Georgia Rain + Toulouse-Lautrec & Nature

I ran out of my house looking up at the darkening sky. Wondered when I would stop to take the time to take photos of the budding trees on a clear day. I didn’t want to miss the spring flowers. I jumped into my car. Drove.

I headed to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for the “A [Culture Shock] Event: Dans le Moment.” What was shocking was the rusty seven-foot Eiffel Tower, the bodacious burlesque dancers who weren’t so bodacious or burlesque, and “delicious Parisian street food” that wasn’t so delicious. I kept it going though, glad for the company of two friends.

Towards the end of the night, we purposefully made our way to the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition. I kept saying, “Where are the Tahitian women?” as I am always in one way or another looking for nature. Surely nature could be found on the island of Tahiti! One of my friends kept repeating, “You are confusing Lautrec with Cezanne.” It turned out we were both wrong: Tahiti + Women = Paul Gaugin.

So I meandered through Lautrec, disappointed in my own wayward stubborn limited knowledge of art.

My Father's Nose

By the time we left, the Georgia skies had opened pounding the earth, well in midtown Atlanta the asphalt and concrete. As one friend headed bravely for the car I stood with another towards the back of the museum looking at a Marta entrance across the street. The rain still poured. I murmured to myself, “He’s going to get soaked.” I used the concrete wall as a vertical sofa. The friend who remained told stories.  Made sense: story-telling and rain. The only thing missing was a rustic cabin and a fireplace. That’s me responding through one of my millions of facial expression to his story of his sister who was a cheerleader. He said, “They would chant U G L Y.” Was the other team being called ugly? I was too enchanted by the power of the deluge and my own desire to sleep to ask for clarification. I listened as I tried to force him to put a plastic bag on his head for no logical reason.

We made it to our respective cars and I did the dumbest thing halfway home: I drove my car through a flooded area on the highway. The water was churning. I could see it was high as the other cars navigated through. Yet I forged ahead. When I got home, I thought to myself, “Dianne, pay attention to the signs that spell D-A-N-G-E-R,” and played the news footage of people swept away in their cars in floods in my head.

I dropped hard into my bed and slept instantly after “Dans le Moment” and barely escaping a watery death.

The next morning I decided to give Toulouse-Lautrec another chance  looking at his work online. I learned–perhaps re-learned because I’m sure I’ve been to a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition in the distant past–more about the artist and his work. Briefly, he’s known for interior scenes of bohemian life in Paris. At the museum and online I found this painting compelling:

Lautrec's "Le Toilette"

Many of his paintings were interior scenes including those of prostitutes. I thought the women in these scenes worked all night, and slept all day, limited in many wass to the outside world including nature. Perhaps the woman depicted in the painting spent a few moments by a dirty window watching Parisian street life with a tree here and there, a weed sprouting up from the ground hardened by foot-traffic.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s shared the interior lives of the women in his painting. He suffered from health problems that limited his mobility. Nature, even an urban one, waited outside the doors and windows, waiting and beckoning for the people in his paintings, waiting for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Photograph by Dianne Glave

Kanye West’s Power: Religious Metaphors Including Those in Nature

Kanye West’s Power, his latest video, is a locomotive painting. The director Marco Brambilla draws from Greek, Judeo-Christian, Egyptian, Hindu, and Buddhist religious metaphors in what is a visual video masterpiece.

The video opens with West’s eyes lit as if superhuman.

Behind him are Ionic columns, typical of Greek architecture. The director choose the Ionic columns over the Doric and Corinthian design because the latter are more complex in architecture, design, and engineering. Among the Greeks and according to architects, the Ionic design is the greatest of the three columns. The Ionic is more complex in design including scrolls representing education and vertical lines akin to rams horns. In addition, unlike the other designs, the engineering, the design is more resistant to earthquakes.

Behind West and the columns are clouds that grow darker from the beginning to end of the video. I see something similar in scripture. In the Torah and the Old Testament, Moses went up into the mountain where God was the cloud (Exodus 24:15). When God was angry there was thunder and lightning, making the people tremble. (Exodus 19:16)

Returning to West, an industrial chain hangs around his neck. It is far heavier than any human could hold up, indicating his godlike power. From the chain hangs a rather large pendant or ornament with the Egyptian god Horus. He was the greatest of the Egyptian gods with the head of a falcon and the body of a man. In his many manifestations, he was a god of war, protection, and the sky. As the god of the sky, a connection could be made to the clouds in the sky, the backdrop in the video.

