Ryden for a Fall

Author: Kirsten K., Modern Art, Pop Culture, The Arts

I was first introduced to the artwork of Mark Ryden 20 years ago this month when My Crazy Friend Marianne™ attended The Meat Show at the Mendenhall Gallery and brought me back a copy of the companion book. I was completely captivated by his Pop Surrealist paintings of doe-eyed children and animals amid a bizarre jumble of vintage toys, flea market finds, and slabs of raw meat with macabre images hidden among the marbling.

Wanting to share this fortuitous find with Kirsti, I took the book with me to a Halloween party at her house and left it behind for her to peruse. The next day, I learned that one of the guests had laid the book on top of a lit candle, and the flame had burned a mark into the back cover and through several pages.

Kirsti offered to replace it, of course, but I declined, since the mark hadn’t appeared on any of the pictures. However, she more than made up for it years later by jumping through hoops to get me a signed copy of Ryden’s Anima Mundi.

Having become a fan herself, Kirsti attended the Blood exhibit at the Earl McGrath Gallery in 2003, where she saw the haunting image of “Rose,” with her large, woeful eyes and crimson tears. When the painting became available as a limited edition pendant, Kirsti got it for me as a gift, and while I occasionally wear the pendant during the year, I always pull it out each October to celebrate the season. Now it’s become as much a harbinger of Halloween as PSLs and pumpkin carving patterns.

Last year, Kirsti and I attended the Mark Ryden-designed Whipped Cream ballet with our friend Bryan, who later surprised and delighted each of us with a Lover’s Eye brooch. Featuring a likeness of the large, wandering eye that had been projected on one of the stage curtains, its graphic gaze has joined Rose’s blood-streaked face as one of my eerie embellishments during the month of October.

If you are new to the art of Mark Ryden, you’re in for a treat (no trick!). Each time I flip through one of my books or view his work online, I encounter something fresh and am amazed anew by his attention to detail and boundless imagination. Some themes may be disquieting, but they are always served up with a soothing palette and a healthy dose of whimsy. Every autumn I fall for them all over again.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Mark Ryden

 

The “Rose” pendant is no longer available for sale, but can be found on eBay and various online marketplaces. The Lover’s Eye brooch can be purchased from Porterhouse Fine Art Editions, along with special edition Mark Ryden books and merchandise.

 

Advertisements

Sisi Fuss

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Fine Art, History, The Arts

Kirsti and I have not written much for the blog this summer, and over the past month I haven’t felt like swooning over anything except the oppressive heat, but I’ve been roused today from my self-imposed sabbatical to commemorate, of all things, an assassination.

On September 10, 1898—120 years ago today—Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known familiarly as “Sisi” (i.e. sissy), was stabbed in the chest by a disgruntled anarchist (is there any other kind?) as she was about to board a steamship in Geneva, Switzerland. In the chaos of the attack, neither she nor her lady-in-waiting realized what had happened until Sisi collapsed and was carried aboard ship, where her tight corset laces, which had been stanching the flow of blood, were cut open to help her breathe…and that was all she wrote.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865.

Years ago, when I’d grown my hair below my waist and was in thrall to trailing tresses, I encountered a painting of Sisi by famed royal portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and developed an adult case of Princess Syndrome. In the painting, Sisi’s famously long, thick hair is unbound and flowing down her back while one creamy shoulder is exposed by the drape of a sumptuous gown. I was enchanted, and thus began my fascination with this complicated consort.

Sisi’s marriage to Franz Joseph I of Austria initially seemed like a fairytale. His mother had arranged for him to marry his cousin, Sisi’s older sister Helene, but when then-Princess Elisabeth joined Helene and their mother to meet the young Emperor for the first time, he only had eyes for Sisi. In a rare display of defiance against his domineering mother, Franz Joseph declared that he’d marry none but Elisabeth, and their betrothal was announced five days later.

This Winterhalter portrait from 1864 was Franz Joseph’s favorite painting of his wife.

The courtship and marriage were highly romanticized in the 1955 film Sissi,* but real life did not lead to a happily ever after. From the beginning, Sisi chafed at the strictures of court life, compounded by the open disdain of her overbearing mother-in-law, who took charge of raising Sisi’s two daughters and is rumored to have threatened her over not producing a male heir. By the time Sisi gave birth to a son, her first child had already died of illness, and she’d fallen into a depression that plagued her throughout her life.

Her misery manifested as a number of (likely) psychosomatic ailments and an obsession with weight and beauty involving extreme exercise and fasting regimens, daily cold showers, and hours spent brushing and styling her hair. But despite her neuroses and melancholy, Sisi was intelligent and curious, taking delight in defying convention and shocking those in her stifling milieu. She spoke several languages, was an avid reader, and had a passionate thirst for knowledge that led to wanderlust in her later years, but the death of her only son at the age of 30 in a murder-suicide with his mistress was the final blow from which she never emotionally recovered.

Winterhalter’s famous 1865 portrait of Sisi wearing crystal hair pins and a tulle gown covered with shimmering foil stars.

During her 44 years as Empress of Austria, Sisi found periods of solace by visiting Hungary, of which she was also queen through her marriage, and showed a clear preference for that country and its people. While this angered many Austrians, she remained a subject of fascination and was lauded for her charitable works and sympathy with the common man. When she was assassinated at age 60, Sisi was deeply mourned throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an area that continues to make a fuss over her to this day.

