Monday, September 25, 2017

Is Containment Contentment? The Panther...

North-Chinese Leopard
I recently returned to the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and there I saw the magnificent cats, pacing their cages in much the manner described by the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1878-1926), over a hundred years ago, when he wrote The Panther.

Today, there are no panthers such as the one observed by Rilke, in the Ménagerie. The largest beasts which had drawn in such crowds from the institution's creation in the 18th century - elephants, girafes, bears, hippopotami, rhinoceros, and of course, the big cats, to name but a few - have slowly been rehoused since the latter part of the 20th century. Zoos better able to meet the needs of these animals could thus satisfy the demands for a more humane approach to their confinement and well-being therein.

Nevertheless, smaller species of the panthera family still remain. And so it is that the snow leopard and the clouded leopard continue to haunt their enclosures, pacing continually. The exotic forms of these creatures ever sweep past a captive audience; we captors.Their soft padding movement, up and down, literally flattens a path that traces their motion, their automation only interrupted when the odd movement in a nearby enclosure catches their attention.

In a flash of feline energy, the animal instinct, dulled but never deadened, surges and the beast is transformed into its ancestral self; panthera - 'predator of all animals'. It is able to leap upwards instantaneously, when it so wishes. But in a cage devoid of any real activity, why would it be so inclined?

I am not against zoos as such. Man's madness has driven so many species of the animal kingdom to extinction that any means must be employed to maintain their mere survival, in many cases.

Snow Leopard
The Ménagerie obviously cares about, and takes good care of, all its charges, of that there can be absolutely no doubt. Proof of that also comes in the form of a newly-born North-Chinese leopard cub...

And yet the life of these big felines is one of containment and confinement. They may well be alive, but this is no life. Seeing the vital spark that can still be ignited by the simple sight of potential prey - here a neighbouring caracal family - you can only wonder why some form of virtual stimulation has not been invented for their use. Tiger, tiger burning bright... 

In short, as much as I was stunned by the proximity of these beautiful beasts, I truly felt sick at such a sight. The portrait of 'weary vision' and 'ritual dance' that Rilke painted was there in front of me, in the heart of Paris, in the 21st century. The Ménagerie has much evolved since Rilke's visit there, and yet the situation of some of its charges has changed little, or rather not enough. In his book Awakenings, the great Oliver Sacks wrote of the patients afflicted with Encephalitis Lethargica.
            "they registered what went on about them without active attention, and with profound 
             indifference. They neither conveyed nor felt the feeling of life; they were as insubstantial
             as ghosts, and as passive as zombies."

The scene below, from the film based on the book, Awakenings, even refers back to Rilke's Panther.

Unlike the other members of the Panthera family, the snow leopard cannot roar, and so it is literally silent in its confinement, unable to give voice to its existence.

                                             The Panther

                 His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
                 has grown so weary that it cannot hold
                 anything else. It seems to him there are
                 a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

                 As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
                 the movement of his powerful soft strides
                 is like a ritual dance around a center
                 in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

                 Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
                 lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
                 rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
                 plunges into the heart and is gone. 
                 Rainer Maria Rilke (translation Stephen Mitchell)


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Soul of an Artist...

I have finished Just Kids, Patti Smith's autographical work that tracks her early life, and her meandering artistic growth, largely in and around New York city from the late 60s. Many of these years were spent alongside Robert Mapplethorpe, incognito; just kids getting by, experimenting with different art forms and expressions of self, exploring their boundaries and opportunities just as they do the streets and buildings themselves. Like two street-wise alley cats, ever-hungry, ever eager, they are always on the move yet ready to bask in the bright light of some ephemeral beauty too.
We trace the period before either became famous in their own right, sharing a common survival instinct and a some-time lucky streak in this often unforgiving city. Both are forever driven forward and bound together by an artistic force that is a lifeblood. Their unique vision binds them as they look out onto the world and into themselves with the eye of an artist, a creator, almost comparable to deity itself. Theirs is a mutual admiration and appreciation of the other, but it is not blind and Patti Smith does not flinch at observing painful realities. Ultimately this leads to a union more enduring and of greater purity than a simple romance or lasting friendship of fond youth. Whilst experimenting they both find their respective artistic media – or rather fame seems to find them therein…

Patti Smith’s 1978 hit Because the Night led to international success, although she was, and still is, far more than ‘just’ a singer as her poetry, drawings and writings (such as this book) attest. Robert Mapplethorpe found fame as the renowned yet often vilified photographer whose work redefined photography as an art form whilst pushing limits of perceived decency and accepted artistic expression to the extreme. I came across some of his most controversial photos in a bookshop many years ago; these are not my thing on any level. However, it would be a mistake to limit his name and scope to these pieces alone and indeed his still-life work and portraits offer edginess without the hard-core sexuality of his most controversial homoerotic works. Likewise, Just Kids enables you to see further into Robert’s talent and beauty more than an observation of the X pictures alone. Patti Smith’s account of their unique relationship is so pure and loving that we are left with the feeling that death could never truly rupture their ties, just as Robert Mapplethorpe’s homosexuality could never break their bond, it led both to redefine it. That must have been down to the fact that Patti Smith seems to be able to see into the person and beyond, looking at the man and the creator, god-like but fallible. Maybe that’s the kindred soul of an artist.

