The Architectural Muse

Visitor at a Homage to Roberto Aizenberg’s Paintings

He started out as a student of architecture and ended up being a surrealist painter whose work has an architectural quality. Roberto Aizenberg (1928-1996) is the subject of this post, part of a desultory series on Argentinian painters. In general, I dislike abstract expressionists and love realists and surrealists. A student of Antonio Berni, about whom I have written before, Aizenberg’s work is reminiscent of Xul Solar, another surrealist from the Rio de la Plata.

“Biography of the Author” by Aizenberg

The above painting ties the artist’s love of architecture to the soil of Argentina, with the buildings appearing to be a range of buttes and mesas built atop red earth riddles with caves. This one particularly reminds me of Xul Solar’s surrealist humor.

“Harlequin” by Aizenberg

Harlequins typically wear costumes broken into a design of alternating black and white diamonds. Here, Aizenberg suggests the costume and brackets it with architectural elements. Instead of a human figure, the painter’s harlequin is topped with a doughnut-shaped ring and supported by three spheres of descending size—almost as if it were a decorative finial for a staff or scepter of sorts.

I have not seen many original canvasses by Argentinian painters, with the exception of Xul Solar, whose dedicated museum I have visited in Buenos Aires. The next time I go to South America—and I hope there is a next time—I will have to visit MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires.

 

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.

Serendipity: Documents of the Ultra-Terrain World

“Blue Harbor” by Xul Solar

“Blue Harbor” by Xul Solar

While in Buenos Aires last month, I visited the museum of painter Xul Solar, friend of Jorge Luis Borges. It was Borges who wrote the prologue to the museum’s catalog, which is reproduced here in its entirety:

Man versed in all disciplines, curious of all enigmas, father of writings, languages, utopias, mythologies, guest of hell and heavens, chessplayer author and astrologist, perfect in indulgent irony and friendly generosity, Xul Solar is one of the most outstanding events of our epoch. There are minds which profess the truth, others indiscriminate abundance: the large creativity of Xul Solar does not exclude the strict honesty. His paintings are documents of ultra-terrain world, of metaphysical world in which gods take the form of the imagination of the ones dreaming. The passionate architecture, the happy colours, the many circumstantial details, the labyrinths, the dwarves and angels unforgettably define this delicate and monumental art.

The taste of our time vacillates between the more lineal preference, the emotive transcription and the realism of wall painters: Xul Solar renews, in his ambitious way of being modest, the mystic painting of the ones who do not see with physical eyes in the sacred world of Blake, Swedenborg, yogis and bards.

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Xul Solar

Surreal Cities ...

Surreal Cities …

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the next couple of weeks (there are now only two letters left in the alphabet: Y and Z), you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. Today is X for—no, not X-Ray—but Xul Solar.

I generally do not like modern art, but I have a strange affinity for many surreal artists like Salvador Dalí, Giorgio di Chirico, and Xul Solar.

In March of last year, I already wrote a post about the Latvian-Argentinean painter, whose real name is Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari, but since that “X” is a difficult letter to account for in any alphabetical scheme such as this one, and because I plan to visit his museum in Buenos Aires in November, I decided to write more about his work, which is filled with strange cities and desolate landscapes populated with strolling characters of a vaguely human appearance.

“Paisaje Bunti”

“Paisaje Bunti”

As I wrote in my previous post, it was Jorge Luis Borges who turned me on to his work. As he wrote on one occasion, “His paintings are documents of the unearthly world, of the metaphysical world in which the gods take the forms of imagination, dreams. Passionate architecture, happy colors, many circumstantial details, labyrinths, homunculi and angels unforgettably define this delicate and monumental art.” Soon after he wrote those words, Borges lost his eyesight and was unable to enjoy any paintings, save what visual fragments remained in his memory.

Below is Xul Solar’s take on a cathedral:

“Cathedral”

“Cathedral”

My hotel in Buenos Aires will be within walking distance of the Xul Solar Museum, which is situated at Laprida 1212, a short walk down Pueyrredón from Recoleta. You can visit the museum’s website and view a nice selection of his paintings done over some fifty years. Never mind that the text is in Spanish.

 

Xul Solar

Jorge Luis Borges’s Favorite Painter Comments on Religion

Jorge Luis Borges’s Favorite Painter Comments on Religion

His real name was Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari, but he was better known under the name Xul Solar. Born in Buenos Aires of a Latvian father, he spent his whole life in Argentina. When I was in Buenos Aires in 2006 and 2011, I desperately wanted to visit his museum; but I just wasn’t able to do so. Before he went completely blind in the 1950s, Jorge Luis Borges—whom you may know as one of my favorite writers—befriended him and wrote about his paintings. I have always been intrigued by what I have seen of his work.

If you are interested in seeing some of his work from the 1920s through the 1960s, take a look at the website of the Museo Xul Solar, which is in Spanish but easy to navigate.

In 1949, Borges made one of his cryptic pronouncements about the work of his friend:

Versed in all disciplines, curious of all mysteries, the father of writings, of languages, of mythologies, guest of hells and heavens, “panchess-player,” author and astrologer, perfect in indulgent irony and in the generous friendship, Xul Solar is one of the most important events of our age. There are minds who profess probity, others, discriminate abundance; Xul Solar’s plentiful invention does not exclude honest rigor. His paintings are documents of the unearthly world, of the metaphysical world in which the gods take the forms of imagination, dreams. Passionate architecture, happy colors, many circumstantial details, labyrinths, homunculi and angels unforgettably define this delicate and monumental art.

The taste of our time vacillates between mere linear pleasure, emotional transcription and realism painted by a dauber’s brush. Xul Solar renews, in his ambitious but modest way, the same painting of those who do not see with their physical eyes in the sacred field of Blake, of Swedenborg, of the yogis and of bards.