The Best(a) of Bestrizal: Mother Nature (Review)

‘Almost Paradise’, 2018, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas (H250 cm x W200cm)

Bestrizal Besta was born in 1973, in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. He made Yogyakarta his home and can be found in this city where he lives and works. I was acquainted with Besta’s art in 2018 at Art Stage Singapore where he was represented by Art Porters Gallery. Hanging in this gallery’s booth, at the entrance, is a substantially large monochromatic canvas with a burst of colour that led my eye to a human face — a smiling female child framed by a bouquet of colourful flowers. She is perched on a suggested make-belief swing made of leafy tendrils, her feet crossed elegantly and both hands clutching a spray of orange flowers and she is beaming. She is accompanied by a parrot and surrounded by flora and fauna, thick and lucious. A mouse deer peers at us, a rabbit peers at the mouse deer and we peer into a busy canvas covered corner to corner by monochromatic prints of flowers, plants, leaves, petals… and then the eye spots a leopard. I stood staring at this gigantic canvas, ‘Almost Paradise’, 2018, (H250 cm x W200cm), for several minutes and drank in its wonder. I let it quench my imagination while I studied the patterns on the leaves, on the girl. Peering closer, I caught sight of a feathery down that covered the girl’s legs – follicles of hair so lovingly and intricately added to embellish the subject. This is beyond Realism. I was in Art Heaven because being up this close and seeing such intricate details made with charcoal sent electric shivers down my spine. An apt title for such a mesmerising artwork, I thought. I was not the only who thought this way. The piece was finally sold but art lovers would drop in for a chat about this eye-catching rendition of what Paradise could be. For a dazzling half day at Art Stage, I found my Paradise. 

Bestrizal Besta is known for his large canvases of hyper-realist compositions, intricate in detail and surrealist by presentation. His works are photographic by nature, hence the term hyper-realism used as a descriptor of his oeuvre. In reality, Besta is a Surrealist: his works are often realistic but dream-like, centring on this world and bordering on one that is other-worldly. 

However, I am not one who is fond of labels. To say Besta is a Surrealist would put emphasis on Surrealism and detract from the fact that he is really a Hyper-realist. But to say that he is a Hyper-realist would veer away from the oft challenging definition of Surrealism and the representation of Besta’s unconscious mind.

Surrealists were artistes who sought to find ways through art, literature and film to channel the unconscious in order to unlock its power to find an unfettered expression of thought. André Breton, René Magritte, Joan Miró and Salvatore Dali were Surrealists.  Surrealism took off in visual art due to artists like Magritte and Dali, who were categorically Surrealists. Surrealist motifs differed from artist to artist and exactly what constitutes Surrealism is difficult to define – like a dream, we can’t quite put our finger on what it is. Yet, we know as viewers that the bending clock in Dali’s work is not real, psychologically, we know that it is an image from a dream. Similarly, we know that Miró’s fantastical depiction of space with biomorphic shapes, representing human beings on canvas is also not real, it is surreal. Magritte’s work also tells us that his imageries are from the land of dreams or from the unconscious because there is something quite unusual, rather disturbing in his pieces. However, we know that these artists are definitely not Hyper-realists, though. 

Hyper-realists are artists whose keen eye for detail and realism mark them out from the rest. But be careful for they are not Realists because the eye sees a different style in Realism. Realism is an art movement that sought to depict real life with truth and accuracy; Realist art is detailed but not photographic, they are paintings and they are unmistakably so. There is nothing pretty about Realism, to tell the truth. Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet are Realists. What of Hyper-realism? Hyper-realism was developed since the 1970s and are artworks of images that resemble high-resolution photographs but rendered in mediums often associated with paintings. This is where Bestrizal Besta gets drumrolls.

‘Mother Nature #1’, 2018, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, H80cm x W180cm

Besta, to my eye, is a Hyper-Realist. A quick glance at his canvases will train the eye to notice that his human figures are realistically detailed. They resemble photographic images of somebody we are familiar with. That his works are dream-like, it is true. That they are surreal, that is true too. So, yes, he can be called a Surrealist.

Labels are but categories for better understanding of concepts. In art, better understanding comes from looking. Let’s take a close look at ‘Mother Nature #1’, 2018 (charcoal and acrylic on canvas, H80cm x W180cm), for example. A girl, somebody from a lost world, gazes out, she is holding a doll in one hand, with the other, she clasps a branch. Nature engulfs her. In fact, nature takes up two-thirds of this canvas, with only a sliver of sky topping a mountain chain. The leaves are intricately sketched as we follow their meandering journeys; the animals playing hide and seek in the thick foliage beckons us to find them. These life-forms are so hyper-realistically depicted that I feel the leaves growing and winding their way through the thicket; I hear the sounds of animals as they move through the jungle; I smell the silage of the damp earth. This piece is similar to Besta’s many other pieces – a human figure engulfed by nature seems to be the theme in all his works. Through detailed patterns of flora and fauna, Besta tells the story of how wonderful life would be if we were all to live harmoniously with(in) Nature. Nature is good, he says. So, it is not about being engulfed by Nature but about co-existing as one with a naturally eternal Female force. This is where the artist as dreamer steps into the canvas. It is Besta’s dream that we all co-exist with Nature. He expresses his dream and observation of Nature, unfettered, through the medium of charcoal. Now, we can see why critics have called him a Surrealist. 

