Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm sure I'm racking up overdue fines, but I've been hanging on to a book, Writers on Artists, that has paired writers with artists, each writer taking a few pages to talk about an artist. Today, sitting in the 55 degree summer weather at the neighborhood pool I had plenty of time to read about Chaim Soutine. You probably already know that he did not live a very long life.*

Now that I've talked about how great this book is, I'll complain that there is a seam running right thru the painting, and all kinds of searching online proved futile in finding another version of this painting, Man Walking the Stairs.

Can you make out the painting? Here's what English poet, Tom Paulin, (who grew up in Belfast) has to say about this painting:

. . .the stairs are outside in a stormy garden where they seem as wile and as bent as the trees an Gogh or Kokoschka would've recognized which isn't to say it's at all a secondhand garden only these trees are ecstatic dionysiac deeply unsettled oil and ocher and deadened raw. . .(page 289)
(I have yet to paint a dionysiac tree; best done under the influence?) He goes on in to talk about how the trees almost resemble a mob which "turns all those swirls into street action . . .

Of course, there's much more than I can include here. We'll never know what Soutine's intentions were, but here are Paulin's thoughts in free verse about the man who is "hunched or contorted in some way" and

has he his hands behind his back like a prisoner?
so maybe he is taking a last look over his shoulder?
-it could be the Bridge of Sighs then transposed to nature?
though of course a garden is more than nature
just as the Bridge of Sighs is more than a stone opera
just as the man climbing the steps or the stairs is more than a man climbing
in the year nineteen hundered and twentytwo
-like a prisoner or a refugee this man's been told - walk!
and everything - storm trees oily shapes colors
everything in the painting is unhappy is coerced
or coercive
except within it the spirit of the painter that represents
the man
almost as though he's the Wandering Jew who has been
ordered to act the part of a felon
desperately treading a treadmill in a circus tent
that a big wind blown into rips and tatters

*Soutine was born in Lithuania in 1893, managed to study art over the objections of his family, went to Paris where struggled to paint and live, working to dig ditches. A wealthy American collector, Albert Barnes, noticed his work, bought several paintings, and helped him climb out of poverty. During the WWII he managed to hide with the help of friends, but his lover, Gerda Groth, was captured and sent to a concentration camp. They never saw each other again. He died of an illness in 1943. (Writers on Artists, foreward by A.S. Byatt, 2001)


  1. Soutine's a good example of a painter whose work is best seen in person, given how thickly and wildly he glopped on the paint.

    Here's the Norton Simon's one Soutine (as far as I know). It's gorgeous, but I wish there were a little more color.

    A pity about the library fines, but think of all the money you save by not paying for the books!

  2. 55 degree summer weather sounds like New England, but we've had a record summer here. Hot and sunny. A total aberration.
    I like your posts here. Does your library allow you to renew online?
    Ours does but it doesn't stop me from racking up fines. I'm forgetful.