This post is a small tribute to the French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, born this day, November 24, 149 years ago. Lautrec’s “immersion in the colourful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 1800s yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times.” (Wikipedia)
I have tried to do what is true and not ideal.
His view of his subjects is uniquely sympathetic without being sentimental, which means he neither revels pruriently in degradation nor edits out ugliness. … there is perceptiveness, which entails empathy, but without flattery.
I paint things as they are. I don’t comment. I record.
Lautrec’s pictures of prostitutes and brothels draw on such fragile, ephemeral and unfinished effects to convey the impression of lives lived largely in a state of boredom, occasionally touched with glamour and often weighted with weariness and the apprehension of encroaching age.
A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.
(on women in the brothel)
I have always been a pencil.
There is always a dark and even desperate edge to the world that Toulouse-Lautrec depicts. Poverty, disease, abuse and alcoholism were the realities behind the illusion of pleasure and gaiety; but no one could capture the animation and excitement of that world as effectively as he did, without ever glossing over the perennial presence of death as its necessary and ineluctable shadow, hinted at in gaunt features and exhausted bodies.
In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new;
they see their value and their justification in this newness.
They are deceiving themselves…
And as a parting blessing:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
- – -
Comments are from art critic Christopher Allen in Dancing with the Demimonde, a review of the National Gallery of Australia exhibition – Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Ce qui dit la pluie
This morning I read a beautiful expression of encounter with flow - or undivided awareness – in the activities of music-making and drawing. I’d like to share it with you. It reminded me of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous comment, as quoted by Henri Matisse:
At last I don’t know how to draw!
. . .
Unfortunately I can’t offer a sample of his music, or an example of the drawings, but here’s the ‘confession’ – from Dustin LindenSmith, one of the editors of the brilliant online Nonduality Highlights daily newsletter. It articulates to perfection the focus of this website and blog …
I had two quite glorious epiphanies this week while practicing two of my main passions: jazz tenor saxophone and drawing. In each case, I experienced several blissful moments of what behavioural neuropsychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.
While playing a slow blues in B-flat with my Hammond B3 organ quartet, I felt the music come through me completely unhindered, without any of my own conscious psychological involvement. For three or four minutes, I became lost in physical time and space, just hearing the notes of my saxophone being played to me as if in a dream. Improvising jazz can be a terribly cerebral exercise when playing a complicated tune. But in this instance, I exercised no personal interference with the notes that were played; they just flowed naturally through me, without my control.
Later in the week, while sketching somewhat aimlessly, I realized that if I changed my hand position a certain way and then removed my brain’s focus from the motor control of my hand, I could just “see” the image I wanted to draw in my mind’s eye, and watch my whole arm move in harmony with what I was seeing. As long as I maintained my focus of awareness on the “seeing” instead of the “drawing,” the image I saw in my mind was exactly replicated in graphite on the page. But “I” didn’t “do” a thing to draw it. It just happened.
The common aspect of both of those experiences? I think I was just getting out of my own way. For several glorious minutes this week, I got completely out of my own way, and let life be lived as it always is, but without my own conditioning or desires or influences laid on top of the experience.
. . .
The artisans whose work is featured in this site’s artisans’ gallery all speak – in varying ways – of their practice in these terms. They notice that their creativity depends on nothing so much as their absence. They speak of a mysterious immersion in their work to the point of personal disappearance; a nondual encounter where observer and observed, subject and object, cease to be nouns separated by time and space, and are replaced by creative, dynamic action – by seeing, drawing, painting, making…
Are you familiar with this ‘flow’ in your creative work, your passion – or in your life in general? How would you express your experience?
La Cathedrale de Rouen, le portail, soleil matinal; harmonie bleue (1892-1893)
Monet Refuses the Operation
Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
- Lisel Mueller
Londres, le Parlement, Trouee de Soleil dans le Brouillard, 1904
When the “old” version of the awakened eye website was being transferred to this site, many shorter pages were edited out. It seemed they would be better shared as posts. This is the first – a collection of quotes from William Blake, along with some examples of his artwork.
[Blake] held that the way to truth and higher consciousness was through the contemplation of art. He proposed that by immersing oneself in art, a person could experience it not just as an aesthetic but more akin to the meditative exercise a mystic performs in preparation for achieving a higher state of spiritual enlightenment.
- Leonard Shlain in Art & Physics
[For Blake] every act of the imagination, every union of existence and perception, is a time-space complex … in which time and space as we know them disappear.
- Northrop Frye in Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake
The eye altering, alters all.
- William Blake
To see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
As a man is, so he sees.
As the eye is formed, such are its powers.
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern.
First thought is best in art.
He who binds to himself a joy
does the winged life destroy;
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Every man who is not an artist
is a traitor to his own nature…
Find more images and in-depth information here: siteslab at UNC
Drawings of William Blake (Dover Fine Art, History of Art) – Edited by Geoffrey Keynes
I don’t express myself in my paintings. I express my not-self.
- Mark Rothko
When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same, it is a time of tons of verbiage activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large, I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.
- Mark Rothko
1903-1970 – born September 25th
The links below feature a selection of pages on this site.
The basic project of art is ... to close the gap between you and everything that is not you.
- Robert Hughes
In order to understand the true meaning of Abstract Art, we have to conceive of ourselves as a reflex (reflection) of reality. This means we have to see ourselves as a mirror in which reality reflects itself.
- Piet Mondrian
As long as there is a centre, the observer, the thinker, the watcher, whatever he does will be within the prison walls.
- J Krishnamurti
The body is a sensing instrument of consciousness. Without the body and the mind, the trees couldn't see themselves. Usually we think that we are looking at a tree, but the tree is looking at itself through us. Without this instrument, the tree doesn't get to see itself. We are the sensing instruments of the Divine.
Art is a form of supremely delicate awareness ... meaning at-oneness, the state of being at one with the object.
- D H Lawrence
The heart of creativity is an experience of the mystical union; the heart of the mystical union is an experience of creativity.
- Julia Cameron
I am not
but the Universe is Myself
- Shih T'ou AD 700 - 790
It is [the] flash of realization of not-two-ness, that is both the center and the endpoint of our human experience.
- Frederick Franck
I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.
I’m frightened of the old ones.
- John Cage
God created the giraffe, the cat, the elephant ...
He has no real style, he just keeps trying things.
- Pablo Picasso
Slow motion opens the mind.
Smooth motion opens the heart.
Slow smooth motion
the inexplicable delight.
- Paul Reps
Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.
- Renee Magritte