Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Motley or Colorful Life

One day in December soon before Christmas, I was browsing in a New York bookstore on 42nd St., across from the park behind the Public Library, which on that day was full of vendors selling jewelry and other crafts (there was snow on the ground and cheerful voices in the air), and I picked up a book on Kandinsky's interests in shamanism which intrigued me-- Kandinsky and Old Russia: The Artist as Ethnographer and Shaman. It is a really cool book (and I wish I had bought it considering it was on sale for about $30 and now that I know what it costs on Amazon). Before looking at that book I had never seen Kandinsky's earlier works, and I discovered some of them are pretty amazing. I particularly like the one known in English as the Motley Life and as the Colorful Life (Too bad I don't know Russian. To me it looks like the magical life. Or maybe it's just life in a vibrant community). The painting must be a representation of some kind of religious event--a festival--with both shamanic and Christian symbols and characters (If not that, then what is going on?). I believe the author--Peg Weiss--made a similar point (That's probably why I am now making it), and that it emanated from one of Kandinsky's ethnographic trips or from his reading of an ethnographic account (Why didn't I buy the book? Sorry Peg). It sure looks like the figures in the foreground are aware they are being painted, almost as if they are posing--some smiling--for a photograph. Maybe it's just me. All I know is that I wish I could be within that frame, in that scene. Couldn't you envision a wonderful novel about that scene:

(Click on the picture to make it larger)


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