Art & Fashion: 31 posts

Postcard from Brussels : Flemish Chiaroscuro

Among the things I missed the most during the lockdown was going to a museum. The soft light in the exhibition halls, the scent of wood polish, and the silence add as much to my experience of the museums as the art itself–and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels has plenty of it to admire. So when the restrictions were lifted, I headed to the museum and stood in front of my favorite paintings, greeting them like old friends. It was reassuring, a reminder that despite it all beauty will claim its own space.

The reason I feel this way rather acutely at museums is because they are testaments to historical events and traumas. Positioned though they are as shrines to art, wars, conquests, and colonialism have had their role to play in the riches that famous museums exhibit. It’s enough to make one ambivalent about the whole enterprise, and yet I still like museums. I still feel comforted by their ambiance. Art still inspires me to think differently, to push my boundaries, and to seek something new. The awakening of our curiosity is one of the greatest values of art, and deriving pleasure from finding things out is part of happiness as I see it.

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Crafts as Cure

In Ukraine, there is an old tradition of embroidering a rushnyk, a hand towel, during dark periods of one’s life. It matters less what’s embroidered than the process of doing so. Once the rushnyk is done, it’s tied to a tree branch and allowed to decay. This way, people say, one’s worries and dark thoughts become scattered.

I don’t know if my great-grandmother Asya followed this tradition consciously–at any rate, she was far too practical to hang perfectly good fabric in the garden, but she wove her own cloth and embroidered. Even the most ubiquitous items in the house like newspaper holders and bread bags were embellished. Her most beautiful embroideries, however, weren’t meant to be seen. They were her undergarments.

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How a French Perfume Company Influenced Ukrainian Embroideries

One of the most quintessentially Ukrainian embroideries is called rushnyk (pl, rushnyky), richly decorated hand towels that accompany a person from birth to death. In two videos that I recorded, I would like to show you rushnyky embroidered by my great-great grandmother. I discovered them by accident when I was cleaning out our shed and spotted a large chest hidden under old rugs. The drawers were jammed, but I persevered and opened them only to discover decaying paper and mouse droppings. I rummaged in it–no, I’m not even one bit squeamish–and I found the embroideries. I cleaned and restored them and it’s a pleasure to share them with you.

My great-great grandmother Pasha wove the cloth on a hand-loom, and she then decorated it. These embroideries are at least 70 years old, and yet they are remarkably resilient.

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Victor Horta and Art Nouveau in Brussels

I have many reasons to love Brussels, and the Art Nouveau architecture is one of them. You can stroll through the city and come across the most beautiful examples of this imaginative art style. Such wealth is not surprising, because Art Nouveau was set into motion by the Belgian architect Victor Horta and he’s considered one of the main founders of the movement. Horta was born on this day in 1861. Using novel glass and ironwork techniques and new materials, Horta created the look that defined Art Nouveau–swaying lines, Japanese inspired motifs, whimsical structures and warm light.

Some of his notable works in Brussels included the Maison du Peuple in Brussels, (1895-1900); The Centre for Fine Arts (1923-1929), and the Brussels Central Station (1913-1952). Alas, the Maison du Peuple was demolished in 1965 during the same craze for Brutalism that left Brussels and other European cities with many eyesores.

One of my favorite buildings by Horta is the Hôtel Tassel (1893), its beautiful staircase is captured in the image above. Since it’s privately owned, it’s difficult to visit, but Horta’s house is now the Museum of Victor Horta and it gives you a good sense of his style. If you’re in Brussels, don’t miss the chance to marvel at the architect’s fantasy and ingenuity.

How would you scent the place in the photograph? 

What Does Rembrandt’s Chiaroscuro Smell Like?

Her golden hair, her pearly skin, and her melancholy face emerge out of the shadows. Bathsheba, an Old Testament heroine desired by King David enough to conspire the murder of her husband, has been painted by many artists, but few have rendered her beauty and her story with as much nuance as did Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.  As Rembrandt’s Bathsheba holds the fateful letter from David summoning her, she is torn between the loyalty towards her spouse and the need to obey king’s command. The duality pervades the entire work, from the subject’s moral dilemma to the drama of the light and shadows.

Born in 1606, Rembrandt remains the emblematic figure of the 17th century Dutch Baroque, and his remarkable use of light continues to beguile. As this year marks the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death, museums around the world stage exhibits devoted to his works. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam presents his paintings alongside other Dutch and Spanish masters such as Diego Velázquez, Frans Hals, and Francisco Zurbarán.  The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London focuses on his masterful use of chiaroscuro, highlighting the theatrical effects of the Baroque style.

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