Fanning out away from the clouds, the columns, and West are two women with antelopes horns and pounding staffs. The horns are those of antelopes. Two Hindu deities, Vayu, lord of the winds, and Chandra, a lunar god rode on antelopes. The pounding staffs allude to Moses using the lowly herder’s staff to do God’s will: Moses faced Pharaoh as they struggled over freeing the Hebrews from bondage. In one memorable moment Moses staff transformed into a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians did the same but Moses’ snake devoured the magicians snakes.

Winged human creatures sit at Kanye’s feet with connections to two religious images. Cherubim protected the ark containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandment as noted in the Old Testament. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the garuda is a bird-like human that is divine.

Above West are a pair on either side pouring out oil from jars filled with never-ending oil. Throughout the Old Testament, powerful kings like David are anointed with oil by prophets to affirm their power and leadership through God’s anointing. In the New Testament, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a perfume–in some translations it is oil or ointment.

The video is only 90 seconds and begins to speed up towards the end. A veil drops, perhaps a reference to the rent or torn veil at the temple after Jesus’ crucifixion. For Christians this tear represents abandoning the temple; the old, Judaism is replaced with the new, Christianity. The power shifts.

In the far corners of the video, grapes are in a bowl, proffered as an offering by two women. This is certainly a reference to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility.

Throughout the video, we see images of knives and swords in the hands of men. A knife comes down from above through a gold crown or Celtic circlet–consider the shift of Celtic tribalism to kingdoms in which kings and queens wore crowns to industrialism represented in the chain around Kanye’s neck–above West’s head. As the video comes to a close, two men come down on West with swords as if in ritual sacrifice.

The video ends. We never learn West’s fate. Does he remain powerful? Was his power an illusion? Does he live? Does he die?

Do a few lines from the lyrics might answer these questions: “No one man should have all that power//The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours//Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power”?

Everything but West is a mirror image in the video. Why? We should look at ourselves in the mirror as we struggle with the meaning of power. One look at the image and there is human frailty.

The video with all its metaphors is a masterpiece.

Memphis Graffiti: Outdoor Urban Art

While in East Memphis, a more affluent retail and commercial part of the city, I look up and saw graffiti on a wall. Poplar Avenue is the main drag with upper-middle class suburban housing off either side of Poplar. The graffiti was on a street just off Poplar on the wall of a car wash. It was clear that the owners of the establishment left the art alone rather than paint over it. The only changes were when other taggers layered their work on top of existing graffiti. 

Graffiti goes back to ancient times unearthed in archeological digs of ancient Egypt and Rome. Today, the lettering and markings are illegal in cities across the US. 

Dianne, Linden Blvd, St. Albans, NY

I grew up in Queens, New York where graffiti is more common than uncommon; as a result I was drawn in by my memories of my old home and the outdoor urban art before me in Memphis. Some consider it art; others do not including the police. Generally, graffiti is a social statement or a tag by a gang member marking territory. 

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My interpretation of the graffiti in East Memphis? Taking a leap, since I am not part of graffiti culture, it was probably youth who sprayed the wall. The artists could be white, black, latino, or Asian. It’s difficult to tell although graffiti is typically in poor urban neighborhoods and often by blacks and Latinos. The words counter what surrounds it: underground culture versus the established middle-class. So the existence of the graffiti in East Memphis is a counter-cultural statement, a rejectionof middle class norms and values.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Dean Ziegler’s Nature Photos: Rorschach for the Environment

When I first met Dean Ziegler, he told me he was a photographer. So I asked him, “Do you have any images of insects I could use for a blog?” Don’t ask me what my recent fascination is with bugs. Well, he said, “No, but I have plenty of flowers.” And so we began exchanging emails. 

The photos became a catalyst for considering my own experiences and the environment. What follows is a mixture, a Rorschach test of sorts based on the photos: 

Patmos Carved Shells by DZ

These shells speak to me. My parents are from Jamaica, a place surrounded by salt water, fish, sand, and shells. When I was a child, I remember going to beaches with stretches of white white sand and clear blue water where I saw multi-hued fish and seashells. 

