Bathing Beauties


Mister and I recently watched “Marwencol” and it left me, well, fucked up.


For those who don’t know, this 2010 documentary is about Mark Hogancamp and the world he has created. He was just an ordinary dude until some assholes beat the crap out of him. After that, Hogancamp found he had lost his memory. It’s far more detrimental and detailed than I’m telling (so please go to the link above and read for yourself), but the documentary is quite lovely in explaining the story. It also gives the viewer an eye into the art Hogancamp is now known for making. There’s a new drama out currently (“Welcome to Marwen“), based on Hogancamp’s story, but I’ve not seen it. I got lucky. I was at a different fabulous documentary screening last month (“Kusama: Infinity“) and the director advised attendees to see “Marwencol” before seeing the dramatization. Boy was she right.


But back to the fucked-up part. “Marwencol” is amazing. The intersection of art, real life and fantasy shown in the film overwhelmed me. I want to say it was a good thing, but I’m not sure. I mean – it really rattled my brain, y’all. It led me to see that I don’t have much of a clue about the intersections of my own life. That even though I try to stay on my path, I am lost more often than I care to admit. That my path doesn’t come with a map. “Marwencol” hit me pretty hard. I’m working through the triggered feelings, but I think this might stay with me for a while.


In trying to ease my mind and soul along, I thought maybe I should take in some art, live and in-person. So I went to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. I freaking love this place. It’s quite accessible and a gal can get through the displayed collection in one outing. I’ve been there a few times recently, and my affection for the place continues to grow.


"Tiptoe Down to Art" by Hassel Smith - 1950


On this day, my soul fell into a painting and I needed to sit for a while. Hassel Smith’s “Tiptoe Down to Art” grabbed hold and I was done for. The colors seemed to hold me, warmly. The texture stroked my spirit. I spent a good twenty minutes studying this piece and I’m quite certain I still missed obvious aspects. I wish I could tell you why it moved me so, but I have no idea. It simply did. I smiled some, cried some. And when I stood to go, I looked over my shoulder, one last time. I may have to visit it again.


"Coronation of the Virgin Altarpiece" by Guariento di Arpo - 1344


I was listening to music while walking around the museum, and when I got to Guariento di Arpo’s “Coronation of the Virgin Altarpiece,” I again found I needed to sit. This time it was Laura Cantrell’s fault. Her song – “Bees” – came through my ear buds and it zapped me. Though the song/album is dedicated to John Peel, I found it astounding how well-suited the lyrics were to the various panels of di Arpo’s work. My eyes moved over the piece, settling on a new aspect with each line of the song. At some point, I actually imagined Jesus missing bees. I’m not kidding. With the song’s final words, “My time is short now, I feel it coming, I’ll see you darling on the other side,” I looked up and saw Jesus on a cross and was awed by the meshing. I was in that shit and it was powerful. When the song ended, I took it as my cue to mosey.


I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just wandering around. I also wasn’t listening for anything in particular. The playlist keeping me company holds close to 200 songs and was set to random play. It wasn’t odd or even interesting that a Dido song came up in the rotation. Except that it was. For just as the song began, I rounded a corner and saw this…


The Legend of Dido


The exhibit was lovely. It had nothing to do with the music in my ears, but it made me smile. The gods enjoy a little humor from time to time. This time it was relatively banal, but it was appreciated just the same.


After a while, I walked out to the garden. I figured it was my last chance to get some clarity. I searched, but found none.


"Reclining Figure" by Henry Moore - 1956-60


“Marwencol” really did a number on me. Good art is like that. Sometimes we are centered enough to understand its effects. Sometimes not. I’m feeling a mixture of both right now and may be dealing with the resonance for some time. There’s a lot of life swirling in my mind and in my soul. That’s just who I am. How I am. It’s true I don’t have a map. I often don’t have a clue. But I keep going. That’s also who I am, how I am. I can’t imagine being any other way.

Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena



Have you ever had the privilege of standing before a work of art, a work you’ve seen a ka-jillion times in print, but never in person? I had just such an experience last week when my painting buddy Nicole and I headed to Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum for an art outing.



For ages now folks have been telling me to visit that museum, and I’ve truly wanted to go. But you know how it is – life is pulling you in different directions, and then when you do have some free time, you forget you were even interested in doing that, so you end up doing nothing. But I digress… Nicole and I arrived at the Norton Simon at high noon – when the doors opened. We didn’t have much of a game plan, other than making sure we saw an exhibit about the accidental discovery of synthetic blue (paint tint). We just wanted to wander around. And so we began.



The museum itself is gorgeous and rests on almost 8 acres, which is pretty fabulous. The gardens are tremendously beautiful and the sculpture collection is amazing.



They have a casting of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and it’s pretty cool to walk around, studying it. They have several Rodin pieces, in fact, and they’re gorgeous.



It was fun to round a corner and see an original work that’s familiar, such as Vincent van Gogh’s “The Mulberry Tree.” I’ve seen this Diego Rivera painting – “The Flower Vendor (Girl With Lilies)” – on cards and in magazines forever. To see the real deal was crazy:



Same with this pair of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “Adam” and “Eve” paintings.



Certain pieces seemed familiar, but I may be wrong about that.



Others were brand-spanking-new to me. And I was smitten.



As for that aforementioned exhibit about synthetic blues, it was fascinating! As I said, that color’s invention was an accident (the chemists were trying to develop a new red) and it changed the painting world. Before this new Prussian Blue, blue paints were unstable and their hues would change with time and exposure. This was no bueno for artists, as their vision couldn’t be fully realized in a fashion they could depend on. But suddenly, Prussian Blue came along and it led to a newer, more reliable blue. If an artist used it alone or mixed it with other colors, the hues remained more steady, more true. After Prussian Blue, the French government sponsored a contest for chemists to develop a new, stable Ultramarine hue. I was blown away, thinking of a government sponsoring and supporting the arts in such a fashion. I also learned why – to this day – the color is called French Ultramarine. Makes perfect sense now. All of these developments took place in the 1700s and the exhibit included beautiful pieces (like the detail above), representing the new colors. Again – I was smitten.



After going through the Asian collection of mostly sculpture, Nicole asked if I was getting museum-ed out. I didn’t hesitate in answering, “Yes.” We looked at our watches and realized the joint was nearing closing time. We had been there almost 5 hours!



Let me be honest here. I adore Nicole. She is an amazing soul and I respect her to the nth degree. She’s also smart and fun, and those qualities count – a lot. I share this because I know going on an outing with her played a role in my reception of the day, but there was something more. And I’m not quite sure what that something was. I think this may have been the most inspiring art outing I’ve known. I got super-duper ideas for future projects. I chilled out about some of the mistakes I make in painting, when I saw very similar occurrences in the works of masters. Nicole and I talked through certain aspects of painting, and my brain was spinning in the best possible way. It really was a grand outing. And I’m so glad we went.



I now want to take Mister to the Norton Simon Museum and I encourage everyone to go, if you’re in or around Pasadena. Don’t be like me, y’all. Don’t let decades pass before heading over. It’s just too wonderful to wait.