The Apocalypse of Pop Culture?

Game Boy

Lately, I have seen a number of paintings by Filip Hodas, a self-proclaimed 3-D artist from the Czech Republic. The illustrations shown here can be described under the heading of the Apocalypse of Pop Culture. Not all his work is on this theme, but the images that startled me definitely were. (You can see more of his work by clicking here.)

It is somewhat appropriate that the images of much-loved pop icons in the process of falling into disrepair and ruin comes from a resident of Prague. The Czechs, like the Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans were essentially trashed under the postwar Russian occupation. So now, as the West begins its own decline, why should our icons escape the wrecking ball of history?

McDonald’s Happy Meal

I particularly love the McDonald’s Happy Meal box, turned into a kind of rural slum dwelling. One can almost expect to see an American Hansel and Gretel wending their way to this sagging ruin.

Allow me to leave you with one final Hodas image, that of a wrecked and graffiti-covered Pac Man:

Pac Man

Notice the THX graffiti.

Near Is Far and Far Is Near

Patrick Hughes and One of His Reverspectives

I have always loved optical illusions. There is one British painter named Patrick Hughes whose entire work concentrates on what he calls Reverspectives. These are paintings that when viewed by still photography are flat, but are not originally created so. (See the above illustration, and then the one below.) I suggest you take a look at the artist’s own website or this Futility Closet posting.

A Still Photograph View of a Similar Painting

It never fails to amuse me how something so simple as perspective could be put on its end and played with. Take a look at his work and let me know what you think.

The Surrealist Lett

“Palacios en Bria”

I owe my acquaintance with the work of Oscar Agustin Alejandro Schulz Solari (better known as Xul Solar) to Jorge Luis Borges. Now why would I accept the artistic judgment of a blind man? Fortunately, Xul Solar’s association with Borges goes back to the early 20th century, when the writer still had his sight. In fact, the painter is referenced by name in one of his greatest stories—“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” On page 23 of the Grove Press edition, we find:

The moon rose over the sea would be written hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö, or, to put it in order: upward beyond the constant flow there was moondling. (Xul Solar translates it succinctly: upward, beyond the onstreaming it mooned.)

Also, Xul Solar illustrated three of Borges’s earlier works: El tamaño de mi esperanza (1926), El idioma de los argentinos (1928), and Un modelo para la muerte (1946). The latter was co-authored by another mutual friend, Adolfo Bioy-Casares.

In Buenos Aires, on Laprida, there is a museum dedicated to Xul Solar, situated in his former home. On my last trip to Argentina, I had the good fortune to visit it. When next I go to Argentina—and I dearly hope I can—I intend to visit it again.

“Fiordo”

What I like most about Xul Solar’s work is its depiction of strangely beautiful and bizarre places. I do not recall many (if any) portraits, but I do remember his many landscapes and cityscapes.

Xul Solar is not widely known outside of Argentina, though I think he is one of the world’s greatest surrealist painters. The painter was born in Latvia in 1887 and died in 1963, just as his friend Jorge’s vision went into an irreparable decline.

Discovering the Long Scroll

Excerpt from the Long Scroll of Sesshū Tōyō

For the first time in my life, I away away from home, alone. I was seventeen years old when I found myself at Dartmouth College. The only person I knew from before was Frank Opaskar, with whom I had gone to Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. But I quickly found myself becoming estranged from Frank because of his anxiety about his complexion. I had the top bunk in our dorm room, and Frank insisted in smearing himself with Noxzema. Every night, I was wafted into sleep by the medicated stench of his facial preparation.

Naturally, I was desperate to lift my mind from the humdrum life of study and Noxzema. Fortunately, I found several ways of escape. One of them was art….

In my first year at Dartmouth, the Hopkins Center for the Arts opened. One of the first shows in the art gallery was of the Long Landscape Scroll by Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506), a Zen Buddhist master whose art work made me feel at home. I don’t know why: I had had no previous exposure in my Catholic education to Zen ink and wash paintings of the Muromachi school.