Besta expresses what his psyche really thinks about Nature and this is reflected in the exhibition’s title — Mother Nature — which underscores the power of the Feminine. Nature is the giver of Life — our Mother. But Besta goes one step further and tells us that “We are not born of Mother Nature”, “we are Mother Nature” he asserts. There is something so curative about this knowlege. Resistance is futile was the message that I took away from this exhibition. The best way to live is to be one with Nature. I succumbed to this adage as I immersed myself in these monochromatic canvases, meditating on Life and the human condition. I asked the Goddess to envelope me in her soothing balm which only Nature can provide. 

Mother Nature, Art Porters Gallery from 24th April to 30th June, 2019. 


Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch by William Doreski

The forest creeps a little closer

to overhear my phone calls

and learn if I think the sky

will fall in pieces or as one

gigantic plastic membrane.

The trees have reason to worry.

 

Their plumes of foliage droop

in a toxic atmosphere no one

should breathe unless depicted

by Hieronymus Bosch. You agree

that we should fly to Holland

to enjoy the Bosch exhibit,

 

but your passport has expired

and you won’t be photographed

for a new one because you look 

too old and tired to travel.

The forest nods as we converse.

Crows spackle the windy glare.

 

Chickadees percolate at feeders.

I want to hang up on you

and recover the youth wasted

on being young. The city

you haunt looms taller than hills

in Kansas or Wisconsin.

 

Its lights bleed the night sky pallid.

Its bridges knit together worlds

that don’t really love each other.

Hearing your voice originate

two hundred miles southwest

of me generates sensations

 

trees would mistake for beavers

gnawing at their trunks. I wave

to the crows, the windy treetops,

the bobcat who daily prowls

for mice that gather seed-scraps

beneath the feeders. You note

 

how distracted I seem. The trees

agree that the sky will fall soon,

but I can’t speak loudly enough

to assure them that such collapse

will only slightly mar the cosmos

and leave most of the stars intact. 

 

About the Poet: 

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.

Eva’s Comments

About the Painter:

Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus van Aken (or Jeroen Anthonissen van Aken) to a family of painters going back six generations. He was born so long ago that there are gaps in his biography, for example, we still don’t know what year he was born although it is generally thought to be 1450. His pseudonym, Bosch (pronounced Boss is Dutch), is derived from ’s-Hertogenbosch, a city in Brabant, Holland, in which his ancestors settled, as recorded. 

How did we come to ascertain his age? 

In Art History, provenance is an important element as are data on the artists. In dating works of art, curators and art historians have to consult primary documents for accuracy. 

We have found that The Garden of Earthly Delight was owned by the House of Nassau before it came into the ownership of Phillip II of Spain. This was from researching documents of ownership, deeds and wills. 

We also know that in Bosch’s Netherlands, the legal age for independent signatures on documents, such as housing deeds, is twenty-four years. Art Historians worked backwards to identify the year of his birth (1450) through a deed, dated 5 April 1474, of a sale of a property that belonged to Katharina van Aken, Hieronymus’s sister. Hieronymus was a witness, as was his brothers Goessen and Jan, along with their father, during this sale. On the deed, Hieronymus’s signature was found next to his father’s, indicating that he was not yet twenty-four.

Through conjecture and some laborious corroboration of data surrounding Bosch’s life, it is thought that he was married to Aleid van de Meervenne between 31 July 1477 and 14 June 1481. It would look like his wife, Aleid, was very much older than him, although the difference in ages would be an exaggeration. [In other documents, her name appears as Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen.] We know that they moved to the town of Oirschot, soon after, where she inherited a house and land from her family.

Bosch was a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, an ultra-conservative religious group, which his parents and grandparents had belonged to as well. Members would meet in the chapel of St John’s church in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Again, we know this from records which stated that Bosch was admitted as an ordinary member in 1486/87; his name “Jheronimus, son of Anthonis van Aken” is found along with the other 350 members from the Low Countries and Germany. This membership indicates that Bosch came from a society that is well networked and that he belonged to a significantly important family. It was also noted, only a year after joining as an ordinary member, that he became a sworn member, with his name “Jeroen the painter” appearing in the margin of a document listing the nine sworn brothers who attended an important banquet—Swan Banquet—during Christmas time. All this tells us that Bosch was by that time, identified as a painter and that he was regarded highly enough to be sworn in as a member of this prestigious club. 

