quinta-feira, dezembro 18, 2014

David Hockney, the biography - A Rake's Progress, by Christopher Simon Sykes

I first knew about David Hockney when I saw a reproduction of his probably most famous painting, A Bigger Splash, later I saw Mr. and Mrs. Clarke and Percy, and then a series of paintings of the same trees in different weathers. I like his style, very sharp and colourful, a kind of sunny version of Hopper, he's one of the contemporary artists whose work I enjoy. I knew nothing about his life, but am usually curious about the lives of artists I like, and enjoy reading biographies, they're so informative not only about their subjects but also about their times.

So it was interesting reading about his life and the art scene in London in the Swinging Sixties. He seems like a nice man, devoted to his work and able to escape from the traps of contemporary painting, that so often is just pretentious and unoriginal. It's curious how the author depicts his work and ideas as ground breaking and original; I don't agree, think most of what he does has lots of similar precedents throughout the history of European art - just consider Flemish Renaissance portraits, for instance -, but he's certainly a very talented painter and has known how to masterfully depict his contemporaries and California.

terça-feira, dezembro 09, 2014

Mani - Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A very good travel book; Patrick Leigh Fermor clearly loved Greece and he can convey his fascination with the country in the most enjoyable way. Reading his descriptions and his dilletantish digressions about its culture and history, one really wants to go there, and how more successful can a travel book get? It's very well written, even if not as good as A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, which are his best books. It's very interesting to read about Greece under the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires, and know about the continuity of its history from the Classical times until the 20th century.

domingo, novembro 23, 2014

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

As always, Ian McEwan writes supremely well, the book is enjoyable and easily readable, but I was again somewhat disappointed. I still think his last truly great book was Atonement. His books used to surprise and make us shudder inside, we felt like we found something hidden and scarily true about our human nature; these last books are just nice.

quarta-feira, novembro 05, 2014

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, by Marcel Proust

How wonderful to reread Proust, and how beautiful it is in French. After the wonderful start with Du côté de chez Swann, it's in the second book that the work really takes off - we meet Saint-Loup, Madame de Villeparisis, Bergotte, Elstir and, last but not least, Albertine. I never get tired o reading it, and when I pick it up to read a few pages, I never put it down before reading some 20 or 30. The pages about his renunciation to Gilberte are still the best I've read about the end of a love (or a friendship, or a relationship); the ones about his relations with Saint-Loup and Bloch the best meditation about friendship; and the development of his love for Albertine, from the initial vague and mostly imagined figure among the bouquet of the young girls n bloom, is simply perfect. As is the description of Balbec and its summer society.

I already have Le côté de Guermantes waiting, but will take a pause - great pleasures must be savored slowly.

domingo, novembro 02, 2014

Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh

I had seen this book mentioned several times over the years, the last time was in Patrick Leigh Fermor's biography. I didn't read much by Waugh - actually I can only remember The Loved One, a funny satire I read long ago - so I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. It's a bitter funny book, witty and cruel, but also very moving, about a generation who didn't know what to believe or what values to uphold - sound familiar? Yes, actually I think it could be written today, about the present younger generation - they, too, believe they are a sort of Bright Young People but are mostly clueless.

quarta-feira, setembro 24, 2014

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

I have read a few books by Henry James, but he never impressed me much - he writes extremely elegantly, but in a somewhat too "wordy" way for my taste, and I besides I tend to forget his books soon after finishing them, even when I liked them - I'm thinking, for instance, of The Ambassadors. I somehow always considered his writing too over elaborate for the content - how much more I appreciate the no less elegant and also elaborate writing of Virginia Woolf or Lytton Strachey!

I bought The Portrait of a Lady on a sale more than a year ago, and its sheer size - and the misgivings about James - always made me put off its reading. Then, about a week ago, having finished my books supply and waiting for the last order from amazon, I decided to take it up, and it was actually a very nice surprise. The writing is as over elaborate as ever, but this time the characters were fetching, the social relations and psychology very insightful and the plot clever and interesting, including the ending. I knew more or less how it was, having seen the movie adaptation by Jane Campion years ago, but the book is much more complete and satisfying. It's actually a very good book, and I read it very quickly.

sexta-feira, setembro 12, 2014

A moment in life

Recently, a post on the facebook page of A Máquina da Arte - a site created by young Portuguese artists I recommend - reminded of a brief encounter I once had with Mário Botas. I was 16, and out Portuguese teacher took our class to the National Library to see an exhibition of drawings inspired by Fernando Pessoa and Mário de Sá-Carneiro, and the painter, Mário Botas, was there to show us around.

I was captivated and charmed by the drawings - small compositions, soft and delicate colors, of a kind of dreamy, fantastic and childlike nature. They were strange and enticing. The artist, a tall young man (I have a terrible memory for faces) went around with us, occasionally making vague remarks about a drawing, like "I was thinking of Mário de Sá-Carneiro at the time..." or "I kept listening this line in my head..." (this was about the first line of a poem by Pessoa, Antinous: The rain outside was cold in Hadrian's soul, written in a drawing - it was the first time I read it, and it has also haunted me ever since).

At some point, in front of a particular surreal drawing, somebody asked him: "Yes, but was does it mean?" "What do you mean by that?" "Yes, this figure, what is it? And who is this guy, and why is he flying?". He looked at us with an attentive and slightly puzzled expression through his thick round glasses, and answered very seriously, not at all condescendingly (we were after all a bunch of teenagers, and only a few were paying attention): "What does it mean?... Well... I wouldn't know... I know what I felt when I painted them, but I didn't plan them. I painted what I felt was right... Then sometimes a friend sees something, another something else. I myself see different things at different times when I look at them, you might call them meanings, but don't know if it's that... You know, after I finish it, I really don't feel it belongs to me; someone may see something, or other... I really couldn't say it means this or that."

I remember listening and being fascinated by his words, it felt like something was finally making sense. I knew nothing about Surrealism at the time, didn't know Klee, Kandinsky or Pollock, but the question of the meaning of works of art was a frequent subject of conversation with a group of older friends I used to hang out with at the time, around cuba libres in bars; I was the kid and looked up to them, and the subject came up usually about the meaning of poems or more or less abstruse rock lyrics, not painting. They used to say: if the author says it means this, then it's what it definitely means, you don't have to look further; but that statement somehow never satisfied me (how I wish I would have known then what Neil Young said about the purported meaning of the lyrics of After the Gold Rush: "I think I wrote each line under a different drug, how am I supposed to give it a meaning?"). And now, here I was listening to the real thing, a real artist telling what I suspected but never had been able to put in words. Somehow, I remember this casual encounter as a defining moment in my relation to art; maybe it's silly to attach importance (meaning?) to these small things, but I somehow believe our views in life, our life actually, is actually shaped by these kinds of moments, that often seem quite insignificant at the time.

Our teacher commented a few days later that Mário Botas was very ill, and in effect he died a few months later from leukemia, barely 30 years old. I think it was a great loss, he was an excellent artist and seemed genuinely a very nice guy. I remember I read Almeida Faria's books because the covers were designed by him. And I still feel grateful for having helped to shape me in some, even if modest, way.

(Note - This teacher - I was in 11th grade - was by far the best Portuguese teacher I had; I owe him the discovery of the beauty of the Troubadours' poetry, that I still love, and of Pessoa and Sá-Carneiro. He was a passionate and talented teacher, he even made Almeida Garrett look interesting!)

(Second note - I couldn't copy the drawing with the Pessoa line, but it's on the Mário Botas foundation website - very worth a visit.)