The process, the product and the maker, and a little poetry A Greek translation is also available
“We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” Louise Glück
“You must learn to trust people, Rose would say. The more you trust, the more you can afford to lose.” (From Marigold and Rose by Louise Glück)
Portrait by Louise Glück
A child draws the outline of a body.
She draws what she can, but it is white all through,
she cannot fill in what she knows is there.
Within the unsupported line, she knows
that life is missing; she has cut
one background from another. Like a child,
she turns to her mother.
And you draw the heart
against the emptiness she has created.
Today’s post contains a painting I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year. For some time now, I’ve wanted to engage with paintings I love by some of the important and better known Greek artists, not through looking at and reading about them, but through my own art process, in a kind pf dialogue. So, I’ve finally decided to begin with two paintings by Nikos Lytras (1883-1927), considered one of the boldest representatives of early Greek Modernism. He is the son of another important artist, Nikiforos Lytras, who gave him his first painting lessons as a child. He studied in Athens and then in Munich. He painted portraits, indoor and outdoor scenes with people, still life scenes, and also, created many beautiful, sunlit paintings of Attica and the Greek islands. I mostly became familiar with these artists’ works during an art history course with art history professor, critic and writer, Manos Stefanidis, twenty years ago.
The book about Nikos Lytras in the photos is from my visit to a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery in 2008. Marina Lambraki Plaka, who sadly passed away in 2022, art history professor, writer and director, of the National Gallery for many years, wrote that Lytras’ “brushwork, uniquely personal and extremely modern, has no precedent in Greek painting. He paints with a clear and bright palette, preserving the same vividness on the canvas as paint coming directly from the tube. He uses sweeping brushstrokes, leaving luscious, textured marks on the canvas. His brushstroke is quick, gestural, and yet utterly controlled and structural. He builds the form, capturing volume without the use of shading but with the space-forming power of complementary and warm-cool colours. In this way, he creates a painting that fully conveys the essence of Mediterranean light….. His painting is full of tension, energy, and inspiration. It conveys a sense of joy rather than anguish, which is usually the case with the paintings of the German Expressionists…..”
My intention has in no way been to create a copy of these two great oil paintings, created by the artist from 1923 to 1925, which I’ve used as a point of reference: Reading / Το διάβασμα (50,5 x 38,5 cm) and Peeling quinces / Καθάρισμα κυδωνιών (89 x 66 cm). I have used 70 cm x 1m canvases and acrylic paints. I usually paint from a photo, my imagination and real life objects, so “painting from paintings” felt very different. The process has been like a dialogue with the painting, a meditation in some way. I’ve been observing the process and allowing it to take me further away from or closer to the content or form of the painting. The paintings observed and interacted with, in such a way, firstly allowed for my noticing and appreciating much more, but the whole endeavor has also been a window into my own experience and memory, which was my intention.
Apart from painting I’ve also been evaluating and reflecting on my meditation journey over the last decade, and over the next month I hope to write a bit about it. I’ve also been reading poetry by Louise Glück, who won the Nobel Prize for poetry in 2020. Today I’d like to refer to a short book of hers titled Marigold and Rose, and also, share bits of her poetry.
Marigold and Rose is Louise Glück’s first published fiction and can be read in one sitting. It resembles a children’s story and it’s written from a very young perspective with an adult sophistication, as if baby and future adult narrators are one. It’s about the inner lives, thoughts, emotions and life events of the first year of twin sisters, who spent their first days of their life in an incubator. Sisters figure in Gluck’s poetry,. She also refers to the wound of the death of her oldest sister before she was born. In an early poem she writes: Of two sisters // one is always the watcher, // one the dancer… and I think this is conveyed in this text, as well.
In this story the watcher seems to be Marigold, who even though she cannot yet read or speak, is already at work with a book in her baby mind. She longs for adulthood with its “vast cargo of words.” There are many references to Marigold’s fascination with words, even before she could master them, and her inescapable almost inclination to write in the future. A book has been incubated in Marigold even though she cannot yet write: “But the book was very slow because the twins didn’t do anything. They lay in their cribs, behind bars like criminals”, and “None of this was written down. But it was taking shape in her head, all day it seemed……. How could it take shape without words? Marigold didn’t know. Perhaps it was an offshoot of some ancient form, from that wordless time before Greek or Sanskrit. In any case, it had her in its grip.” On the other hand, Rose observes all that is going on around her and makes her presence more visible. She’s stronger and more extrovert, even though she feels at times that she might lack depth. She understands that Marigold is resourceful and she is not. She is the good baby, but she is not resourceful. Rose tells us that “next to Marigold’s name there were a lot of needs improvement boxes checked.”
One could say that the story is a presentation of alternative ways into girlhood, or it could also represent the different forces and inclinations within oneself,, two aspects of the self or a portrait of being a writer / an artist, or even the various possibilities available to us and the roads that can be taken. The story also hints at the process of psychological individuation and the connection and unity of siblings. They are allies as they observe each others’ vulnerabilities, limitations and strengths, but are also aware of their separateness and differences. One of the sisters thinks: “And then, because she was like her name, steadfast and true, she united herself with her sister, as though they were a single story to which Mother and Father were just witnesses.” And later, came the realization that “Though the twins thought of Mother and Father as a single unit (as the twins were a single unit) it was important to remember that they were separate people with separate needs and preferences, just as the twins were.”
The story is also about inevitable changes and loss in the babies’ first year. Father leaves and comes home, sorely missed, mother considers going to work, there are conversations about moving to a bigger house, and one grandmother dies. The two babies are learning that life is complicated and disappointing sometimes, and that adults provide contradictory explanations. The book ends with their first birthday celebration:“Marigold … looked grimly out at the party from her high chair. Chaos and imprecision, she thought. Grown-ups were milling about … Meanwhile people they didn’t know were touching them and calling them lambs and chickens though it was perfectly obvious they were human babies. Aging human babies, Marigold thought.”
Long ago, I was wounded. // I learned to exist, in reaction, // out of touch //
with the world: I’ll tell you // what I meant to be – a device that listened.
Not inert: still. // A piece of wood. A stone.
The Empty Glass
And it occurs to me that what is crucial is to believe
in effort, to believe some good will come of simply trying,
a good completely untainted by the corrupt initiating impulse // to persuade or seduce
What are we without this?
Whirling in the dark universe, // alone, afraid, unable to influence fate—
What do we have really?
Sad tricks with ladders and shoes, // tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring // attempts to build character.
What do we have to appease the great forces?
And I think in the end this was the question // that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach,
the Greek ships at the ready, the sea // invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future
lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking // it could be controlled. He should have said
I have nothing; I am at your mercy.