Disaster would strike in 1516. An epidemic struck ’s-Hertogenbosch in summer that year. Victims died of symptoms likened to cholera and Bosch would be one of the many struck dead. The exact date of his birth is not recorded but documents showing a requiem mass being held for “Jeronimus van Aken painter” on 9 August 1516 in the Brotherhood’s chapel at St John’s church was found. The requiem mass was held with dignity by Dean Willem Hamaker, assisted by several deacons with music provided by an organist and choir. As there were gravediggers present, this suggested that the requiem was a funeral mass, indicating that Bosch must have passed a few days earlier. There is no known marked grave for “Jeronimus van Aken painter, sworn brother”, but it would not be uncommon for him to be buried in the church courtyard. 

About the Artwork:

This remains my favourite piece by Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights, owned by Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1939, is a piece of surrealist art, painted at a time that Surrealism had yet to be invented. In this way, Bosch can be said to be a forerunner and he is often paralleled with Salvador Dali. Do note that this oil painting on wood is not classified as a Surrealist piece but as Christian art due mainly to two other panels flanking this piece. 

This triptych was painted when Bosch was between 40 – 60 years old and has been critiqued for its subject matter which still defies comprehension. Could the fleshy display be an admonishment of society’s loose mores? Could this piece be an expression of sexual jouissance or the desire for it? Was this a warning of what could happen when one gives in to the sins of the flesh? Was Bosch attempting to warn viewers of the impending end-of-days that await us? Like his birthday, there is a shroud of mystery surrounding the interpretation of The Garden of Earthly Delights which is the triptych’s modern title.

The Garden of Earthly Delights forms the central piece and the title of this triptych. It is flanked by a panel on each side and meant to be read or viewed from left to right, with the left panel showing the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve as central protagonists, and the right panel depicting carnage and darkness. When the triptych is closed, a scene of God creating the Earth is seen; this is depicted in grisaille (greyish colour-tones). The right panel depicts a scene from Hell, where the end-of-days has occurred, as indicated by the fires and the strange human capsule containing what looks like a tavern; this is the panel’s central focus as this surreal and strange man-tree is the first thing our eye is drawn to. What this represents is open to interpretation. Triptychs have been very popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, arising from early Christian art and was the popular standard form for altar paintings. It is not known if The Garden of Earthly Delights was meant for the altar of a church, given the composition. But many triptychs formed an important visual narrative for meditation and prayer, with the central panel being the biggest, all linked by a similar theme—usually Christian—in European art. Some triptychs are small enough to be portable and these would accompany the devout as travelling altars. Some art historians have said that The Garden of Earthly Delight was probably commissioned by a lay patron. 

Concentrating on the composition in the central panel (220 × 195 cm, 87 × 77 in) of Bosch’s piece, the beholder’s senses are assuaged with weird and wonderful creatures, nude human figures, some with strange objects attached to their nether regions. We are aware that Bosch has created a world in this oil painting, what would seem to be a futuristic sci-fi world. Walter Gibson, an art historian, has called it “a world of dreams [and] and nightmares in which forms flicker and change before our eyes.” The eye spies a giant mollusc that has swallowed a couple in coitus, it would seem; the mollusc is carried by someone bent double due to its weight. Then, there are the pink and blue hybrid monuments that represent buildings, maybe mountains with a life of their own that seem so out of place in 15th and 16th-century European landscapes. What intrigue me are the gigantic birds that are recognisably modern and real juxtaposed against fantastic animals fashioned purely from the imagination. It is for this reason that Bosch has been called “the inventor of monsters and chimeras”. My eye catches a couple in glass or perspex (which is highly unlikely, given its period, but the sphere does look somewhat made of plastic) globe which is attached to a stem, the globe representing the flower, if that’s the idea. The theme of entrapment becomes obvious as I spy more nude figures enclosed in transparent and organic vessels and/or cylinders. There’s a mouse in a transparent cylinder staring at someone who is inside a red fruit. There is also a lady with a pair of cherries above her head, cherries signifying sin, as some sources have said. It is not difficult to see the signs and symbols of debauchery, sin and temptation strewn all over this oil painting. 

It is a busy painting, to say the least. And there are just so many interpretations that one can make of it. The Garden of Earthly Delights needs several visitings before any sense can be made of its bizarre nature. Christian themes and symbolisms bookend this panel, they are also rife in the central piece, even though the composition may seem to detract from them. To do justice to this triptych, each panel has to be studied intensely and carefully as each is a separate narrative. Psychoanalytic readings of this triptych are popular but some art historians have rejected this 20th century perspective since the concept of the libido and subconscious were viewed differently in the Middle Ages. What this indicates is how art is viewed and perceived: art is read through a personal, social and cultural lens. More significantly, context is also everything when we perceive art. I find a psychoanalytic reading of the painting to be most interesting, myself, as my mind wanders through the dream-like landscape of the central piece, wondering if this a visual expression of Bosch’s unravelling unconscious. 

