11/10/10

Still Life 3: Inside-Outside: Morandi Inspired Photographs




Still Life Chapter 3  Inside~Outside
Studies IV    October  2013 
Photographs Inspired by Giorgio Morandi



















For an Introduction to the Still Life project and the links to all of its chapters visitStill Life
Click on the images once to enlarge

Introduction
Each chapter's collection of photographs that I will be presenting throughout the Still Life project has been carefully edited and sequenced so that the flow of images from above to below form a kind of "silent conversation" between the images.  The goal is in part to manifest a feeling of visual coherency within each of the collections; but also, I believe that when the photographs are sequenced in sympathy with the vastness of the interior life that exists within each of the images, it's possible for a viewer to imaginatively enter into the space between the images and from within that space participate in the dialogue.  


Inside - Outside
There are multiple recurring themes in this set of 32 images that help establish the sequential flow.  Some are based in subject matter: for example there are several images of  birds, plants and garlic; hanging things are an important theme; another is light fixtures.  Certain colors recur, especially blue, and gold; and the different kinds of light that impact the colors of the photographs: the cooler light of day, the warm and raking light of sunset, the tungsten light of night.  Shadows, reflections, and selective use of focus are themes as well.  Many of the themes will be found in the past and future chapters as well.

Another important thematic element is the juxtaposition of inside and outside spaces.  For example, in the last three images below, #30, 31, and 32, plus images like the one above (and in chapter 2 images 10, 11, 20, and 31) there is an acknowledgement of the outside natural world and an attempt to conjoin that vaster outside space with the more intimate interior domestic spaces and things within our house. 

My wife and I live in a community of similar looking houses (image #30) that border on a beautiful meadow with two ponds, a long tapering woods, and beyond the woods there are lovely rolling hills.  Morandi painted landscapes, and they provide a wonderful dynamic juxtaposition to his still life work; in fact they shed important light upon each other.  I feel a need to include some meadow images along with my still life project as well, for the meadow is such an intimate part of my domestic life now.  I will be devoting an entire chapter to Morandi's landscape painting and my landscape photography in the future. 

About one fifth of Morandi's paintings were landscapes including a series of  images of the courtyard just below his studio window which he also titled Landscapes.  I think some of his landscape paintings are among his most powerful images.  In 2008 I began a series of meadow photographs.  This body of work complements the Morandi inspired still life photographs just as the inside-outside Morandi inspired photographs I have made add a new dimension to the meadow project. Visit The Meadow series 


Nature Morte & Memento Mori : Interior Realities Outside of Time
Nature Morte ("nature dead") is the conventional title Morandi used for all of his still life paintings.  The term is related to the latin phrase Memento Mori which means "remember that you will die." The two terms are closely tied to a tradition of still life painting known as Vanitas which are visual meditations on the transitoriness of life.  In other words, the passage of time leads always to death.

    
Pieter Claez, Vanitas Still Life 1630, Hague


Vanitas images are often highly narrative, allegorical, preachy.  Because we know what the images mean when we see them (they often include skulls, as in the Claez image above) they hold little interest for many of us, I suspect, because: 1) we don't care to be hit over the head with reminders of our inevitable death; and 2) because what holds real attraction for a serious, contemplative viewer is an image whose meaning is at once directly, intuitively felt and experienced, and yet unknown and not-sayable.   The ineffable is more interesting than bodily death because we intuitively know deep within us that the vastness of life, what Morandi might say "it's essential being" exists within us, outside of time.  We recognize this archetypal truth either consciously or unconsciously when we engage any truly great piece of visual art. 

There is in Morandi's still lifes an ineffable quality of quietness or stillness that invokes in many viewers the experience of a living presence.  The Still Life title of his works, then is paradoxical because there is nothing lifeless about his best paintings.  Our experience of time shifts when we are fully engaged with his images; that is to say, time seems to dissolve or stop, and we bask in an atmosphere of silence that is among the most rewarding aspects of an authentic aesthetic experience.  When I resonate with a Morandi painting or drawing my mind becomes still, my heart opens, and there is a revelatory sense of life's fullness and vastness that seems as much inside me as it is within the painting, the image outside of me.  

I have learned that these transcendent qualities cannot be forced into a work of art.  They come naturally into my creative process only when I am working spontaneously, impulsively, intuitively.  They truly are gifts of the creative process.  When I try to make meaningful images the work falls flat for me because they almost always reflect only what I already know.  It is the unknown aspect of an image that draws us inside and opens us up to a deeper form of meaning.  

Many writers have tried to address their internal experience of Morandi's work.  Gottfried Boehm's essay in the 1999 Prestel publication succeeds in addressing issues of timelessness, silence and presence better than most writers, I think.  Of course to speak of that which is so deeply personal and ultimately transcendental, and thus not-sayable, requires a kind of poetic or metaphorical utterance.   And Boehm is quite willing to venture into this kind of writing.  Not only does he recognize the "concentrated stillness" and an "inexhaustible presence" in Morandi's images, he attempts to write about how he experiences these ineffable qualities.  Here is the conclusion to his essay: 

