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.
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:
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