Hieronymus Bosch passed away in 1516 as records show. His personality remains veiled in mystery as are his life and training as an artist. We do not know the exact number of his surviving works and there have also been debates around certain attribution: we don’t really know if some of the works said to be his are his or copies. However, according to a Wikipedia entry, 25 pieces remain that are genuinely attributed to Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delight is one. This triptych was purchased by Phillip II of Spain (1 May 1527 – 13 September 1598) in an auction in 1591, and the reason for it being in the ownership of the Museo del Prado. 

Doreski’s poem is as surreal as the painting, in my view, although the poem depicts an experience far more realistic than the triptych. Like Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, ‘Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch’ needs several readings for a relatable meaning to emerge. I’m on my fifth and the poem with its run-on lines is fast embedding itself in my mind. I sense loss and recovery.

Bosch, Hieronymus, The Garden of Earthly Delight (between 1490 and 1510), oil on oak panels, Museo del Prado. 

FREE FALL IN BLUE: AN ICARUS TRYPTYCH (
After Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Man) – by Kim Peter Kovac

Chagall and Brueghel stroll
lower Manhattan’s narrow streets
speaking of shades of blue in skies and wings
when the urban hustle is halted cold
by a plane flying into a tower, igniting
the day branded forever as “nine-eleven”. 

They watch the flames and smoke,
second plane breaching south tower,
debris falling from a thousand feet,
then audibly gasp when they realize
what they thought of as debris
includes humans, alive in free fall.

The count would never be exact—
8? 18? 132? 200?—jumped
from above the tower’s flaming gash,
escaping (right word?) being crushed
in the collapse; perhaps lucky (right word?)
to have been so close to the sun.

The next morning, over coffee in midtown
the disarticulate artists analyze a photo
in the paper, an image of a man
facing straight down, leg cocked, arms flared
slightly, posture almost in repose,
in the midst of his ten-second flight

with white tunic still in place, graceful,
embracing his fate, a vertical dive
framed against the vertical stripes
of the towers; curiously more artistic
than journalistic: a man frozen and still,
yet actually moving at one-fifty per.

After Chagall and Brueghel process
their reactions, they begin to study
this iconic image, an Icarus
so like theirs.  They ask for refills
and sketch on napkins refinements
for newly limning the boy with wings.   

They study the falling-man photo
and scour memories of each other’s
paintings, knowing that a camera
is no more truthful than a brush;
in the right hands each sculpts
a specific and edited moment.

Bare leg splashing in a pastoral ocean,
blue wings flailing over a village,
a human arrow with high-tops still on:
an Icarus triptych falling through blue,
each image indelibly searing
the eyes of those who remain. 

 

About the Poet: 

Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking.  He tells stories on stages as producer of new plays, and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, haibun, and microfiction, with work appearing or forthcoming in print and online in journals from Australia, India, Dubai (UAE), England, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA.

Eva’s Comments:

Kim Peter Kovac’s poem, inspired by three images — Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Manspeaks of a day that the world has come to know and remember as 9/11. 

In this issue of CarpeArte Journal, we would like to take the time to remember the fallen victims of this tragic event. 

Kovac submitted his work, ‘After Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Man’, along with three images that form the title of his poem. In picking Chagall, the editors at CarpeArte felt it to be the best segue into the poem, although the poem has been inspired by three images, all to do with a falling man. Kovac’s piece is a great example of how our psyches are affected and influenced by the pictures we see around us. It testifies to the power of the image. 

Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985) was a Russian Jewish painter, born in Vitebsk, in today’s Belarus. When he was born, Belarus was part of the Russian Empire. Named as Moishe Shagal, he later changed his name to Marc Chagall upon arriving in Paris in 1910. There, he met other Russian emigre painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Chaim Soutine and Ossip Zadkine. It could be down to these like-minded friends that Chagall made up his mind to stay in Paris because when he first arrived, he did not like the fast-paced metropolitan life of the city. He felt displaced in Paris for many reasons but he would return there again and finally find roots in France. As an expatriate, I understand what being displaced can do to one’s psyche and how it can lead to one’s search for rootedness.

In the years between 1914 and 1922, Chagall returned to Vitebsk and was forced to remain there to wait out the First World War. Chagall did find a place in Paris and he did become a major influencer in the art world—the Surrealism Movement—although he never considered himself a surrealist. ‘The Fall of Icarus’ is considered a Surrealist work due to its dream-like ambiane and imagery. In psychoanalysis, the act or fear of falling is associated with anxiety and with dis-ease. Chagall’s life would testify to these states of unease. As a writer, I understand how creation can come from the depths of our traumatised psyches and unconscious processing in order to free the mind from pain.

