Friday, December 27, 2013

Parsian Walks, Viaduc des Arts.

                                                                    Viaduc des Arts,

Paris, Viaduc des Arts.
Paris must be high on the list of walkers paradises, the pleasure it affords anyone who makes time and effort to enjoy the aesthetic offerings will be truly rewarded. No matter where you wander in central Paris rarely will you encounter a jarring note to distract from your enjoyment. The Parisian Council or French Government should be congratulated for the diligence displayed over the years to ensure that scale, colour, texture, design and so on of buildings are compatible with existing architecture  resulting in a beautiful city without parallel. The best part they continue to do so, there are naturally blemishes but they are few. Walking affords the best way to discover a city, to explore the small gems tucked away from main though fares in small squares or narrow back streets. There is always the added knowledge that generally a small café or bar will never be far away.
Viaduc des Arts near the Bastille is one such gem. A park created on top of an old railway viaduct would have to rate as highly imaginative. The viaduct built in 1859 offers a blend of the old and new with its fifty odd designer shops/studios tucked away underneath a walk through park, having fallen into disuse the viaduct was restored in 1994 and the studios built into the rose stone archways to create this art centre. I only discovered the complex by chance on a walk and was surprised by the quality of the activities taking place. Studios for the restoration of art works and frames, displays of craft glass, designer lights or fabrics are all there. Personally I would like to have seen more actual workshop activity rather than showroom display, but possibly this is not allowed.
The greatest surprise is the walk way itself on the viaduct roof, you may walk several kms along the old railway track now a paved path to the Vincennes woods. Both sides of the walk are lined with shady trees and flowering shrubs that hide to some extent prying eyes looking into peoples apartments. This vantage point however allowed me the opportunity to undertake a new batch of Parisian rooftop drawings on both sides of the walkway that I am carrying out as reference for future paintings. Often the buildings are close enough to nearly touch, so there was no problem with recording detail. Every now and then there would be park benches under a tree often occupied by lovers who seemed to appreciate the council thoughtfulness. On sunny days no doubt Parisian sunbake up here as well, the day I carried out my walk the Vincennes wood area was covered with Parisian soaking up the last rays of summer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jewish Cemetery, Prague.

 PRAGUE’S Jewish Cemetery.

The importance of any cemetery to the casual visitors depends on who is buried there or why the site exists in historical terms. It may be important to a viewer for family reasons, or some historical figure or figures, or events that required the cemetery to be established in the first place. Military cemeteries symbolise not only a nations’ loss of young lives often for futile causes, but also a country’s remembrance of their fallen sons. Other cemeteries such as Dutch ones only allows occupancy for set time periods of twenty to thirty years before being dug up to make room for the next generation.


Tucked away in the heart of Prague’s Jewish quarter is a cemetery of a more sinister nature, macabre in the sense that the quarter was left intact during the Nazi occupation of Prague during the 2nd World War, apparently because it was earmarked by Germany’s higher command as a possible museum to the future extinct race of Jewish people when the National Socialist Government completed their cleansing task. It had been my intention to visit the current Jewish Museum and graveyard. However after wondering around the narrow cobbled streets looking for the entrance and learning that the entry fee was excessive at some $20 per person I decided against the idea. I must say this is the first time I have ever been asked to pay to visit a cemetery. My reading suggested that the graveyard was overly crowded with headstones, many cheek to jowl were you would be hard pressed to find space to sit down. Headstone leaning at all sorts of angles often touching one another, naturally this was to be expected, after all this cemetery had been here for several hundreds of years.


                                                             Outside Kafka Museum.
            Comment on the state of the Republic. Citizens urinating themselves on the National map.

Prague, like many Eastern European cities had a large Jewish population and as was the custom at the time they were required to live and be buried in their own quarter. I am not sure whether Franz Kafka is buried there, but he most certainly lived in the neighbourhood. Later in the afternoon  I visited Kafka’s own museum on the other side of the river,  exhibits afforded there gave a good insight into the lives of Prague’s Jewish population in the late 19th and early 20th cent. It is common knowledge that Kafka view of Czech society was one of a pointless bureaucratic nature that lead to his psychological and masochistic nature much of which is expressed in his writing. Difficult relations with his father are outlined in ‘Letter to Father’ that also  deals with many of the problems encountered by Jews at that time.   Their stained relations with their German and Czech fallow citizens are well illustrated and examined in various exhibits.


Luck seemed to be with me for on my walk back to the city for I decided to visit the Museum of Applied Arts, were  much to my surprise I discovered that some windows on the upper floor overlooked the Jewish Cemetery. My wife informed me there was a very good view from the Ladies toilet window. This would have resulted in a fairly unique photo of the graveyard unfortunately my camera was set unknowingly on video and only much later did I realise that the photographic  effort had been in vain. Still you can appreciate the overcrowded congested nature of the graves, headstones have taken up their own individual poses, some at rakish angles other in quite sedate pose from a small sketch I made from memory.

                                             Sketch of the Jewish Cemetery, Prague.
                                  View from the Ladies Toilet, Museum of Applied Art.

Friday, December 13, 2013

An extoridinery film maker, Sergey Parajanov.

