There are those who go to art school chiefly to drink red wine and air their pretensions at parties. Certainly I did both as much possible, but I also applied myself strenuously and with dedication to the work - I was going to make the most of my time there.We did little purely academic work - mostly we rolled up our sleeves and made art - but once a week we had an art history lesson and for that I think in the course of a year we had to write two essays. One I wrote about the Fauves, the Nabis, 'Le Talisman' painted on a cigar box and all that.
The other I wrote about Alphons Mucha - the great Czech artist, the man who more-or-less invented art nouveau.Writing that essay introduced me to an artist who impressed me hugely and who was to influence my own art to a large degree in future years.Eight years after writing that essay I found myself standing on a pavement in Prague, my finger hovering over a doorbell above which in neat script was written the, to me, improbable name - 'Mucha'.When I plucked up courage to push that bell, an elderly woman put her head out an upstairs window and we shouted at each other for a while before she disappeared. Fortunately she reappeared at the door and even more fortunately she spoke impeccable English which meant she more-or-less understood when I explained that my brother was married to a woman whose grandmother was her cousin. This was a fact that I had only recently learned.
Admittedly it wasn't a great link, but, since she herself was Alphons Mucha's daughter-in-law, it did mean that Alphons Mucha's son's wife's mother's sister's great-grand-daughter's husband's brother was. . . me - could I come in and take a look around?.It wasn't actually the studio Mucha had worked in - that had been commandeered by the communists for an embassy - but it did contain many of his possessions - his easels, his brushes, his furniture, his stuffed owls - and a great deal of his art.
For me to be guided by this genteel old woman around the house was an impossibly special event.Hanging on the wall amongst the other art were several paintings of a small boy - his round, angelic little face framed with golden curls. My guide gave him a fond, octogenarian smile and said, '. . . and this is my husband.
'.Art not only speaks across space, across cultures and languages, it speaks across time. It is a time machine by which the past may communicate with the present. By means of these daubings on canvas, Alphons Mucha could communicate to me a hundred years in the future his ideas, his feelings, his dreams, his aspirations; could move and provoke and influence me and my view of the world.
Here in this room he could present to this woman the man that she had loved, borne a son with and buried - and introduce him to her as he had been long before she even met him.A few days later I was on a bus wending its way deep into the Moravian countryside.That road to Moravsky Krumlov was a road to another world - narrow, winding, lined with trees and little allotments and small orchards and green meadows and wayside shrines to Christ and His mum and Saint John Nepomuk. We passed through villages with unpaved roads and a drain down the middle of the main road.The village of Moravsky Krumlov was a little more substantial.
It was here that Alphon Mucha's much-ignored magnum opus, his series of twelve enormous paintings of Slavic history - 'the Epic of the Slav People' - was housed in a large and dishevelled chateau on the outskirts of the village. As it said on my 40Kc ticket to get into the chateau - 'From 1963 the cycle, thanks to the town of Moravsky Krumlov, has been installing on local castle. Extraordinary interpretation of paintings and their eventful destiny attract notice of the present visitors.
".In Moravsky Krumlov nobody spoke English. I mimed my way into getting a room at the Hotel Jednota and some food at the shop.When I arrived at the chateau, there was a guide showing a bus-load of school children around. I was touched to see them sit on the floor before a vast painting as an old lady talked so gently to them of the epic past of their own nation.
Those of us who suffered under the disability of being foreigners had to make do with a few photocopied sheets of paper as our guide. They were in French, German or English and explained some things . . . but made others more mysterious with their peculiar style:.The painting of the early days of the Slavs was described - 'They were peasants than hunters.
Thus gaining some property they were attractive for nomadic tribes from the east and the regardless Goths from the west'; St Cyril was described notably as protecting the Slavs from the 'violet Christianisation carried out by the Germans'; the Painting of Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria was noted for the technique used - 'the whole picture is painted in Byzantine many coloured and made-up way'; there were even some moral exhortations - 'Peter Chelcicky advances him repressed his anger and blames him for not to repay evil for evil, because if he resists the evil, the evil is multiplied in the world only.' Sound advice . . .
perhaps.Language divided us but art spoke across the divide.In the end one needed no written explanation.
The power of the art spoke direct to the eyes and heart of the viewer, sweeping one up in the artist's broad vision of life.Neville Chamberlain - British prime minister - said of Czechoslovakia before the Second World War that it was a far away country full of people of whom we know nothing. Wandering, a mute alien, around the streets and fields of Moravsky Krumlov, or deciphering the halting attempt at communication across a language barrier in that art catalogue, I often felt he was actually right. But the art - it spoke with the eloquence and passion of a native speaker. Words were finally superfluous. The language of art was doing its job.
.Barney McBryde is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Auckland - New Zealand. He writes on various topics including contributions to a site of biographies.
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By: Barney McBryde