May 27, 2021

At Last, at the Met: Some Favorites

Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art is always a delight for me, and a solace. Finally, after a long hiatus, I was back wandering the galleries full of marvels from around the world. In this first of several posts from the Met I thought I'd show some favorite things that I go to see almost every time I'm in the museum. I was very interested to note that I seemed to gravitate to objects, things of three dimensions rather than paintings, during that day. 

First, a charming small bowl––about 5 inches wide––held up by feet, found in the Egyptian galleries. The image is an embodiment of the hieroglyph "to bring" so it's believed that it was an offering bowl. I love its rounded little feet, its imperfect round bowl tilting forward as though saying "here I am".  When I saw that there was a small reproduction of this piece in the museum shop, I just had to have it, and it's now sitting on my desk, offering me joy. 

This small dog is another perfect ceramic piece. He's to be found in the galleries devoted to the arts of the Americas. His expression is both alert, in his raised head and pricked ears, and calm, in the folded forms of his limbs. Such a good dog!

In a gallery on the way to the American wing is a small sculpture of a hunting dog. He has a very different demeanor from the one above: he is active, which shows in the movement of limbs, head, and tail. I love how the curve of his backward arcing neck implies a circle with the upraised tail. I never miss stopping to admire the fluidity and elegance of the lines in this work.

A very different mood is evoked by this figure, which is seemingly monumental, but less than 15 inches high. The flowing garment has lyrical curves, which follow the movement of the body beneath. The enlarged hands emphasize grief, especially the one holding the tilted head, a solemn gesture of sadness. This is such a beautiful, tender piece.


The sense of mourning in this sculpture is austere and restrained. The shadowed face, the downward-set mouth, the quietly crossed hands, all point to an attitude of inner resolve. The deeply carved folds of the cloak add drama. This is a figure of a strong woman. (To see the entire sculpture, go to the link under the photo.)

Although this is a fragment, its sensitivity and presence is compelling; it's almost difficult to look away when standing in front of it. The subject of the work is unknown, but whoever she was, she was beautiful and proud. The sculptor produced a remarkable work.

Here is another powerful portrait of a queen, sculpted in ivory. The heavily lidded eyes are contemplative, the downward lines of nose and mouth are sensitively defined. I'm fascinated by the combination of naturalism and formal idealism in this work. There is also religion in the complex headdress and collar, with mudfish representing the king's dual nature of human and divine.

A Man with High Coloring, Egypt, 161-180 A.D.

Of all the encaustic portraits in the Egyptian galleries, this one is my favorite. The paint is modeled so as to enhance the form of the face and the texture of hair and beard. The gaze is intense. These qualities combine to create a face that is so full of life that he could be our contemporary.

Hans Memling, Portrait of an Old Man, ca. 1475

I love looking at this sensitively rendered portrait of an old man. He seems kind and thoughtful, reflecting on his life as he nears its end. In this painting, Memling shows himself to be a deeply humanistic painter. 

image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Now on to two works which I had hoped to see, but were not on view. The Lamentation by Petrus Christus  is my most loved painting in the museum, so I was crushed not to see it. The clarity of form, the repeating curved lines of the figures, the small mundane details, the landscape setting, the emotional reserve of the figures, all combine to create a strikingly moving scene.

Standing Man, Iran, 2nd century A.D. 

I also missed seeing the jolly face and gesture of this sculpture from ancient Iran. He sends us greetings from across space and time.

May 19, 2021

Growth, Decay, Growth

Early spring: the time of year when I spend most of my time in the vegetable garden, preparing rows, planting seeds and home-grown seedlings, weeding and weeding again. It is also a time when I am struck with wonder at the miracle of it all: the seeds germinating, the growth patterns, the yearly emergence of asparagus spears, the delicious fruits and vegetables I'm able to grow. 

Although I do understand––a little––about DNA, it still seems remarkable that this teeny broccoli seed, put in soil and watered, will grow into the broccoli plant in the first photo; it is mind-boggling to think about it.

These more recognizable seeds of corn will grow into six foot tall plants. Of course other life forms, including Homo sapiens, have tiny beginnings, all wondrous. 

Working in the garden, and walking in the woods,  also reminds me that decay has a major role in the life cycle. A compost pile is a clear lesson in how scraps of food and plant remains can be transformed over time...

,,,,into a nutrient rich soil supplement.

In a more natural way, years of decaying plant material creates a forest floor welcoming to new plants and trees. 

Over a long period of time I've seen an old pile of logs become more and more part of the forest floor, covered with mosses and lichen, small plants, and young trees; it is now a mound of new green growth, softened in outline.

The plant-covered pile of logs above began just like this one, and I expect that in several years these bare dead logs will be covered with plant life.

Decaying tree stumps are also hospitable to new plants, which create a lively mix of greens, and rich textures.

Many mushrooms grow on dead wood, such as these hemlock varnish shelf mushrooms brightening a tree stump. 

Decaying trees support more than other members of the plant family, and fungi: when I see wood chips scattered over the forest floor, I look for the telltale holes made by pileated woodpeckers drilling for insects. I've often heard the loud rat-a-tat-tat of these large birds hammering in the woods.

This cycle of life to decay to new life reminds me of John Cage's words: 

The world, the real is not an object. It is a process.                                                       


May 6, 2021

The Shapes of Things


Sometimes it happens that an ordinary object lying about the house will nudge me to open my eyes and notice things I hadn't seen before. "Seen" is the wrong word: I saw them, but they failed to impress on my conscious mind as something especially beautiful. As Henry Miller put it: 

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

This old lap table was leaning against a wall, waiting to be put away, when I saw that lovely curve against the straight line of the outer wall, and the simple elegance of the rounded legs; and the circle, on a piece of wood that looks like it dropped from its original position, giving a sense of time passed. 

I then photographed some legs on old pieces of furniture, as on this dresser. The front legs are complex and inventive in form, curving in and out, in gentle and sharp lines. You can see a glimpse of the rear leg, which is much simpler in design. 

The repetitive pattern of the legs of my bedside table remind me of nothing more than of Brancusi's Endless Column, in miniature: 

An old fan with rubber blades has grace and elegance in its design.

Lest you think that it's only old objects that attract my interest, here are two functional forms attached to the outside of my house that I find quite beautiful in their shapes and lines:

This metal box has an appearance of a torso, with heavy rounded legs.

A fluid line of copper tubing enhances a circular form whose copper screws echo the color of the curved pipe. 

And of course, there are the contemporary machines that provide subject matter for my paintings, drawings, and relief sculpture. In agricultural equipment I find a wealth of unusual shapes, with surprising relationships of color, line, volume, and light. When I go out to look for motifs, it is like a treasure hunt, full of unforseen results. I would like to share John Cage's quote about the woods, because it resonates for me in my trips to farms:
One shouldn't go to the woods looking for something, but rather to see what is there.