Actor Matt Smith (of Doctor Who fame) is currently taking on the role of Robert Mapplethorpe for a forth-coming film. I do hope the film producer has read Just Kids

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


One of these days, the garden centre is going to kick me out for taking photos of their wares! I do usually purchase something, however, so I'm not totally shameless.

My eyes are generally riveted to those plants that would probably never survive life on a fifth-floor balcony.

The ones here are beautiful hibiscus, whose colours are often so bright that they seem to burn the camera lens, to the point that it can't reproduce their intensity.

Some of the final, fully-blown flowers are literally the size of large saucers, but initially unfurl from these pod-like buds.

Some of these folded petals looked like umbrella fabric, waiting to be opened out to reveal the full, delicate flowers within.

Not to mention those amazing stamens with rich pollen!

Some time ago, I had the great luck to watch tiny hummingbirds feeding from these, right in front of me, in South America. Magical!

Some petals seem papery and crisp, with intricate veining throughout...

But others appeared softer, with their ruffled layers. Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to seeing the next collection of plants at the centre - rather like an art gallery, in fact!

Monday, August 21, 2017

P***ed Off...

Yes, feeling very p***ed, having lost all of my photos from this year, when the hard drive of my computer died on me. The above is the only one I have remaining of a visit to Fontainebleau, the rest have all been flushed away, along with all the other visuals of 2017. Meanwhile, the D.I.Y missions that I undertook weeks ago are still very much 'Work In Progress', even if my patience and enthusiasm dried up some time ago. Hmm... P***ed indeed!

A few days later.... Managed to salvage one photo from goodness knows where in the murky depths of my computer. Here are two partners in crime - ever ready to commit acts of feline felony on the home front, especially where D.I.Y is concerned!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Morning Walks by Mount's Bay...

My early morning walks around Penzance, Newlyn and Marazion already feel distant in time and space, but I try to hold onto that feeling of freedom and simplicity that I get from these wanderings, whatever the weather. Easier said than done, as my life here bears no resemblance to life in Cornwall!

 The expanse of sky and the vastness of Mount's Bay never fail to amaze me and I love watching the boats setting off...

Or lined up, ready for action in the fishing port at Newlyn...

With St Michael's Mount as backcloth...

Common or Garden Visitors....

On my recent trip back to England, I carried out my ritual walk through Hyde Park. As I wandered along the paths, I became aware of the process by which flora and fauna no longer seem exotic to us and start to become commonplace and customary. The green parakeet was a fine example of this, flashing past, screeching and squabbling in the branches and occasionally deigning to eat from the hands of visitors. Although they must be a very long way from their original homeland, the species appears to be thriving in the London parks.

Whilst the jay (Garrulus glandarius) may appear a little less exotic, its distinctive, primitive cry sets it apart from the other birds. Attracted by acorns, these ones nevertheless seemed content to observe the proceedings, chattering away amongst themselves as we tried to feed the parakeets...  Not even vaguely appropriate for any creature other than teenagers, the barbeque-flavoured crisps did manage to draw in a few birds and one North American expat - the grey squirrel!

A Poet of Street Posters... Levalet

Battre en Retraite
Well, last few hours of this month, and not a single post to show for July so far... However, I have been very preoccupied by walls; scrapping off old paper (kindly pasted directly onto plasterboard), replastering, sanding and applying paint. Still one more room to go. Until that's finished, the domestic chaos will continue. Despite that, I was able to sight these beautiful street posters that appeared on the walls of Reims earlier in the summer. The one above, Battre en retraite (Retreat), is near the cathedral car park, and I really liked the Middle Age theme, with the dignified progress of the mounted knight recalling the historic importance of Reims (Cité des Sacres de rois de France) set against the scruffy modernity of the town centre.

While the rider looks towards us quite defiantly, the horse seems resigned to his fate, trailing along the pots and pans behind him. Intégration is another poster applied to the scaly, distressed paintwork of an initially bland city wall in the centre of town is equally impressive, showing a group of young men loiteiring around. The yellow used in this work lifts out the dull colours of the ugly stretch of wall behind, and the road markings on the kerb to great effect. Shame the real-life loafers of Reims have taken it upon themselves to rip off parts of both posters, but hopefully the artist will provide some more pieces in the future.

Charles Leval - 'Levalet' is the artist in question, from the city of Epinal, itself known for its characteristic printwork (Imagerie d'Epinal). Although an art teacher in the national education service, he turned towards developing his own artistic pursuits in street art, which enabled him to use the numerous personal drawings that he had accumulated. Like the street art of  C215, (much of which is still visible around Reims), the largely black-and-white drawings of Levalet can now also be seen in many cities around the world - inhabiting urban landscapes with a strange harmony of contrasts. Apparently, work by Levalet will be shown in Paris from September, in the Galérie Géraldine Zberro in an exhibition entitled Under Cover... 
And now back to my sanding....

It's the beginning of September now, and another new one just caught my eye, floating above an old shop window.

Artist or painter/decorator?