Le Bal Black & White

1966: Truman Capote, prodigious writer much celebrated on his mother-continent,  throws a party that instantly has him conquer the lavish high society worldwide, a ball whose promise of superlatives makes invitations paramount concerns of elites across both America and Europe (no wonder he gathered 5 thousand friends but gained 15 thousand enemies when anyone known as someone vied for a possibility to attend).

The New York Plaza Hotel, meticulously decorated, reaches its zenith.

After a period of seclusion dedicated to laborious preparations, Capote returns with repetitive “I’m beside myself! Beside myself!” to take it over and welcome the masqued guests nevertheless recognized by the photographs galore who fenced in the red carpet.

party

Glittering names as those of Frank Sinatra, Cecil Beaton, Mia Farrow, Jacqueline de Ribes, Oscar de la Renta, Marlene Dietrich, Maharajah and Maharani of Jaipur,  Vivien Leigh, Shirley MacLaine,Baroness Cecile de Rothschild, Baron and Baroness Guy de Rothschild, Mr and Mrs John Steinbeck, Andy Warhol, Tennessee Williams and even the expatriated Duke and Duchess of Windsor figured on the privileged guest list. It was indeed the egocentric celebration of a silver age, a kaleidoscope of savory juxtapositions of class, titles, secular manners and social status to garrison the last remnants of decadence.

Half the Hall of Fame and Best Dressed list attended Capote’s hubristic feast in the most mesmerizing costumes possible (note: I’m far from resorting to hyperbole for that depiction)…

If in Truman’s shoes, is there anyone you would’ve coveted to see there but was not, caught in various circumstances, able to come?

Et voila! Not exactly the masterpiece an esteemed critic would accept being hanged beside  renowned masterpieces in a modern-art gallery but nevertheless a work I’m proud of since it represents surreal elements projected from my… freakish mind with a clarity and softness barely now achieved. Hope you’ll come to find it aesthetically pleasing upon gazing the above picture of a yet unfinished “Empire of the Mind” (which obviously requires extra details, improvement hither and tither, a final polishing up and my hideous signature somewhere bottom-right). I’ve a feeling it’s going to be the beginning of a prolific period in this particular domain. Or at least I hope, in which case I pray the divinity in charge would be graceful enough to gratify it.

About the actual drawing, one can easily observe Vivien Leigh’s angelic figure dominating the composition as the main and single character depicted; she’s a face I often use to start an artistic project giving my infatuation with her intriguing persona.

Here, the “Gone with the Wind” actress unluckily had her head blown up to release the surreal world within it; elements like the greedy skull swallowing the flow of her life, the winding storm near the Ferris wheel spinning little unreadable words corresponding to the 7 sins, the flying dove on the left side and a few others should enhance the expressiveness of the theme but are also ulterior adds to my main idea. Clouds of smoke link the realistic with the inner explosion of fantastic ingredients; two Gothic towers frame “Vivien”; the cracking hole in her forehead is bound to be the viewer’s point of interest.

No surprise I genuinely adored building it all, outlining form from white paper, concentrating a whole bombastic perspective in a pencil’s tip, more or less successfully; always a wonder to open your mind and make its phantasmagorias visible to the public.

So let me know how you like it (or how you don’t, why not?).

Having been completely absorbed in a vortex of personal business and family duties and artistic urges to materialize with calculated dexterity a series of projects in charcoal on paper and long writing labors to transform a novella finished some months ago in a good novel, I admit I might’ve ignored the blog. A little. More.

So today, while browsing through albums of black-and-white photographs which recently became the number one source of inspiration for most of my drawings praying to discover a gripping portrait, a dramatic closeup, a wildly seducing cheesecake, an intriguing candid, whatever may turn in one graceful, expressive theme, I rediscovered the Cecil Beaton magic. The named Cecil Beaton being after Wikipedia’s description an English fashion&portrait photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and an Academy Award-winning stage&costume designer for films/ theater, quite a complex, keen bisexual gentlemen if you’ll ask my rather personal opinion.Who had a high taste of fashion and an indisputably amazing eye for beauty, evidently (it’s not like one could get on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame without the mentioned qualities – and he’d be the man to tell you that).