But what I saw was magical. It was a landscape of mists and rocks and water in which pilgrims were trekking from one place to another. I loved it at once. Did I see a sudden paradigm of my own life, wrenched from a close Hungarian family into the wide world? I followed the scroll from left to right—not just once, but many times in numerous visits while the exhibit lasted.

If you want to see what I saw, you can see an image by clicking here. Scroll about a third of the way down and scroll slowly to the right. The image doesn’t allow you to get close, but you get the general idea. I bought a copy of the scroll from Tuttle, the Japanese-American publishing house then located in nearby Rutland, Vermont.

You can say it was Sesshū Tōyō  who introduced me to Zen Buddhism. It was a splendid introduction.

Madame Vleughels

Edmé Bouchardon’s Bust of Madame Vleughels

The Getty Museum in Los Angeles has been putting on an exhibit entitled Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment, which ends in a few days. I was enthralled by both his drawings and his sculptures, of which the above bust of Mme Vleughels is one of my favorites. Edmé Bouchardon (1698-1762) is not well known to most people, but thanks to the Getty, I have made another discovery.

His work that shows the same technical virtuosity of some of the great rococo painters, as in the ornately draped blouse worn by the young woman, yet retains an austere classicism in her facial features and shoulders. Below is one of his drawings:

Head of a Woman Wearing a Scarf

Here again we have a combination of simplicity and technical virtuosity, which seems to be a hallmark of Bouchardon’s style.

Visiting an art museum can be a thrilling experience. But you have to open your eyes and be willing to make comparisons.

The Ruins of Pompeii

“The Forum, Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the Distance” (1841)

Last Sunday, I saw this Danish painting at the Getty Center and dreamed of visiting Pompeii. The artist of Christian Schjellerup Købke (1810-1848), who, like many 18th and 19th century artists did the Grand Tour. He returned to Denmark after a year or two of travel in sunnier climes—and promptly died at the age of 37 of pneumonia. I loved Købke’s painting, though I am saddened that he was cut off in his prime.

In earlier centuries, people were much more matter-of-fact about the suddenness of death—at any age. Although I would love to have seen Pompeii as Købke did, I am saddened that he did not have a longer career. Below is an earlier of his delicate landscapes:

“View of a Street in Østerbro Outside Copenhagen – Morning Light” (1836)

It’s not easy to paint a great landscape. Some painters had the knack, such as Theodore Rousseau, Jacob van Ruisdael, Claude Lorraine, Nicolas Poussin, and J.M.W. Turner. To that list, I would add Christen Købke.

Butter Bread

“A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy” by Pieter de Hooch (early 1660s)

“A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy” by Pieter de Hooch (early 1660s)

Tomorrow I begin working full time once again during a particularly stressful tax season. Yesterday, I prepared by going to see the flowers at Descanso Gardens. Today, on the other hand, I went with Martine to the Getty Center, a museum I could see from the front door of my apartment. Nothing could be more peaceful than this painting by Pieter de Hooch entitled “A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy.” The view through the open Dutch doors is of a placid yard. What I get from this painting is a feeling of love and peacefulness. De Hooch finds much to say in a small compass, a talent that is central to the great Dutch painters of the Seventeenth Century.

It is very likely that I will be working on Saturdays beginning next week and Sundays as well beginning the week after. Natural beauty, great art and literature—all these will help see me through the next six weeks, and going forward thereafter.

According to Henry David Thoreau, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Going to a museum and looking long at paintings and sculptures helps one understand life better. Understanding helps one to survive tough times. The mobs of young fools with their smart phones and selfie sticks are not likely to understand anything. They were looking but not seeing.

What I saw at the Getty today will result in several more postings in the weeks to come. Every time I go to a great museum, I leave energized and eager to communicate what I have learned.