years ago; it even inspired me to begin learning GNU Gimp (open-source Photoshop) because I envisioned it as a digital collage. But I didn’t learn how to make digital collages (yet), and the piece sat in my sketchbook and a corner of my mind. When I learned about the variety of marks one can make with etching, it emerged and said “make me a print!”

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Colony Collapse Disorder, etching, about 4″ x 8″, (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern July 2017

 

It involved fun research. I did not know that the headache-medicine people, Bayer, own a company called Bayer CropScience, soon to acquire Monsanto. Nor that it is one of the biggest manufacturers of neonicotinoids, the pesticides that work by attacking insects’ neurological systems, and of course an ardent advocate of the claim that they have no significant effect on bees. Nor that Monsanto has decided to protect Bayer’s flank by producing a new kind of bee. (It’s the Roundup Ready corn of the insect world. Make poison, spread it on everything, and when you discover that it kills some species you like, instead of changing the poison or ceasing to spread it, alter the species.) Bayer’s logo even resembles the cross-hairs of a rifle, a pleasing bit of serendipity. I also did not anticipate that looking up images of the Gadsden flag, the one that says “Don’t Tread on Me,” would cause websites full of US flags and pugnacious political mottos to pop up in my ads, but of course it did.

I think the founding principles that united the American colonies left us particularly vulnerable to attacks like the one on the bees (and our food sources, and the entire web of plant and animal life), but these ideas are still too abstract for art; I don’t have the image yet to express what I think is threatening to cause the collapse of the human colonies. Maybe there will be future works in a series.

I know for certain that I want to do more etching. I loved the techniques. You can scratch into the varnish that will resist the acid, or use a different kind of varnish and draw right onto it (the smudges in the lower left come from my leaning on the plate as I did that, a mistake), or scratch into the plate itself. And make areas of darker and lighter tone by how long you leave the plate in the acid, and by gently sanding the plate’s surface. Unlike relief techniques like linocut, where you think in negative (what you want to be dark, you leave behind as you carve), the marks you make on an etching plate will be dark. This makes it possible to transfer images to the plate in my own drawing style. The three days involved painting, drawing, scratching, sanding–I enjoyed every minute.

I’m at the annual meeting and conference of Unitarian Universalists, General Assembly: this year, in New Orleans. Instead of bringing knitting to occupy my hands through the many meetings and workshops, as I have done before, this time I brought my sketchbook. The last three might be called Variations on a Theme by Brice Marden, since seeing some of his work at SFMOMA last week clearly influenced what’s in my head.

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Sometimes, being a minister means working with some prickly people. They’re among the congregational leaders or visitors or–particularly tenderly–among the people I visit when they’re sick or sad. Not long ago, I was on my way to meeting with a member of the congregation when I passed under a stand of sweet gum trees (I think that’s what they are), whose seeds I love whenever I see them, and have never dared to draw. I went on to the meeting, and in our conversation, the person was both prickly and, to me, very beautiful: honest, caring, vulnerable. When I left, I picked up one of the fallen seeds, and I drew it that evening. In my private thoughts, it has this person’s name.

I’m loving exploring this idea from different angles. When does a grid stop being a grid? What is it then? The tension between the formal rules of the grid and the movement that arises through and in spite of that form evoke all sorts of other tensions in my mind. To what extent are our lives ordered or chaotic, regimented or free, communal or individual?

Both of these are about 4″x6″, drawn with ink in a pocket sketchbook. The light and camera available distort the colors, but you can get the idea.


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