Since my first incursion in the monochrome world of silver-screen stars and interbellum personalities I was simply fascinated by the flawless, misty, charismatic figures depicted in the works of photographers such as E.O. Hoppé, Paul Tanqueray, Yousuf Karsh and, of course, Beaton, my special favorite.

His varied subjects,his way of capturing the perfect angle to enhance the elegance of the lucky poser, his minute decorum and the atmosphere built around it, all delicacy and smartness, have the most wonderful visual power over the viewer any age, as you can see for yourself through my compilation of Beaton’s best images.

The haughty Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chanel inside her Parisian home.

And Coco once again, wearing her signature multiple-row pearl necklace.

Now Audrey Hepburn for “My Fair Lady” in a Belle Epoque costume designed by Beaton.

A marvelous Marlene Dietrich displaying her equally splendid profile and the hands whose shape and fluidity never failed to exert a great deal of fascination to me, regardless how odd it may sound.

A Katherine Hepburn I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t recognized from the start, the set capturing my attention firstly. What I like most about this particular photograph and the artist intended to also, is this fine allusion at Kate’s qualities in the placing of Athena’s statue beside her, a goddess of great intelligence but a beauty nonetheless.

Then we have Gary Cooper, the charming Hollywood dandy…

…and a deliciously young Marlon Brando reminding me of his looks as the fiery Stanley  in “A Streetcar named Desire”.

By the way, his costar, Vivien Leigh, was captured by dearest Beaton too.

For Vogue, a few times. A coupe of times.

Middle-aged Joan Crawford in the 50’s.

One of Grace Kelly’s iconic pictures, 1954.

Following, Liz Taylor’s vixen profile a whole generation of men loved…

… and Marilyn, the fake-blonde of the century, in her avowedly favorite photo of herself, 1956, at the New York Ambassador Hotel. The assignment Beaton had taken in her that year contributed to Monro’s campaign to redefine her public image of stupid beauty or pin-up girl by exposing a rather more sophisticated part, a mature seduction the audience hadn’t suspect she was capable of, as reflected in Cecil’s work.

“Miss Marilyn Monroe calls to mind the bouquet of a fireworks display, eliciting from her awed spectators an open-mouthed chorus of ohs and ahs …” was Beaton’s description of his model.

But apart from movie stars ( recall the variety I prized at the beginning), he also made an amazing job  immortalizing the celebrated faces of high-society…

…where outrageously wealthy and equivalently unhappy heiress Barbara Hutton played a major role…

…or those of musical elite represented by Onassis’ lover, soprano Maria Callas…

…remaining not to forget the literary figures (here T.S. Eliot)…

…the prodigious painters (behold Andy Warhol)…

…the wacko Dali with enchanting Gala …

…and the political titans.

Royalty, in its turn, passed before Beaton’s objective throughout his impressive career and he had thus the opportunity to meet personally noble personages from history books, including the Queen Mother of Romania, Sita Devi of Kapurthala, Princess Margaret and the outrageous exiled couple the world never ceased to gossip about:  Edward, with his beloved Wallis.

Not to mention the Queen herself, Elisabeth II, in diverse poses of certain periods.

Guess to whom belongs Lilibet’s magnificent coronation portrait?

Decidedly, his life was a gripping adventure, traveling across Europe and beyond its margins, accessing an assortment of entourages and classes, contributing to the building of uncountable legends in publishing their photos or dressing their bodies… Between banging Fred Astaire’s elder sister, Adele, writing extensive diaries and playing some minor parts on English stages, Beaton certainly succeeded to catch a glimpse of immortality…

What do you think? Wouldn’t you just adore to interact with worldwide celebrities, style icons, geniuses?  I know I definitely would.