Vitebsk, where he was born and raised, is predominantly a Jewish shtetl or ghetto where Russian Jews were confined. Marked by his beliefs and life in the shtetl, Chagall’s first paintings in Paris were of his experiences living in Vitebsk. They were also influenced by the Old Masters whose works he’d have seen at the museums as well as by his contemporaries’ who were Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Robert Delauney. Viewers will notice that some of Chagall’s works are recognisably Cubist and Impressionistic in styles. But he didn’t take well to these Movements in art. He preferred the freer form of art creation that could be called Expressionism and Symbolism, what Guillaume Apollinaire called “supernatural” and then later, “surreal”. 

It can be said that Chagall was always a painter willing to learn from others of his time and those who came before him. In Russia, his works, although still remaining Cubist and Impressionistic in forms, were influenced too by Michail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova whose works are categorised under the Rayonism Movement.  Later, he would also be influenced by the Suprematists, like Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky whom he met when he was Director of the Vitebsk Academy of Art.

Always refusing to be categorised and remaining an advocate of the free experimentation and creation of art, Chagall’s oeuvre is expansive. I admire him for his tenacity and his audacity which carried him through his life’s journeys from Russia, to Western and Eastern Europe to the United States of America and finally back to Western Europe, again, where he left this world. From being apolitical and just painting for the sake of creating art, he took to art as an expression and commentary of his political ideas, forced by the anti-Semitic attitudes of the current religio-political climate he lived in: he depicted the pain and sadness felt by his people, he condemned the Bolshevik revolution and he brought light to the connections between Judaism and Christianity in a seminal work, ‘White Crucifixion’, which questioned and condemned the absurdity of selective persecution and the inanity of war.  

In more ways than one, Chagall led a traumatic life. In America, he would lose his wife and muse of 29 years, Bella Rosenfeld-Chagall, to a viral infection, in 1944. Saddened by this huge loss, he would stop painting for a whole year while he grappled with the void in his life. (Their marriage, initially opposed by Bella’s parents due to Chagall’s lack of financial means, was studded with uncertainty and hardship, as well as, joy amidst sacrifices. It was at the birth of Ida Chagall, the couple’s daughter, that Marc Chagall found reconciliation with his in-laws.) It was not until he met Virginia Haggard McNeill that his creative juices flowed again. Returning to Paris in 1946, Chagall continued to work on a piece, ‘The Falling Angel’ which he had started in 1923, finally completing it in 1947. This piece of work can be read as one that was conceived in the psyche of the artist since his emigration from the Soviet Union, which remained latent in his unconscious, until it was time for the images to be resurfaced in a more mature phase of his life. At this point, Chagall was already 60 and he yearned for a quieter life. It seemed that finishing ‘The Fallen Angel’ brought a sense of catharsis signified by his yearning for tranquillity. He moved to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, in 1950, where he continued to paint. 

At this point, his relationship with Virginia McNeill took a turn for the worst and she left him in 1952. Chagall must’ve felt such a sense of abandonment at this point but he didn’t take long to find another companion in Valentina Brodsky, whom he lovingly christened Vava. 

Vava had a forceful and sinister presence in Chagall’s life. A former Jew, she converted to Christianity and was adamant that Chagall did the same. He was amused at her attempts at converting him but remained stoically Jewish, and since he was never really a devout Jew in the first place, any attempts to Christianise him was taken with a pinch of salt; he also defied the portrayal of living creatures visually, something never done by the Jewish Orthodox, by always inserting a cow and/or other animals in his works from the moment he started painting, since his earlier works depicted the daily lives of the people in Vitebsk. It must be said that his Jewish identity cannot be missed visually since he often inserted Judaic imagery and symbolisms mixed with Christian ones in his later works. It can be said that by this point, Chagall had stopped being actively political,  yet he would still insert Judaic symbolisms and live creatures in the most unlikely of places where he was commissioned to work—the ceiling of the Paris Opera (1963) is one example and the images of animals in a stained glass window for the synagogue of the Hadassh-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem (1960-62) is another. 

The image of angels suspended upside down in mid-air has come to represent many of Chagall’s works, just have cows and donkeys. In ‘The Falling Angel’ (La Chute de l’angle), viewers will see the central figure of an angel falling head first, with one eye gazing out at us. Superimposed onto the feathers of his wing is a mother-child duo—the mother holds the child in a tight embrace. Other figures are found—a man holding a scroll, symbolising a rabbi and the Torah, a crucified Christ, are examples. There is a lone candle, a fiddle and a cow. There are again rooftops and houses which are consistent features in many of his works. 

In ‘The Fall of Icarus’, we see again this angel free falling head first. This time, the red hues are used to depict the people on the land, many of whom have arms opened wide, as if to receive this falling angel. Those familiar with this Greek myth will know that Icarus flew too near the sun melting his wax wings plummeting to his death; the story is also the story of a genius, Daedalus, who lived in regret for having caused the death of his son, Icarus. There is a dream-like quality to this oil on canvas, so it is understandably accurate to say that this is a surrealist piece. This was painted 10 years before Chagall died. During this time, he was living in Vence, France. He has continued to paint even at this mature age but at this point, his works have given way to mythology and fantasy. The use of Icarus as the main character or protagonist in this piece is multi-layered. The myth of Icarus symbolises hubris, shame, lust, regret and ingenuity gone wrong. Estranged from his daughter, Ida, Chagall could be expressing his regret, shame, lust and hubris in this iconic work. 