"There is a remoteness from words and concepts to these pictures. . . It has something to do with the creative fluctuation between the appearances of forms and objects . . .  In some cases the objects seem to hover instead of stand. . . Despite the pulsation of the pictorial components, a calm overall impression keeps re-establishing itself.  Movement and calm become intertwined.  The viewer creates these syntheses:  under his gaze pictorial forms become objects and objects become colour values, silhouettes and linear constructions.  Their oscillation revolves as if on an axis.  This vivid structure could hence also be called cyclical.  It is a quiet, self-regulated process in which a jug, a bottle or a vase emerge in order to return right back to their original two-dimensional appearances.  The objects withdraw into the background and are constantly renewed back out of it, in permanently repeating cycles.  This confers and assures presence.  Whatever keeps reappearing has more vitality and presence than something created to exist only once, i.e., a mere object.  Thus the ordinary objects we recognize in Morandi's paintings and drawings are made to elude transience. . .  For Morandi time is a positive revealing element.  He thus reverses the meaning of the earlier [vanitas] still lifes. . .  [His images] are islands of calm that provide their own stability and balance.  Precisely because time flows back into itself in them, as it were, renewing itself, they cannot be shaken by the power of negation. 'Stillness takes on the contours of a bowl, a bottle, a pitcher . . .' as Walter Helmut Fritz wrote in his poem on Morandi. . .   We must end by using a paradox to express the nature of the experience the viewer derives from these works: time "holds on" in their tranquility.  It has lasting substance.  From our experience with life we only know a kind of time that passes, a time in which the present represents a vanishing limit.  In his pictures Morandi lets us participate in a temporal order which is optimistic and immaterial at the core of its experience.  The objects are as disembodied as they embody themselves.  In the midst of fleeting time the artist is able to create a place with solidity and presence."


*

"Before I die I should like to complete two pictures.
The important thing is to touch the core,
the essence of things."
Morandi, 1937 interview 
with Piero Bargellini


Intimate Space : Poetic Space 
The transcendence of time, the stillness of mind, the intimacy of space that corresponds to a core of vastness that exists inside each one us, is explored in a book I like very much entitled The Poetics of Space by French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard.  The word poetics in the title is synonymous with intimacy, and intimacy in the poetic sense is synonymous with essence, the touching of the core which Morandi spoke of in the 1937 interview quoted above.

Bachelard's book is about images of intimate space that we experience within ourselves in the form of daydreams and select images we find in literature and poetry.  The titles of Bachelard's chapters tell us a great deal about the spaces Bachelard imaginatively explores: "House and Universe" - "Drawers, Chests and Wardrobes" - "Nests" - "Shells" -"Corners" - "Miniature" - "Intimate Immensity" - "The Dialects of Outside and Inside" - "The Phenomenology of Roundness."  

I first read this book (which was written in 1955) while in graduate school, in 1970, and I have lived closely with it ever since.  I would read excerpts from the book to my photography students for a favorite assignment I gave each semester.  The Poetics of Space is an excellent complement to Robert Bly's News of the Universe, which I discussed in the second chapter.  I highly recommend them both, together.   

In many of Morandi's painting the softness of the light and tones, and the soft edges of the objects often encourage the boundaries between things to dissolve and open.  This allows infinite space to enter into the objects; and correspondingly the imagery allows us to go deep inside our imaginative selves where the space is as vast as the constellations of stars we look out and into.  Bachelard quotes the poet Milosz:  "All these constellations are yours, they exist in you; outside your love they have no reality."  

Intimate space exists within us . .  but we need images of the outer world to help us recognize and experience it.  Morandi knew this deep secret; its at the core of his best painting and something I am working toward in my Still Life project. 

Welcome to Chapter 3 of  Still Life: Photographs inspired by Giorgio Morandi.  


The Photographs
Click on the images to enlarge


Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #1   
Ceramic birds and child's sculpture on fireplace mantel 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #2   
Ceramic Bird on ledge above hallway ceiling light 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #3   
Grasshopper (out of focus) on front storm door, driveway






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #4   
Cotton patterned nightgown (out of focus foreground object)  






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #5   
Garden stake, light patterns from garage door curtain, garlic bulbs 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #6   
Garage door, hanging garlic bulbs






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #7   
Light switch and light patterns from prism window






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #8   
Shadows of hanging Christmas lights on siding 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #9  
Dusk: Reflections of hanging Christmas lights, front door wreath 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #10   
Nocturne: Apples in Blue glass bowl 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #11   
Nocturne: Wooden blue bird, lamp, reflections 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #12   
Tennis ball attached to a string, resting on the hood of a blue car 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #13   
Granite piece, reflection of blue sky 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #14   
Blue bottle with plants on counter, reflection of hanging room lights






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #15   
Nocturne: Hanging room lights, Christmas bell suspended from red yarn 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #16   
Shadows of hanging room lights, sun set light






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #17   
Basket with plants & chicken timer on top of refrigerator, sun set light 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #18   
Nocturne: Bathroom lights 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #19   
Nocturne: Reflection of bathroom lights in plastic shower wall 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #20   
Nocturne: Mirror reflection of bedroom light with tilted shade, dried plant fragments






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #21   
Nocturne: Bowl of grapes






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #22   
Grapes hanging from edge of bowl, globe( out of focus) in the background






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #23   
Orchid plant, arching wire, morning mist on sliding door 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #24   
Nocturne: Glass teapot on granite counter






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #25   
Nocturne: Coffee carafe and serving tray #3 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #26  
Nocturne: Compost canister and painted serving tray 






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #27   
Nocturne: Garlic bulb and red rubber band






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #28   
Glasses on table cloth, late afternoon raking light






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #29   
Plant fragment, sunlit window curtains






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #30   
Open window looking out into meadow past deck railings






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #31   
Raindrops on sliding door screen, deck furniture, meadow






Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 3, image #32   
Morning fog in the meadow, Fall 2013 








This project was placed on my Welcome Page November 1, 2013




Still Life ~ Photographs Inspired by Giorgio Morandi  
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Other Related Links:

Morandi's Dust  DVD documentary, English subtitles.  Highly recommended