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Fortunately a guest at our hotel suggested that we visit Sergey Parajanov Museum. I recalled that years ago I had watched a film called The Colour of Pomegranates, based on the writings of the Armenian poet Sayat-Nov  dreams, but did not  at the time make the connection with Parajanov. All I remembered was the film was quite unusual and filmed in Armenia. His images however have haunted me ever since, particularly the priest among the sheep inside a church. At the time I knew next to nothing about Parjianov apart from the fact his films were very surreal and seemed to be pushing the bounds of film making. Recently I have viewed two films made by Parajanov the above The Colour of Pomegranates and Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors. In making these films Sergey was to spend a considerable time in prison. Both films are highly symbolic, the first in a religious sense, while the second deals with our ancestral past, however why they should offend the Soviet Government is hard to understand.



The opportunity to visit his museum in Yerevan was too big a temptation to miss and my wife and I hurried down to the other end of town to have a look. The museum occupies his last Yerevan home and is spread over two floors and what an experience it is. I had no idea his output not only covered film, but painting, college and sculpture, apparently film makers love to paint and draw to sketch their frames and characters. I recall examining film stills by great film makers used to be an exercise in pictorial composition in some art schools. Sergey Parajanov however takes the drawing process to a new level, his work are not mere dabbling’s, but fine works of art.  I’m sure most visitors will be blown away by the originality of his images. I felt his work a key to understanding Armenian culture, a bridge between reality and the absurd. The trauma of the genocide and struggle to re-establish their identity are dissected.

His own life was not without its own trauma, jailed for some eleven years for speaking his mind on issues best left untouched and not following accepted stereotypes. Whether this is because he consistently breaks the rules I don’t know, but the range of his visual arts is nothing short of amazing. His years in jail in some ways were a blessing as it allowed him to develop a large body of college work a numerous ball point pen drawings. It is hard for me to do justice to the range of his work, but I have attempted to illustrate as many directions as possible. No matter what you may think Sergey Parajanov is without doubt one of the greatest 20th cent. figures in the world of cinema.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Montparness Ccmentery. Shadows of the Past.

Brancusi  "Kiss Headstone"

Brancusi  "Kiss" side view.

Montparnasse Cemetery, Shadow of the Past.

Visiting cemeteries is not everyone’s idea of how to spend a pleasant afternoon, but Montparnasse is no ordinary one, if there is such a thing in the world of cemeteries.  Montparnasse during the first decades of the 20th cent. was a thriving artistic and literary hub of Paris. Home to painters, sculptors, poets, writers and all the other fringe individuals who make up the cultural and intellectual life of a city. Many of these individuals became famous, while other provide a background atmosphere to the area.


The cemetery located just around the corner from our hotel offered an opportunity to make a closer acquaintance with its residents. We entered via the Av. Du Maine gate and were immediately confronted by Brancusi “Kiss”, a head stone renowned for the economy of means in its execution. Brancusi took the sculptural form to a new level of simplicity as any visitor to his studio outside the Pompidou Centre will testify. He is just one of the many left bank personalities now calling this corner of Paris home.


Montparnasse Cemetery is packed with vaults and graves of famous families and personalities. Petain, Vichy Frances’ war time leader under the National Socialists had the rather unfortunate choice of cooperation with Hitler, or allow France to undergo another appalling loss of young men as she experience during the 1st. World War when some 30% of her young men under 35 years perished or were maimed.


Along with Petain, there is Alfred Dreyfus the Jewish army officer unjustly accused of treason in 1894 that created a political storm. The case provided an opportunity for Anti-Semites in France and elsewhere to voice their ideology  and deeply divide the intellectual world. His innocence only being confirmed when German military documents were uncovered in the 1930s. It could be argued that the case influence Hitler in the formation of his ideas.


Charles Baudelaire, France’s great 19th cent. poet is now locked in the same family vault with his dreaded  step-father along with his loving mother. Samuel Becket as though attempting to give support is living or sleeping nearby. A large tower stands guard in one corner the sole remains of a 17th cent. windmill that belonged to the Brothers of Charity who owned this parcel of land before Napoleon ordered the creation of a cemetery on the site to improve 19th cent. Parisian health.


There are so many important and exciting graves scattered throughout the site many with interesting sculptural head stones. Henri Laurens [French sculptor 1885-1954] and a leading figure in the Cubist movement is represented with a fine piece of work in black marble. A crouched figure with its head in his hands is very striking and would not be out of place in any Art Museum. Many graves are marked in a more light hearted manner, one that caught my eye was a large fish that appeared to look like a sardine, no doubt the lasting last testimony of a fisherman or fishmonger. Simone de Beauvoir and her love Jean-Paul Sarte who lived nearby now snuggle up together against a far wall. Not far away lie Chaim Soutine, Man Ray, the list goes on for this is no ordinary cemetery.


A retired lawyer told me over lunch yesterday that people on the left bank think differently to those on the right. No doubt this applies to political though as well, but the residents of Montparnasse Cemetery seems to conform their individuality. My friend informed he was waiting his turn to join his wife who took up residence here a few years before. In the meantime he enjoyed his daily lunch and conservation with strangers in this café. The food I my add was excellent and was a joy to the taste buds along with fine conservation.


Finally I must add many of the doors to the vaults were heavily chained with several locks apparently to keep the inmates in. Others however had more liberal guardians their doors remained ajar to allow coming and going in the night. Others appeared to be attempting to lift their heavy marble slabs skywards trying to re-join society. The experience was not only interesting, but a pleasant outing, strange but satisfying, after all in the end we must all find our final home somewhere like this, so it is best to check out the better addresses.


General View when you entry the gate.

                                                         Looking across the cemetery.