Editing Salome

June 26, 2012

“Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit. Yes, I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. I said it; did I not say it? I said it. Ah! I will kiss it now. But wherefore dost thou not look at me, Iokanaan? Thine eyes that were so terrible, so full of rage and scorn, are shut now. Wherefore are they shut? Open thine eyes! Lift up thine eyelids, Iokanaan! Wherefore dost thou not look at me? Art thou afraid of me, Iokanaan, that thou wilt not look at me? And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it speaks no words, Iokanaan, that scarlet viper that spat its venom upon me. It is strange, is it not? How is it that the red viper stirs no longer? Thou wouldst have none of me, Iokanaan. Thou rejectedest me. Thou didst speak evil words against me. Thou didst bear thyself toward me as to a harlot, as to a woman that is a wanton, to me, Salome, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea! Well, I still live, but thou art dead, and thy head belongs to me. I can do with it what I will. I can throw it to the dogs and to the birds of the air. That which the dogs leave, the birds of the air shall devour. Ah, Iokanaan, Iokanaan, thou wert the man that I loved alone among men! All other men were hateful to me. But thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set upon feet of silver. It was a garden full of doves and lilies of silver. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Iokanaan? With the cloak of thine hands, and with the cloak of thy blasphemies thou didst hide thy face. Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Iokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see me. If thou hadst seen me thou hadst loved me. I saw thee, and I loved thee. Oh, how I loved thee! I love thee yet, Iokanaan. I love only thee. I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor apples can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Iokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire. Ah! ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me? [She kisses the head.] Ah! I have kissed thy mouth, Iokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood? Nay; but perchance it was the taste of love. They say that love hath a bitter taste. But what matter? what matter? I have kissed thy mouth.” (Salome, Oscar Wilde)

This is the monologue from which I extracted the idea for my newest art work, a Biblical Salome bearing the foxy features of Vivien Leigh, embellished, I hope, with a sort of kokoshnik on top, and sensually holding the decapitated head of John the Baptist (Mathias Lauridsen) as to converge their lips with the smallest turning of the neck.

Alas, the outcome didn’t actually fulfill my enthusiastic expectations and I’ve found myself in the position of editing the original charcoal on paper with a series of programs meant to enhance its artistic quality, the result being the two shown images.

Personally, I find the latter most charming but I’m more interested in your opinion on it.

Which is the winner?

That Hamilton Woman

April 17, 2012

Today I was in a totally unexpected Vivien Leigh mood if you take to consideration  I’m spending my time torn between writing the ending of my modern second novel whose characters have not quite the historic depth one might assume and reading biographies of Renoir, Caravaggio, studies of Freud on Leonardo’s behavior and Delacroix’s diary in a very weird combination and order… Either way, I couldn’t resist pausing whatever of the above I was doing at the time to watch a more in-theme “That Hamilton Woman” (1941), an utter delight despite being one of those silver-screen movies still not brought to color.

The atmosphere, the lines, the ornaments, the costumes, every little thing was absolutely charming, “stupendous” as Lady Emma Hamilton (aka Vivien Leigh) tended to exclaim half of the film with her lovely, velvety and extremely joyous voice! And the historic truth was, well, nicely restored to life, especially the central affair which brought the protagonists, Emma and the oh-so brave Lord Nelson (Laurence Olivier) to pitiful ruin. What incurable romance lead the lives of the two heroic lovers to tragedy! I nearly cried when he died in the ship battle in 1805 and couldn’t refrain shedding few tears when, the the end, Emma, now poor, marked by the drama she had passed through, says “there’s no then, there’s no after”. Makes one meditate a little…

Very wittily done!

The  authentic flirt of Emma Hamilton would have undoubtedly approved the representation former “Scarlett O’Hara” gave in her role, remaining probably like in the portrait above, masterpiece executed by painter George Romney whose muse she had fancied to be.

Who do you find more alluring? Dear talented Vivien or the real deal, adulterous yet intelligent and keen Emma?

Perhaps the actress looks more cunning and prone to attract gentlemen today but old Emma is rather sensuous too, although seems to have the face of a porcelain doll little too plum for our tastes…

Certainly this type of woman made history so juicy and interesting! Beauty, passion and some proud vanity can build the most arresting characters!

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