Marc Chagall passed away in 1985 in St Paul, Vence. Having never converted to Christianity and remaining a fervent adherent of Judaism until his death, Vava had him buried in a Catholic cemetery, his grave marked by a gravestone in the shape of the cross. Ida Chagall, who attended her father’s funeral, insisted on the Kaddish, the mourning prayer, being read at the end of the ceremony. In a surreal and uncanny way, Chagall’s death was marked by the insertion of Judaic and Christian symbolisms, much like his works of art were. 

Chagall, Marc (1975), The Fall of Icarus, Oil on Canvas, 213 x 198 cm (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.)

Case Closed by Karen Schauber

Tiptoeing

Marcia takes care not to step on the cracks when she walks down the sidewalk. The marmots are abundant along the riverside of MacArthur Island, in Kamloops…..and they’re not too shy! Walking quietly and carefully with one’s heels raised and one’s weight on the balls of the feet is the least one should do.

Whispering

Marcia carefully avoids discussing difficult or sensitive subjects. Elephants have good hearing, detecting sounds as low as 14 to 16 Hz (human low range: 20 Hz) and as high as 12,000 Hz (human high range: 20,000). Whispering a message through broken telephone is the polite thing to do

Hiding

Marcia does not turn on the lights in her apartment at night. Ants are social insects, so when one ant enters your home, others follow. Marcia hears the footsteps of armies marching. She buys plush carpet.

Blending

Marcia likes to wear high-contrast and bright coloured clothing. The bat faced toad found among the leaves of Amacayacu National Park in Colombia is masterful at blending into its surroundings. Marcia has a playful side and is not trying to make life difficult.

….

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.

 

About the author:

Karen Schauber is a seasoned Family Therapist practising in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her earlier writing is non-fiction and details three decades of psychosocial and analytical cases. Flash Fiction is a new and welcome adventure for her. Fictional short stories are much more fun to read and write! As an emerging artist, Karen hones her craft at home and at the dog beach on the Pacific coast (when it’s not pouring out).

Karen’s flash fiction can be read at Rebel Shorts, SpillWords, AdHoc Fiction, Down in the Dirt, Blood Puddles: An Anthology, CafeLit, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Yellow Mama, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Wilderness House Literary Review, Postcard Shorts, and forthcoming at CarpeArte, Stereo Stories, and Ariel Chart. The upcoming Group of Seven Flash Fiction Anthology celebrating the Canadian Modernist Landscape Painters is her first editorial/curatorial flash venture.

Eva’s Comments:

Surrealism is an art movement which was influenced by psychoanalysis and grew out of the Dada Movement. Dadaists like Giorgio de Chirico aimed to perturb the conservative middle-classes through artworks that have bizarre, naive (or primitive) and fantastical imagery and themes. Surrealist artists believed that the unconscious can be unlocked allowing the free flow of the imagination and imagination is seldom realistic, more often twisted, whimsical and inventive. They held a strong belief that the mind when repressed blocked the flow of the imagination which then impeded the unconscious from revealing innate and authentic emotions. 

Karl Marx was an influential figure in this movement as artists sought to let their psyches aid in spurring on revolutions; Surrealism was as much a response to the horror of the First World War as it is a voice speaking out against tyranny. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was also influential. Freud’s book, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ (1899) provided a theoretical framework for Surrealism. These artists did away with rationalism and literal realism in favour of mysticism, mythology and a form of primitivism that harks back to an idyllic past evoking a sense of nostalgia. [I tend to think that Surrealists are looking for a past that is far from innocent but one that is strewn with anarchy based on the belief that repression is a result of the process of the civilisation of society.] There is a dream-like quality in Surrealist art and imagery plays a big part in the recurring motifs found in such works. For example, birds, ants and butterflies are often found and can be symbolic of many things, if one were to apply a symbolic reading of the art. 

Surrealism was not confined to art, as in paintings, alone. The movement extended to film, theatre, photography and writing. André Breton, a Franco-Amerian writer poet and philosopher, focused on the idea that one’s verbal expression in the form of the written word is an automatic process which stemmed from one’s unconscious. Verbal expression is a function of thought, according to Breton. Verbal expression can be expressed through the written word and Breton believed that writers (and artists) have to let go of conscious, rational thought to give way to what he calls automatic writing in order to express themselves authentically. 

