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.)

I Can’t Forget by Townsend Walker

I thought I’d found the peace that I’d come for.  Here in Munich, where I spent a year in college.  A felicitous town with musicians on every corner: Mozart concertos, Bach sonatas, a Billie Holiday tune here and there.  Choirs singing hosannas to the highest lighten even the heavyset Cathedral of Our Lady.

On Wednesday, I strolled into the gardens of the Stadtische Galerie.  The museum was housed in a gold-colored Tuscan villa, once the home of the painter Franz von Lenbach.  The first gallery held Klee’s colorful and cheerful work: Southern Gardens: vivid orange, red, blue and aqua patches and Rose Garden: carnelian, cerise and scarlet geometric figures and a cluster of smiling people.

The next gallery was deserted.  Klee’s Ravaged Place hung on the far wall: a bruise-purple building with a dabbled white roof is askew in the background.  The building once had four walls, but like a stage set only the façade remains.  Its gaping window holes were shaded violet black, wraiths curling behind them.  Two smaller structures tilted in from outside the frame.  Their windows were vacant eyes to the sky.  In the foreground, headstones.

Not different from my last patrol.  A long day.  My unit had beaten off two insurgent attacks and we were a couple miles from base.  We saw the village beyond the ridge.  Smoke, still curling.  Crumbled dun-colored mud houses.  Wooden framing sticking out at unnatural angles.  Fragments of cloth fluttering from splintered windows.  Blackened shards.  Littering the sand, blood-streaked arms and legs and a doll.

The memory emptied me and I slumped on a museum bench, head in my hands, heart pounding.  I was nauseous, like the time in the back of an old bus bumping down a mountain road in Morocco, sucking diesel fumes and greasy mutton.  Hot and I couldn’t get up, trapped between two guys who were asleep.  I squeezed my head tighter and tighter to quiet the clattering explosions in my skull.

My Dad, a Nam vet, never told me about the flashbacks.  But he was career; maybe it’s different for them.  My twin brother Will followed Dad’s lead, until it all ended at Shahi Khot.  I’d stayed away from everything Army until what happened to Will.  But I had to finish what he started.  That’s the way it was with us.  So it was Special Forces and language school.

Someone hit me.  I jumped; nearly knocked the old man down.  Slowly, I saw him, the attendant, a thin wispy-haired man carved by age.

Bitte, are you well?”

Probably, he only tapped me on the shoulder.

“I’ll be fine, danke.

“I never come in this room,” he said.  “Too many thoughts, too many memories I don’t want to have.”

Looking down at him, I asked, “Der Zweite Weltkrieg?”

“Stalingrad,” he said.  “I can’t forget.”

He looked at me, eyes filling with tears.  His lips moved, but no words came out.  Then he placed a thin arthritic hand on my arm and held tight.

I walked slowly out of the Galerie and back through the Plaza of Our Lady.  Leave was over.  That evening I took the train up to Frankfurt for my flight.  I’d be in Kabul in twenty-four hours, and sign up for another tour.  I’m not haunted by memories there.

 

A Note on the Author

Townsend Walker lives in San Francisco. His novella La Ronde was published in 2015 and his short stories have appeared in over seventy-five literary journals. “A Little Love, A Little Shove” and “Holding Tight” were nominated for PEN/O.Henry Awards. The two stories are included in his new collection, 3 Women 4 Towns 5 Bodies. Townsend wrote A Guide for Using the Foreign Exchange Market, Managing Risk with Derivatives, and Managing Lease Portfolios, during his career in finance. In addition to writing stories, Townsend conducts a creative writing workshop at San Quentin Prison.

Townsend submitted I Can’t Forget along with an image of Paul Klee’s painting, ‘Destroyed Place’, which Klee completed in 1920. However, in the story, Klee’s ‘Ravaged Place’ is referred to. On further reading of Walker’s ekphrasis of the painting, he seems to be referring more to ‘Destroyed Place’: “The building once had four walls, but like a stage set only the façade remains.  Its gaping window holes were shaded violet black, wraiths curling behind them.  Two smaller structures tilted in from outside the frame.  Their windows were vacant eyes to the sky.  In the foreground, headstones.” [‘Ravaged Place’ is actually entitled ‘Ravaged Land’.]

This artwork points to Klee’s skills as a draughtsman, indicated by the buildings. The two-dimensional surface and shapes indicate the influence of Cubism, which Klee discovered during his travels to Paris where he met Robert Delaunay and discovered Picasso and Braque’s works in galleries. The sense of the surreal is highlighted by the hands sweeping from the headstones towards the vacant buildings, rendering the landscape a ghostlike presence. Death permeates the piece, signified by the dark sombre tones of black against purple.

Walker’s story is a great example of how art can emote and bring forth stories buried in our unconscious. It is also a great example of how a writer can combine Ekphrasis in a work of fiction. Visual Art as prompts to writing is not a new concept because art triggers memories, sensations and emotions in each of us; I Can’t Forget indicates this.

 Eva’s Comments

Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, to a German father and a Swiss mother. His parents were both musicians; his father was a music teacher in Bern where the family settled in 1897, after moving around in Switzerland for some time.

Music and art filled Klee’s life since childhood. Encouraged by his parents, he studied the violin. Although he was very good at the instrument, he chose to focus on visual art during his teenage years. However, his parents were not that supportive of his forays into art, preferring that he continued with music.

Against his parents’ wishes, Klee left for Munich in 1898 for art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and briefly attended Franz von Stuck’s class there. He chose to settle in Munich in 1906 after spending some years travelling to Italy, France and living some years back in Bern.

In Munich, Klee focused on graphic art for the most part. A chance meeting with the abstract artist, Kandinsky, in 1911 would change the course of his life. Kandinsky recognised talent in Klee’s work and was very supportive of him.

In 1912, Klee exhibited in Munich’s Galerie Goltz in the second exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a group formed by Russian emigre painters (Kandinsky included) in response to the rejection of Wassily Kandinsky’s work, ‘Last Judgement’, from an exhibition. Der Blaue Reiter is also an art movement important in the development of Expressionism; this art movement lasted only 3 years from 1911 to 1914 but has left the art world with a vast collection of artworks which can be viewed at Lenbachhaus, Munich.

Paul Klee was very interested in colours and was an avid researcher in colour theory. He wrote extensively on the effects of colour on art. His lectures at the Bauhaus School of Art, where he taught for 10 years starting in 1921, have been published under the name, Paul Klee Notebooks, a two-volume work, considered as important to modern art theory as Leonardo Da Vinci’ s Treatise on Paintings is for the Renaissance.

A trip to Tunis, Morocco, in 1914 impressed Klee so much that he would later write, saying, “colour and I are one” proclaiming himself a “painter.” From this period on, Klee started to experiment with abstraction. Already a skilled draughtsman, he combined his abilities in draftsmanship—straight lines forming shapes like rectangles and triangles—with colours to form a unique style—visual art, combining Expressionism, