Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ensor Is Not An Eyesore

I took my self up to the Museum of Modern Art that sprawling center of modern works housed in a not too pleasing mall like building on E. 53rd street to see the large James Ensor retrospective. The first thing I had to do though was renew my artist’s pass which for $25.00 a year allows me to go to the museum as many times as I like. Now that is a delightful bargain and I urge all artists good or bad, short or tall, smart or dumb, handsome or ugly to take advantage of this windfall. I always get a little woozy at this place, the crowds, the whiteness of the interiors, the large unnecessary lobby (why do I always feel like my plane is about to take off). True this Moma is better than the last pile of shit that they torn down to make way for this new pile of shit, but shit is still shit, only this time it’s a much larger pile of shit built to impress all the tourists who expect bigger but not necessarily better of my Metropolis. No doubt in the coming years, this pile will be torn down for an even bigger pile. Its fine though once you enter the galleries which are the best designed spaces in the place (as it should be) and you are immersed in all those great works of art. I was there for Jimmy Ensor one of my adolescent favs, who was in some ways an influence on my art. It was his great painting “Tribulations of Saint Anthony” that I grew up seeing at the old Moma, and I was always drawn to it, returning to it over and over again. What in the world did my adolescent mind make of his crazy little creatures doing things that my twelve-year self could not grasp let alone understand. But I certainly loved it. To me it was like a wonderful weird comic book, or a cartoon both of which I could relate to, so for me his work at that age was cartoonist and comical. Me and my friend Marko would stand in front of it, two young teens from Brooklyn and laugh and giggle until the dirty looks we were getting from the guards would make us move on. You could keep your “Christina’s World” Museum of Modern Art, I was ga-ga over Ensor & Max Ernst’s “Two Children Frightened By a Nightingale” which had a profound effect on me, young brat that I was. Later on I thought that Jimmy was a little nuts, I mean what’s with all those masks and images of death & cartoon like people doing strange & improper things including making doodies surrounded by those beautifully painted backgrounds and spaces. The first room was a bit of a let down, as I was not expecting all those dark gloomy not very interesting landscapes and still lives. How I kept thinking did he go from these boring paintings to death, masks and dark religious images. Did he have an epiphany, fall on his head, start doing drugs or what. The great paintings begin in the 1880‘s. and continued up to his death in 1949, a long life and career. All artists should be so fortunate. It seems that he used the masks from his mother’s novelty shop, that he took upstairs to his little attic studio where he would put himself into many of his works. Cross-dresser at times (only in the paintings as far as I know) he also would do these incredible biblical paintings along with grim images of rotting corpses, skeletal remains and fantastical landscapes. One of my favorite paintings (and I have many) is one called “Fireworks” in which most of the canvas is taken up with a brilliant geyser like display of color that lights up the night sky. It looks so contemporary almost like he painted it yesterday all ready to be hung in one of those big fat lazy Chelsea galleries. There are also in the show many of his carnival paintings comprised of people in marvelous yet scary masks mostly facing front staring at us in their lusciously painted disguises out for an evening of disgust. His paintings are so beautifully painted that I would just linger in front of them taking in his stunning use of pastel colors and his complex brush strokes not to mention his haunting imagery. Has any artist then or now used white paint as well as Mr. Ensor did? When I see great art, I have the urge to rush home and make art or to stop making art altogether. Like why bother I think. This doubt doesn’t last very long so friends, fans and admirers of my art fear not. So for days now everyone on the subway looks to me as if they just stepped out of one of Ensor’s paintings, big noses, bad complexions, scary people. This is a show that should not be missed; in fact I might just go back again since I have my artist’s pass and Jimmy beckons me.


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