About the Artist

Christian Schloe is an artist from Austria, famous for his surreal digital artwork. Schloe’s artwork which prompted Karen Schauber’s Flash piece is a good example of Surrealist art. Here, the recurring motif of the butterfly acts as both mask and metaphor in this pseudo-Victorian image. There is that dream-like element mentioned above which this piece of work exudes; the image is both dark and ephemeral while evoking a sense of nostalgia for an idyllic past and landscape. It is difficult to place one’s finger on the time period in which this digital image is set. Judging from the dress of the “sitter”, one knows that the time period is not a contemporaneous one yet, there is a certain modernity about the piece which contradicts the suggested old-worldliness of this particular art piece. Isn’t this the stuff of dreams? 

‘Case Closed’ has certain surrealist elements to it and comes across like the description of a dream; yet, there is a quality of realism/reality to it. There is also a poetic structure to its form; each story segment begins with a title, compartmentalising the story into bite-size portions with Marcia as the pivotal prima ballerina/ primadonna in the story. In just a little over 200 words, Schauber has successfully conveyed the unique quality of what makes us individuals in this vast human world. 

 

Afterglow by Glen Donaldson

It was an after-dinner announcement no one had seen coming. After a great many years spent toying with the idea from the comfort of her upholstered recliner lounge chair with the polished wooden lever at the side, great-grandmother  Bertha Babcock had decided the time was finally right to get her very first spray tan.

It was now or never for the heavyset 88 year old, who, in her youth, had cut a svelte figure working at the local frog canning factory but via the passage of time, the birth of six children and one too many whoopee pies and Portuguese pastries had come these days to resemble more like one half of the popular bingo call for her age – “two fat ladies”.

Bertha Babcock had devoted some time on the internet to checking out tanning salons before deciding on one called AFTERGLOW, about ten minutes drive from her house. In amongst her fact-finding research, which included reading numerous horror stories of spray tans gone wrong (‘a radioactive orange colour which left the wearer smelling like vegetable oil for days’ seemed to be a reoccurring complaint) she’d also managed somehow to take in the episode of the American sitcom FRIENDS where Ross is shown going into an automated tanning booth (like a carwash for humans) and due to a failure to pivot fast enough emerges with a half bronzed body.

But with the occasion of attending her granddaughter’s upcoming wedding spurring her on to want to look her glowing best, Bertha was determined to ignore the stories of other’s misadventures and forge ahead anyway. The person she’d spoken to on the phone at the salon had assured her she would be incapable and experienced hands.

The next morning her son Phillip arrived at the house in his silver-grey Ford Bronco utility to pick her up and drive her to the salon. After the short journey during which Bertha again reminded Philip of her wish to have her ashes scattered at sea upon her death and her desire to visit the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas sometime prior to that happening, they pulled up in the car park of the salon and began the task of extracting Bertha from the front seat of the car. This took some minutes but eventually, Bertha Babcock was on her way in, supported by her own cane walking stick and her dutiful, ever-patient son guiding and encouraging her with each step.

Inside, Bertha was at once hit with the sterile, over-air-conditioned feel of a big box store and the slightly ‘yeasty’ aroma common to many tanning salons. She eased herself down onto the black leather waiting couch next to a laminated sign emblazoned in gold lettering with the words “We promise to do our best to make you look your best”. Next, the twenty-year-old ‘spray artist’ girl walked through (Bertha thought she heard her introduce herself as ‘Tiffany’ but knew it might just as easily have been ‘Tilly’, ‘Tina’ or even ‘Tigerlilly’). 

Even with her pasted on smile Bertha found her friendly and professional, but couldn’t help wishing for a brief moment she was now facing someone more like Maude from her favourite retro show The Golden Girls. Bertha knew she wasn’t going to enjoy having to get near naked in front of someone as young and bubbly as Tiffany, or whatever her name was.

After receiving her instructions on the poses to adopt while the ‘fake bake’ dark coffee chemical was applied, Bertha was handed a set of attractive nose plugs, a shower cap and a pair of too-tight green goggles and directed to walk down a tiled corridor into the 2nd room on the left that housed the stand up spray booth. The first thing she noticed once inside the room was how unbearably hot it was compared to the outside reception area. She looked up and noticed the sole ceiling fan wasn’t moving. A moment later she realised why. A dead rodent was lodged in it, its legs dangling down toward Bertha. ‘Tiffany’ entered the room and explained in her best cheery tone that Bertha should change into the disposable underwear that lay on a corner benchtop and she would return in a few minutes when it would be time for the hoping-to-be- glamorous great granny to ‘get her bronze on’.

After a ‘respectful’ time, the young salon worker knocked on the door and asked would it be all right to come in. “All ready my dear” was Bertha’s buoyant reply. When ‘Tiffany’pushed back the door she was greeted with a most unusual site. There was the great-grandmother wearing the spray technician’s surgical mask as underwear. She had somehow mistaken it for the g-string spanty that lay next to it. More incredibly she’d somehow managed to manoeuvre ‘into’ it. Spotting the girl’s surprise but not knowing exactly what had warranted it, Bertha quickly switched to comedy mode and asked, “Could you paint some tight ab muscles on me while you’re at it?” The quip seemed to relax the young AFTERGLOW employee and she was able to complete the procedure in under ten minutes with Bertha emerging like a luminous Oompa Loompa ready to go to the wedding the next day.

