Pays Connu

Retuning to a familiar country.

Venice

“Nothing is more impressive than this strip of inter-world, as if in it one were supposed to disaccustom oneself to multiplicity and prepare for an eternal that is simple. …Just like a face, a look, a soul, the Giardino Eden can only be experienced, not told – indeed isn’t that really so of all Venice, one takes in here not as with vessels and hands, but as with mirrors, one “grasps” nothing, one is only drawn into the intimacy of its evanescence.”

-Rainer Marie Rilke

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It’s been a week since we’ve returned from Venice, and only now can I begin to unpack the vast nature of this experience.

I was thinking today about what Rilke said, about not being able to grasp Venice as one might like to think they could, as with hands, or with vessels, to take bits of it with them and guard them forever in some precious box, but instead the city constantly eludes you, changing with every second.  The movement, the sounds, the light in constant indecision, wavering and then crashing like the water it so delicately rests upon.  It was almost impossible to grab ahold of this city all at once, if at all, I could only hope to be, “drawn into the intimacy of its evanescence,” to be simply a witness to its emerging and its fading.

And to paint this city, what a particular sort of privilege it was, and how humbling, to try to act as a mirror to this strip of inter-world.

La Nature Mort

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Look at the flowers, so faithful to what is earthly,

to whom we lend fate from the very border of fate.

And if they are sad about how they must wither and die,

perhaps it is our vocation to be their regret.

All Things want to fly.  Only we are weighed down by desire,

caught in ourselves and enthralled with our heaviness.

Oh what consuming negative teachers we are

for them, while eternal childhood fills them with grace.

        -Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus XIV

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I remember John referencing this section of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus when critiquing a still life I had done last Fall semester.”All things want to fly,” he said, “but it’s really more a sort of vibration, a singing…. And that’s what I feel here in your still life…all things are hovering there, vibrating, breathing amongst themselves.” This semester I had the great privilege of helping John set up the various still lives in the studio where I was able to see on a deeper level just how one can compose things in such a way that they can in fact sing.   In this delicate and involved process, I was faced with the very nature of things and of how they relate to one another and I began to understand how one is able to place items in such a way that they desperately need one another, that their relationships can create a harmony that extends beyond itself.

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Figure Drawing (Round 2)

“Art is selective. What is there is essential and creates movement.”

Flannery  O’Connor

Mystery and Manners

With the spring semester in full force and our first break rapidly approaching in less than a week, I thought it was an appropriate time to go back to the beginning, and briefly reflect upon a few sketches from the opening week of figure drawing.  With a renewed energy and spirit that accompanies the anticipation of spring, this initial week of drawing reawakened my senses in preparation for our continued journey into discovering the nature of art and consequently the nature of ourselves.

As John stated in our opening seminar, “We are involved in the nature of art and art involves the deepest strata of the human person.  We are going to learn to see, to look as deeply as possible into the great works of art, to look deeply into nature. We are going to try to penetrate nature, to go to the very heart of it and at the same time to penetrate the depths of our own selves, our own beings.”

Desert Solitaire

“Love Flowers Best in Openness and Freedom”-EA

Over this Christmas break I was blessed with the chance to return to my native Colorado and to spend time with my family and loved ones.  In my time home, nestled in the wilderness of the rocky mountains and the cryptic red rocks of the south-west, I began to seek and to gain a deeper understanding for what it means to be “en pays connu” as Leo Marchutz was in Aix. The idea of finding oneself in a familiar country (pays connu), it seems, is about recognizing a place which resonates with your spirit and which holds the sacred possibility of living in communion with nature, with all of the mystical forces that bind us together on our brief time here.

In my two days spent in Arches National Park  over my break, I found myself in a familiar country, one which reawakened a childlike sense of freedom within me.

“…it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here in the desert,” says Edward Abbey in his book Desert Solitaire, “by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in sparseness and simplicity.”

It is in this vast openness about the desert where I found this same sort of wonder he speaks of.  I found it in wandering the soft red earth, feeling the dry crisp air wisp through my body, making me feel buoyant and light, as though I could almost float to the top of the magnificently carved natural sculptures which towered above me. I felt indeed a reverence for nature and awe for existence that compelled me to live and to create in harmony with all that surrounded me.

I believe  Leo Marchutz felt something like this when he stood before the Mont Saint Victoire, and studied the work of Paul Cézanne.  He initiated a school which seeks to continue this very communion with nature,with Art, and with the great History of Artists that precede us. And it seems that his vision proves to be even more important today in a society which often finds itself more and more disconnected from nature itself and more bound up in the artifice, in the ego. This trip to distant lands for me, really solidified my purpose here in continuing the work and vision of Leo Marchutz and creating Art which continues to be in harmony with nature.

 Delicate Arch

In describing the above Arch, Abbey says, “ If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind our of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the world that is full of wonder.”… “A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us-like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness-that  “out there” is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship.  The shock of the real.  For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels.”

—It is this I am most struck by… the ability of nature to humble us.. to bring us out of our egos, out of our habits of life and connect us to this vast  and beautiful world which sustains us.

Art and Experience

It has truly taken the entirety of the past few weeks just for me to unpack the immensity of what I gained from the Paris trip and the new connections I have made from throughout the semester.

November is a difficult month and I remember it being so two years ago as well.  Not only is it the time in the semester where we start missing our families and loved ones, but we are also faced with the enormity of what we have learned, what we have seen, and how we are connecting it to our practice in art.

“Paintings are manifestations of the interior of an artist.” I recall John remarking a week or so before our trip. “They are not just resting on the surface of things but they are actually penetrating into their reality….”

