Sunday, September 21, 2014

Picture Imperfect

A picture paints a thousand words... Or does it?

Never mind the artist's intent, never mind what the critics say. Art, just like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. I'm not an artist. Neither am I a learned art critic. All I know is this: some pictures leave me speechless, some pictures make me go "Wow!", some pictures are bursting to tell a story.

I've been travelling for the last two weeks at faraway foreign lands. Absorbing their history and culture with keen interest. Espying into works of art - ancient and modern. Visiting museums and historical buildings, and wandering around the windy cobblestone streets of yore.

(Warning: Lots and lots of pictures to come...)

Pictures That Leave Me Speechless

Surrealism. Avant-garde. Postmodernity. I'm not sure what those words really mean. I'm even less sure what pictures inspired by such styles mean.

I went to Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum, with only a vague notion of what I was walking into. So I decided to play a game. I would gaze at each picture that caught my eye, and try to guess its title. Not surprisingly, most of my guesses were way off.

Why not you try? Pause at the picture, scroll down slowly, don't peep at the title in bold below, and take a guess at the title...

Exhibit 1

All I see are random geometric shapes. No hidden picture in sight. What's the point? What's the message? Don't know, don't care - it's too boring to keep me awake at night puzzling over it. On the bright side, I guessed bits of the title correct.

Anyway, the picture is drawn by Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres Garcia. It's called "Abstract Structure with Inserted Geometrical Forms". That says a lot, yet explains nothing.

Exhibit 2

What the hell? Seriously? This is art? My 3-year old nephew can draw that! I see a chicken's head tied to a Spanish flag. I don't know what else to say.

The intricately designed painting is credited to the famous Catalan artist Joan Miro. The title: "Painting". Yes, that's what it's bloody called! It's so abstract and obscure that even Mr. Miro himself can't describe it any better.

Exhibit 3

Oh look, here's something from the legendary Pablo Picasso! Nice colours, great depth. I can appreciate the effort put in to the layers of texture. Other than that, I can't make head or tail what the damn painting is about.

The painting's called "Fruit Bowl". See any fruits? Well, I can't see any then, I still can't see any now (and I do eat many different types of fruits). Or maybe it's an empty fruit bowl.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's SURREALISM!

After rounding one floor, I exited the museum, with three floors left unexplored. I gave up. Surrealism - whatever it means - is just not for me.

Pictures That Make Me Go "Wow!"

To be fair, the Madrid museum had some rare interesting gems. I don't think I would ever appreciate and understand their full glory, but at least such pictures do stick in my mind.

Let's repeat the game again. Pause, scroll slow, don't peep...

Exhibit 4

Wow! Amazing! This is by far my favourite piece of my (limited) museum tour. It's not just surreal; it's magical and fantastic. I see night and day, with a tinge of heaven and hell.

To Angeles Santos, he envisaged "A World". To me, I envisage a world of dreams and possibilities.

Exhibit 5

Explicit and perverse - those are the words that instantly came to my mind. The genius behind this is none other than the flamboyant and controversial Salvador Dali. There is a Freudian streak in his artistic style, almost bordering psychopathic. Somehow, I find myself drawn by his cryptic artwork (no, not just this, it's really not about sex).

This one's called "The Face Of The Great Masturbator". One of the more straight-forward titles you'll find in the dizzying swirl of surrealism.

Exhibit 6

Ah, finally something that tugs a cord deep in the inner recess of my consciousness. I see a gathering of three old women innocently knitting away some embroidery, just as anyone can see. But I also see them as personifications of the Fates - beings which the ancient Greeks believed to be responsible of turning, measuring and snipping the threads of life to shape the destinies of men (and some say, even gods), somewhat similar to the Three Witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Parisian artist Albert Gleizes simply describes this picture as "Women Sewing". It is doubtful that he was thinking about Greek mythology and Shakespeare when he painted it. Then again, you never know. That's the beauty of pictures like this. They invoke all kinds of interpretations in the beholder's eyes.

Pictures That Tell A Story

As an avid reader and writer, my favourite kind of pictures are those which tell a story. Tragedy and triumph. Good versus evil.

Such pictures flourished in abundance during the Renaissance period in Europe, mainly commissioned by the Catholic Church. Hence, it is at the Vatican Museum - proudly exhibiting the fine works of Michaelangelo, Raphael (as in Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, not me), Leonardo Da Vinci and their other talented contemporaries - that captivated me the most.

There was hardly a need to play the guessing game anymore. I knew most of the pictures and stories by heart.

Exhibit 7

Well, any decent Christian knows this story. It's the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Exhibit 8

This one had me scratching my head. I cheated and read the inscription. The story isn't biblical. No, it's not inspired by Lord of the Rings either. It's a medieval legend about Saint George killing a dragon.

Exhibit 9

Throughout the Vatican, the walls and ceilings are decorated with wondrous motifs like this. Within a room, along a corridor, there are dozens of stories bursting to be told. Simply amazing. Simply mesmerising.

And The Award For The Best Picture Goes To...

The classical Renaissance artists, of course. None can match their eye for detail and touch of brilliance.

Nevertheless, no picture is perfect. No picture can express a thousand words on its own. No picture can tell a story on its own. It's up to each beholder to fill words and imagination into each picture.

Art inspires art. I can't draw, what more paint. But I can take a decent photograph on a decent camera phone with a decent intuitive knack on finding the right angles and lighting. So here's my own masterpiece inspired by my travels.

Exhibit 10

Where is it taken, I won't tell. What do I call it, I won't tell. What's the story behind it, I won't tell. It's for you, the beholder, to discover.

For now, the picture will remain as my pretty little secret.

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