On the way home from the salon with Philip driving, however, there was one more sun-kissed moment of unintended pantomime. The Bronco utility was pulled over for a police random breath test. Phillip blew into the plastic nozzle offered to him by the officer wearing over-large mirror sunglasses. Though he was a non-drinker, the plastic metal device registered a reading for alcohol, though not enough to put him over the legal driving limit. He found out some time later it was the nearby powerful fumes from his mother’s freshly spray tanned skin that had set off the machine and given a false reading for alcohol.

When the two arrived home, they sat down with the rest of the extended family in the living room. Everyone was eager to hear how Operation Tangerine Dream, as someone had dubbed it, had gone. Laughter and voices babbled happily like a flowing mountain stream for the next hour or so as Bertha Babcock held the floor like a fluff news reporter continually fed by the smiles and gentle gaze of those gathered. When Aunt Ophelia asked “Did they put it on with a paint roller?” the laughter echoed down the hallway and into each and every room of the house.

Soon it was time for the youngest children of the gathered clan to have their bath and as it was not her time to leave, great-grandmother Bertha Babcock insisted on helping. The old bathtub was fashioned from tin and beaten into shape with a flat hammer. It was just big enough for a child to sit in and the water was never more than tepid. Before anyone could protest there was big bronzed Bertha, glowing radioactive orange by this time, arms deep in suds and bubbles scrubbing with a flat brush the grime from her grandchild Leroy’s puppy fat bolstered five-year-old body.

When it was over, the entire house was treated to the genuinely horrible screams of bathetic Bertha reacting with all the grace of a wrecking ball to the sight of herself winding up with no tan at all halfway up her arms, making her look for all the world like she was wearing white gloves. And from a distance, at her granddaughter’s garden wedding held in the city’s Botanical Gardens the next day, that is exactly how it appeared. Unfortunately the super soak mishap also gave rise to a somewhat inebriated Uncle Spida, who was already slurring his words by the time the best man got up to give his speech, remarking on more than one occasion to anyone who would listen, how big Bertha’s newly tanned look ‘fit her like a glove’. 

About the Author:

Glen Donaldson is an Australian flash fiction author with a nutty aftertaste. Glen admits to being fascinated why a group of squids is not called a squad and lists his all-time favourite movie as CAPRICORNE ONE (1977). He blogs at SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

Eva’s Comments:

‘After Glow’ by Glen Donaldson cracked us up so much at CarpeArte Journal that we decided to publish his flash piece in celebration of Short Story Month.

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
― Neil Gaiman

Glen’s piece opened a window to how humour injected adeptly into a short story can fill the reader with mirth and delight. Bertha Babcock’s story made me glow with pure pleasure, chuckle with glee and choke on the surprising imageries so wittily conjured up by Glen’s magical writing.

The Portrait of Dona Rosita Morillo, completed in 1944 by Frida Kahlo, depicted the mother of Eduardo Morillo who was a Mexican diplomat. Eduardo purchased more than 30 paintings from Frida over the years and commisioned her to paint several portraits of his family members. Apparently, this portrait is said to be one of Frida Kahlo’s favourite paintings.

Frida Kahlo needs no introduction. She was born in 1907 and named Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón. This famous Mexican artist is well-known for her self-portraits which she painted many of after a bus accident that left her in debilitating pain. Her paintings have deep autobiographical layers, mixed with fantasy and surrealism reflecting the agony she lived through on a daily basis, her dreams of escapism, and the fantasies that she engaged in to rid her psyche of pain.

Kahlo employs a type of folk-art style in her work which examines questions of identity, class, race and gender in Mexican society. Kahlo is loved by feminists who see her art as representations of the female experience and form.

Glen Donaldson does not remember how he became intrigued by this Mexican artist.  However, what struck him was the relatively short life she led. Kahlo died at the age of 47 after decades of ill health and chronic pain, pain that she had suffered from since the age of eighteen. What intrigued us at CarpeArte was how Glen saw past the sadness of Dona Rosita, indicated by her down-turned lips and found inspiration in the orange glow of her skin to produce ‘Afterglow’, “the story of great-grandmother Bertha Babcock and her ‘now or never’ moment on the eve of her granddaughter’s garden wedding.” (Glen Donaldson) Out of the ashes of pain, flew the phoenix of mirth. There’s hope in laughter.

Image Credit: Hand-painted reproduction of ‘Portrait Of Dona Rosita Morillo’ (1944) [artist unknown]. Originally painted by Frida Kahlo (1944).