I come to Paris to be reminded that art and love are one and the same. Both are driven by a desire for wholeness, creativity, truth, surprise. At the Centre Pompidou, I saw a Balthus that was just donated to the museum. I haven't seen a reproduction of it anywhere and, standing there, I felt that coming all the way to Paris was worth it just to see this one painting.
Art, like love, sometimes involves transgression. Balthus said, " I want to proclaim in broad daylight, with sincerity and feeling, all the throbbing tragedy of a drama of the flesh, proclaim vociferously, the deep-rooted laws of instinct." I learned to love Balthus as a student in Wayne Thiebaud's painting class in college. From the perspective of the painter looking at a Balthus, one quickly sees past the erotic elements and is struck by his masterful technique, a method based on years spent on one painting, using paints hand mixed each morning by his wife, Setsuko, references to the great figures in the history or art, and compositions so carefully structured that they have the grace of a bird in flight at the moment it passes between two branches of a tree. As I look at his paintings, I think that in our modern world, we have forgotten the beauty of the smallest gestures, bending over to dry a leg with a towel, reaching for a mirror or a comb, resting a hand on an armchair. Perhaps one of the most compelling or revealing things a woman can do is sit, lost in thought. Or, sit while lost in another's thoughts, through reading a book. In this painting, Balthus picks up this theme in golden hues, punctuated by 2 complementary colors, orange and blue. The book appears as a sort of light, the back of the chair mimics the delicate curve of a spoon. The white of this curve reappears on the girl's right foot, partially hidden and framed within a small shape. Her face turns slightly towards us as her eyes turn towards the book, the spine of the book is parallel to her arms, and Balthus positions her legs to create triangles that remind us of Raphael's compositions. The girl's nonchalance adds to her mystery. The bare surroundings bring attention to the folds of her skirt and the armchair. These folds suggest movement, and from there our imagination can travel wherever it wants, if her skirt were to move and reveal more. Still, she will always know more than we do. Only she knows the contents of the unnamed book and of her thoughts. We are under her spell, but can never reach her.
|new Balthus at the Pompidou, Paris|
A contemporary photographer doing interesting work based on Balthus's oeuvre is Hisaji Hara.
I also just learned that Balthus produced nearly 2000 polaroids at the end of his life. See this article: