Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Compositional rhythms in Chagall's work

The Green Violinist, after Marc Chagall
This is the current stage (not a very good photo) of my fourth Chagall study, the green violinist. 

In my previous post in this series, I have outlined a couple of ideas I had in mind before beginning this study; and the question I wanted an answer to, namely, why is he green? 

Do I have the answer? I believe I do, maybe even a couple of them. The main conceptual answer is that Chagall's green is the color of tender sadness and longing; here, perhaps the color of the painter's nostalgie for his home village, its funny and somewhat weird ways. Approaching this more technically, there had to be some green here to make the violets and magentas work as they were intended to, and it couldn't be the mundane green of greenery, if only because the painting had to be set in winter. 

Yet as I was studying this painting, the original questions gradually faded into the background, to be replaced with a focus on painting's ultimate mystery, compositional rhythms. There used to be a time when it was assumed that only drawing can be taught and trained, whereas color is a matter of pure in-born talent, the magic of this artform. In the post-impressionist world, it is now accepted that  this is not quite the case; in fact, quite a lot about color can be formalized and taught (provided the student has some color sense, at least; and even that can be trained and refined, to some extent). The rhythmic qualities of a painting's composition, however, remain more mysterious and defy formalization, beyond mere basics. I am not sure these secrets can be learned, but that's what I am trying to do; because there is hardly any painting in which these qualities play a more prominent role than in Chagall's Green Violinist -- insofar as a silent piece canvas can be made to represent the voice of a violin, the rhythmic movements of the bow, can be made to sing, he did it here. All the folds of the fiddler's coat, each tiny detail of the surrounding landscape -- all of them work together to create this melody. I don't know about you, but this is the song this painting sings to me:

They say they played this song in Auschwitz, each time a gas chamber was at work. An underground Russian-Jewish poet and musician of the XXth century, Alexander Galich, wrote a variation of this song, where the refrain combined the tumbalalaika of the Yiddish text with my heart is bursting and weeping in Russian. That's about how I feel about this painting. 

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