Kirsti traveled to Vienna a few years ago, where she visited the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Imperial Palace and scored me several choice items of “Sisiana,” including syrup and jelly, tea and truffles, and a beautiful reproduction of one of the crystal starburst hair pins that adorn Sisi’s coiffure in Winterhalter’s most famous portrait of her. I have also ordered Sisi-themed chocolates (surprisingly delicious) and sparkling wine from Austria that arrived on my doorstep faster than many orders I’ve placed in the U.S.

While I enjoy using these items and admiring Sisi’s portrait on my wall (a gift from my cousin), I try not to lose sight of an enduring lesson. The irony and tragedy of celebrating Sisi for her beauty is that she derived her self-worth from her looks, which were doomed to fade over time. And though it would be easy to dismiss her as a pampered, vain royal who cared only about her appearance and didn’t appreciate the good fortune her status afforded, her story is a reminder that beauty, money, and position are no protection against adversity and heartache.

After learning about the lady beyond the canvas, I no longer have Princess Syndrome. People from all walks of life can experience tragedy and self-doubt, and every woman should know that she’s valued for more than just physical attractiveness, her spouse, or a title. The freedom to pursue your own purpose is a privilege, and it turns out that marrying into royalty is not all it’s cracked up to be (I’m looking at you, Hallmark Channel!).

But I still really love that hair.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice in this post:

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

 

Sissi* chocolates and sparkling wine can be ordered online from Austrian Shop, but be aware that availability is often unreliable.

 

*Sisi’s nickname is often misspelled as Sissi is film, literature, the performing arts, retail, and various other areas.

Sisi might remind you of another beautiful and beloved princess whose unhappiness with her marriage, royal restrictions, and public scrutiny led to depression, low self-esteem, and an eating disorder, but also sparked a streak of defiance, an interest in philanthropic endeavors, and an affinity for the common people that led to an outpouring of grief upon her untimely death.

Franz Winterhalter also painted a famous portrait of another beautiful aristocrat with fabulous hair.

 

Touch-and-Go

Author: Kirsten K., Modern Art, Pop Culture, The Arts

Last week, as a follow-up to my ASMR post, I convinced my good friend Stephanie—who does not experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—to accompany me to the Pacific Design Center to view Julie Weitz’s Touch Museum at the Young Projects Gallery. Unsurprisingly for a weekday afternoon visit to an exhibit inspired by an obscure and recently identified phenomenon, it was a ghost town, but the artist was there to welcome us into the space. She allowed us to wander at our leisure through dark rooms (assuring us that our eyes would adjust) in which video screens displayed scenes ranging from hands caked in cracking mud to scissors cutting through netted fabric. All the while, beautiful and slightly eerie music by Los Angeles composer Deru filled the air.

Touch-and-Go 1

I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t “get” modern art. In 2000, Kirsti dragged me to a Paul McCarthy exhibit at MOCA and I still haven’t forgiven her. But as I walked through the Touch Museum, I began to understand what Julie was up to. My first clue came while watching a scene in which a pair of muddy hands runs over a length of metal chain. I instantly felt the sensation in my palms. Observing a video of hands caressing sculpted heads and being able to feel every groove of the carved hair under my own fingers, I experienced how this exhibit—comprised of little that is tangible beyond a series of two-dimensional screens—is, in fact, ALL about touch.

Touch-and-Go 2

Since feeling physical sensations in response to observing touch is not unusual for me, I didn’t think much of it until I consulted Stephanie about her experience. Looking at another video of hands running down a curtain of hanging chains, I asked her what she felt. She said that she had an impression of cold, but that was it. “You don’t feel the chains in your hands?” I asked. “No.” As an adult of a certain age, I’m still brought up short when presented with how differently we all experience the world. We tend to assume that most people see and feel things in the same way that we do, so it’s a surprise to suddenly realize that something we’ve taken for granted our entire lives may not be the norm. As we watched a video of mannequin hands petting a wig of thick, wavy hair, the sensation of the strands passing through my fingers was strong, but Stephanie felt nothing.

Touch-and-Go 3

After walking through the exhibit, we entered a room with pillows on the floor and two headsets facing a screen showing an ASMR video that Julie created for her YouTube channel. Stephanie and I sat down and put on our headphones to watch, but there were a couple of people talking loudly in the hallway outside the gallery and I wasn’t able to get into the relaxed mode necessary for me to experience the tingles of ASMR. I caught the barest sense of them from listening to Julie’s soft voice, but the video contained images of a model brain with long pins sticking out of it, so I felt the uncomfortable sensation of having my skull poked with hatpins—not conducive to producing tingles.

Touch-and-Go 4

Julie mentioned that she is interested in the work of Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist specializing in behavioral neurology whom I happened to write to in 2012 about my experience with synesthesia. She is drawn to his studies of mirror neurons and how they relate to empathy, dovetailing with her art and the way in which observing images and actions can evoke a physical response.

If you don’t experience ASMR, I’m not sure that this exhibit will have much to offer you, other than some boldly-colored images and atmospheric music. I myself did not get any tingles as I watched the videos, despite feeling the physical sensation of touch. But to those on the leading edge of this movement, which is still in its infancy, it presents a doorway to fresh avenues of inquiry and a new way to experience art. As a number of people who signed the guest book expressed in one way or another, “I was touched.”

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Julie Weitz’s Touch Museum

 

The Touch Museum will be on view at the Young Projects Gallery in Los Angeles through February 22nd. All photographs in this post from the Julie Weitz Touch Museum.