This is one of the things that is so significant about the Impressionists, we began to understand. Not only were they looking deeply into the reality of nature but they were simultaneously looking deeply within themselves.  Therefore, their paintings were reflections of their outermost and innermost explorations.  Life is broken up into different series of strokes and color patches that are intimately related to one another and to the whole surface of the painting.

“La touche is one of the first things that will strike you when you see these paintings in person.” I remember John saying.  “You can hardly defend yourself against it…like music, la touche is the same way…Almost before you even realize it, it touches you.  It touches you not only because of its intimate relation to the truth, the essence of the visible world, but because of its relation to the nature of the inner most being of the artist himself.”

And in fact this is one of the things that the Marchutz school asks us to do: to look deeply into nature and simultaneously within ourselves.  Two years ago when I was here as a student, I was only just beginning to understand what this meant. In my return I’ve learned that it is indeed experience, life experience, that has shaped and formed my vision, that in many ways, has enabled me to paint with the newly found freedom that I have felt in these past months.  The act of painting is often incredibly liberating now. It feels almost urgent each time I make a mark on the canvas, as though this is what I must be doing.

I recall reading Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” shortly after our trip to Paris, just when everything was beginning to become clear for me here, and I remember his demand to search deep within yourself, into your innermost being to discover what commands you to create and to follow the germ of that feeling to its greatest depths.  At the time I was incredibly struck and almost burdened by this notion, perhaps because I didn’t yet fully grasp what it was exactly that commanded me to create, but knew that it was ever present within me.  It has taken me a great deal of time, tragedy, love and loss in my life to rediscover this need, this urgency to create and moreover the ability to more deeply connect with Art.

In this discovery, I am brought back to Lionello Venturi’s statement, that “Experience in life is the best school for the understanding of art…,” and that, “What matters in painting is not the canvas, the hue of oil or tempera, the anatomical structure, and all other measurable items, but its human contribution to our life, its suggestions to our sensations, feeling and imagination.”

And it is exactly this human contribution to our life that I experienced with Titian, Poussin, Goya, Delacroix, Cézanne, Daumier, Turner, Monet, Van Gogh and many other masters that week in Paris, which still rest within me and continue to challenge the way I see and experience life and art.

“…Because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world…”-Rilke

Before diving into the five transformative days of the past week in Paris, I would like to take a moment to reflect and dedicate this entry to Rilke’s 9th Duino Elegy.

Two years ago, John read this poem aloud as we looked at a Monet sketch painting of Les Nymphéas in the Musée de Marmottan and my world was forever changed.

After this trip, I began to feel, for the first time,a sense of unity in impermanence, in the “desperately swift passing away of things in modern life,” (-Van Gogh) as I began to experience how a great work of art can live and eternally open itself before your eyes.

And in fact to this day, the same works of art are more alive to me than ever before, revealing new realities and new depths that I never fathomed possible.

The Ninth Elegy

Rainer Maria Rilke

Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? . . .

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too. . . . .

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

And so we keep pressing on, trying to achieve it,
trying to hold it firmly in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded gaze, in our speechless heart.
Trying to become it.–Whom can we give it to? We would
hold on to it all, forever . . . Ah, but what can we take along
into that other realm? Not the art of looking,
which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
The sufferings, then. And above all, the heaviness,
and the long experience of love,– just what is wholly
unsayable. But later, among the stars,
what good is it–they are better as they are: unsayable.
For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he bings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window–
at most: column, tower. . . . But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing. Isn’t the secret intent
of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,
that inside their boundless emotion all things may shudder with joy?
Threshold: what it means for two lovers
to be wearing down, imperceptibly, the ancient threshold of their door–
they too, after the many who came before them
and before those to come. . . . ., lightly.

Here is the time for the sayablehere is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness. More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.

Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one,
you can’t impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe
where he feels more powerfully, you are a novice. So show him
something simple which, formed over generations,
lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze.
Tell him of Things. He will stand astonished; as you stood
by the ropemaker in Rome or the potter along the Nile.
Show him how happy a Thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even lamenting grief purely decides to take form,
serves as a Thing, or dies into a Thing–, and blissfully
escapes far beyond the violin.–And these Things,
which live by perishing, know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within–oh endlessly–within us! Whoever we may be at last.

Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn’t it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?–O Earth: invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent command?
Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win me over–one of them,
ah, even one, is already too much for my blood.
Unspeakably I have belonged to you, from the first.
You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
is our intimate companion, Death.

Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
grows any smaller . . . . . Superabundant being
wells up in my heart.

translated by Stephen Mitchell

(translated by Stephen Mitchell)

“You’re going to see things when you return from Paris.”

As we are leaving for our annual Paris trip tomorrow, I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts on the experience from two years ago. It was absolutely pivotal to my first semester at Marchutz and ultimately to my development as an artist.

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^^(Les Nymphéas, L’Orangerie, Paris)

I once said that to articulate my experiences here in words is more difficult than the journey itself.  This is becoming increasingly more accurate as this journey has progressed.  Each time I attempt to record my experiences, and my thoughts on this infinite new world I’ve been exposed to…I find myself at a complete loss.  I start to swim in the depths of reminiscence and fail to convey something concrete, something that could ever do justice to what I am seeing and learning here.  For it is not simply what I am seeing and learning but the way in which I am seeing and learning for what feels like the first time.

Embraced in the warmth of the bookshelves of Shakespeare and Company in Paris this weekend, I was consoled by the words of Ernest Hemingway on this matter:

“Do not worry. You have always written…

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