Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Calypso and Odysseus

Calypso's Isle, Herbert James Draper, 1897
Calypso is a nymph of the Ocean whose name comes from the Greek kalyptō which means "to hide ". In accordance to her name, she lives alone in a cave in Ogygia, a mysterious island located somewhere in the Western Mediterranean sea. Her eternal life, rather than going through the days and the seasons, seems to be a single instant far away from the rest of the world. A world, in any case, not able to understand Calipso’s charm and beauty.

One day, brought by the waves, the shipwrecked Odysseus lands to Ogygia. This does not seem real to Calipso: she takes care of him, she restores and charms him in that little corner of paradise in the middle of the sea. On the island there is abundance of any wealth: food, comfort, satisfaction and old age are not a nightmare to wash away with the water of an unobtainable spring. On this new land the decay does not occur.

Yet Odysseus eventually gets bored and all this comfort becomes dull and unbearable to his eyes. Some sources report how Calypso managed to keep the hero in Ogygia for seven years, other texts state less. But, as a matter of fact, Odysseus will at last go away, helped in this by the gods. Urged by Athena, Zeus sent the god’s messenger Hermes to Ogygia with the order for Calypso not to hinder the departure of Ithaca’s hero. On the contrary, the voice that comes from the Olympus is clear: Calypso shall collaborate!

The nymph does not disobey; she understands and helps by preparing the supplies and the barrels of wine for the voyage. She also shows to Odysseus where to take the wood to build his raft, so that the hero becomes suspicious and makes her swear that it is not a trap. There is no deception in the heart of the nymph and Calypso swears on the holy waters of the river Styx without resistance.

Once again Odysseus faces the waves, but differently from the past this time he is alone. Nevertheless, he will always bring with him the everlasting remembrance of his lost companions. Eternity has been rejected; flattery and ease have had the same response. Once again days will always bring something new and there will never be an end to discovery.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ulisse e Calipso

Beckmann, Max, Odysseus and Calypso,1943
Calipso è una ninfa dell'Oceano il cui nome deriva da kalyptō che significa “nascondere”. In sintonia con il suo nome ella abita da sola in una grotta presso Ogigia, un’isola misteriosa da qualche parte nel Mediterraneo Occidentale. La sua vita eterna, più che svolgersi attraverso i giorni e le stagioni, sembra essere un punto istante lontano, fuori dalla portata del mondo. Un mondo comunque incapace di poter comprendere il suo fascino e la sua bellezza.

Ad Ogigia giunge portato dalle onde Ulisse naufrago e a Calipso non sembra esser vero. Lo cura, lo ristora e lo ammalia all’interno di quel piccolo paradiso terrestre in mezzo al mare. Sull’isola vi è ogni ricchezza: cibo, conforto, appagamento e la vecchiaia non è un’incubo da lavare con l’acqua di una fonte introvabile. La putrefazione non ha luogo.

Eppure ad Ulisse tutto questo diventa noioso, sordo, insopportabile. Alcune fonti riportano come Calipso sia riuscita a mantenere l’eroe ad Ogigia per sette anni, meno secondo altre. Sta di fatto che Ulisse se ne andrà, aiutato in questo dagli dei. Zeus infatti, su sollecitazione di Atena, avrebbe presto inviato ad Ogigia il messaggero Ermete per ordinare a Calipso di non ostacolare la partenza dell’itacese. Al contrario, la voce che giunge dall’Olimpo è chiara: che Calipso collabori!

La ninfa non disubbidisce, comprende e aiuta. Prepara per il viaggio le provviste e gli otri di vino e indica all’eroe dove prendere i legni per costruirsi la sua zattera, tanto che egli diventa sospettoso e la fa giurare che non si tratti di un tranello. Ma il cuore della ninfa non gli ordisce nessun inganno e Calipso giura senza trope resistenze sulle acque dello Stige.

Ulisse se ne va, affrontando nuovamente le onde senza i compagni ma recando con sè il loro imperituro ricordo. L’eternità è stata rifiutata, le lusinghe e l’agio hanno avuto uguale risposta. I giorni saranno sempre una novità. Non ci sarà mai fine alla scoperta.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Head-shaped Jug by Paul Gauguin

Gauguin, Van Gogh and the origin of a Self-Portrait

Van Gogh wished with all his heart that his friend Gauguin could reach him in the South of France where he had settled. Even though he was in need of money, Vincent was there to get to know how to sketch a Nature completely unfamiliar to him: olive trees, corn fields and cypresses were shining under a Mediterranean sun whose rays were a discovery he wanted to share with Paul by giving birth to an artistic friendship.

We can track this wish on many of Van Gogh’s missives addressed both to the French Painter and his brother Theo.

Dear Theo, 
I was thinking about Gauguin: if Gauguin wants to come over here, we should think about the travel and two beds or two mattresses which, in this case, we need to buy. But then, being Gauguin a guy who sorts it out, we will probably be up to prepare our food at home. And with the same amount of money that I spend for myself we will manage to live in two. You know that it seemed always foolish to me that painters live alone ... When you are isolated you always lose. […]

Finally, on a day of December 1888 Gauguin went to the Provencal town of Arles. Deplorably, the incompatibility of the two personalities made of his stay over the Flemish painter a 9 weeks period of fire and delirium. During this time they reached the point to face each other with a razor, the same object Van Gogh used afterwards to cut his left ear without any apparent reason. 

With the blood pouring fluently all over his neck, Vincent wrapped the piece of flesh in a newspaper and run to the brothel where he used to find relief whenever his pockets allowed it. Once there, he committed the ear to the hands of a girl, but not before making sure that she was going to take really care of it.

When Paul saw Vincent coming back home with his head all in blood, he got so scared that something in his soul -something located in between pride, understanding and bravery - trembled on its foundations. It was most probably because of this new frightening knowledge that a few days later, back in Paris, Gauguin attended the execution of Prado, old owner of Le Café des Artistes “Le Tambourin”, sentenced to death by guillotine for murder. I suppose that Gauguin was there because he was set on a particular kind of quest: he wanted to overcome the burning feeling of uncertainty unexpectedly disclosed to his inner self.

Unfortunately the execution didn’t go how it was supposed to go. At first the blade fell aslant and it cut only part of the face of the convict who stood up again with preternatural force. Only with the intervention of several guards it was possible to put the man back in position and perform the execution a second time. Eventually Prado’s head fell down.

We don’t know if Gauguin found what he was looking for, but following these events he carved the Head-shaped Jug (1889), a porcelain self-portrait today kept at Copenhagen Kunstindustrimuseet.   

A work of art that combines the Japanese style of painting and the crafting of glazed ceramic while realizing a concept typical of the Peruvian tradition: an object of everyday use fashioned in a human form. An object that, through the picture, doesn’t show the macabre energy it conveys when seen alive.