Monday, July 22, 2013

The Astonishing Range of Chagall

Marc Chagall was born Moishe Segal into a Jewish family in Liozona, Belerus, while still part of the Russian Empire in 1887. At the time of his birth, half the population of his town was Jewish. Although picturesque, the city was built mostly of wood so little
of it survived the years of occupation & destruction during World War II. He was the eldest of nine children & his father, Khatskl Shagal, was employed by a herring merchant, while his mother, Feige-Ite, sold groceries from their home. Although poor, there was always enough food to eat & the family was close.

A turning point of his artistic life came when he noticed a fellow student drawing. Chagall would later say that there was no art of any kind in his family's home & the concept was totally alien to him. When Chagall asked the schoolmate how he learned to draw, his friend replied, "Go & find a book in the library, idiot, choose any picture you like & just copy it." He soon began copying images from books & found the experience so rewarding he then decided he wanted to become an artist.

"He had two basic reputations," writes Lewis, "as a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist. He experienced modernism's golden age in Paris, where he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism & Fauvism & the influence of Fauvism gave rise to Surrealism". Yet throughout these phases of his style "he remained most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native village of Vitebsk."

Years later, at the age of 57 while living in America, Chagall confirmed this when he published an open letter entitled, To My City Vitebsk: "Why? Why did I leave you many years ago? You thought, the boy seeks something, seeks such a special subtlety, that color descending like stars from the sky & landing, bright & transparent, like snow on our roofs. Where did he get it? How would it come to a boy like him? I don't know why he couldn't find it with us, in the city—in his homeland. Maybe the boy is "crazy" but "crazy" for the sake of art. ...You thought: "I can see, I am etched in the boy's heart, but he is still 'flying,' he is still striving to take off, he has 'wind' in his head." I did not live with you, but I didn't have one single painting that didn't breathe with your spirit and reflection.

Although he traveled the world creating set designs, cathedral windows & opera house ceilings,  a copius collection of treasured art displayed in museums & private collections around the world & experienced the horrors of Nazism & the premature death of his beloved wife, there remains a freshness & innocence to his work that creates, in me, infectious smiles & warmth.

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