I also remember my trip to Mykonos, an island off Greece. I went on vacation with my brother. Everyday, we went to a different beach with names like Paradise, Super Paradise, and Super Super Paradise on small boats. On one beach, I was looking at the sand one moment and in the next there was a dark-haired man riding a black stallion along the stretch of beach. Hey, it’s Mykonos; it felt like I was in the middle of a movie production.  

Shells also make me think of oil. Today, life along the Gulf and beyond is endangered. Clams and more fill shells that often end up on plates in restaurants on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The BP oil slick endangers the fishing industry and by extension the restaurant and tourist businesses. But even worse are the images of birds slimed by oil and fragile wetlands in southern Louisiana coated by oil. Sigh.

Fresh cut Sunflowers

This one is easy. Two thoughts. First, when I met Dean he told me I looked like a sunflower. Such a nice thing to say. Second, the flowers remind me of my Uncle Basil’s funeral in Jamaica. Some beautiful purplish red waxy flowers appeared the morning of the funeral. It was a sad time missing my uncle. It was also a good time because these funerals brought the extended family together from points all over the United States to Jamaica.

Rialto Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Since I’m already talking about death, I’m ok with continuing with this theme. This photo reminds me of the dead cypresses I spotted driving on I-10 south from New Orleans on the way to Grand Isle, Louisiana. I said to my seat-mate–I was with a group–”I think the dead cypressesare beautiful.” He was aghast and said, “What about the living things?” I responded saying, “There is no life without death.” This attitude has deepened for me during my recent internship as a chaplain. I am comfortable with death, while still embracing and enjoying life.

Dean D. Ziegler, originally from Franklin, PA, resides in Harmony, PA, and is the Superintendent of the Butler District of the United Methodist Church, Western Pennsylvania Conference.

He is married to Linda, has two grown children and two grandchildren.

All Photos by Dean D. Ziegler, Copyright 2010 

Rorschach Responses by Dianne Glave

Mother and Me: Alzheimer’s, Play, and Nature

My mother, she has Alzheimer’s, you know. Well, maybe you don’t know. As the disease has progressed, I have learned to live in the present with her, glad that we are still able to communicate with one another.

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Mother's Day Rose

This time has been bittersweet. The disease continues to alter her memory, which slips away with time. Yet we find so many ways to connect. One of those ways is now play, including painting together. 

Happy Mother’s Day and many more mother, wife, farmer’s daughter, lumberjack, and sod-layer. 

Many thanks to all of my friends who treated my mother with so much love this weekend. 

Photos courtesy of and by Dianne Glave

Mother, Lumberjack, and Turpentine!?

Daphne, my mother, all 120 lbs of her, laid down sod and chopped down trees when we lived in our second house in Queens, New York during the 1980s. She was very serious about getting the trees down because she was tired of raking and bagging the leaves in the fall.

Daphne is Second Over from the Right with Her Sister and Brothers.

Two stories . . .

My mother would start by killing the tree by hacking away at the trunk with an axe. She started on one of many tree projects and our next door neighbor came running. She’  had crossed the property line–there was no fence–and was attempting to bring down our neighbor’s tree.

Some months later, she worked on a tree in the backyard. Whack. Whack. Whack. The tree started falling towards our HOUSE. The same neighbor came running out. With ropes he leveraged the tree from falling on the house.

I know everyone is saying poor trees. Looking back, I’m thinking the same thing. But remember it was her yard and it was the 1980s.

Consider some context for my mother’s own suburban world and experience. African Americans worked in logging and turpentining in the South so there is a parallel concerning labor/work and perceptions of trees as natural resources. To learn more about African Americans and the turpentine industry during the first half of the twentieth century, go to: http://www.cfmemory.org/Learn/Stories/StoryView.php?s=19.

I have no idea what became of the wood from the trees my mother chopped and sawed but looking back I hope the wood was used in someone’s fireplace. Utility trumps waste?!

Nature in Art! Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series

Artists often depict nature and Jacob Lawrence, an African American, is no exception. Come take a look at his Migration Series that he painted during the first half of the early twentieth century. His art reflects the migration of African Americans from the South to the North during that same period.

One of my favorite paintings depicts cotton and the boll weevil, an insect that decimated cotton in the South:

Panel no. 9: They left because the boll weevil had ravaged the cotton crop, 1940-1941

The boll weevil was one of many reasons, racism and violence being at the top of the list, why African Americans moved away from the South to find opportunities in the North.

I love all of Lawrence’s work!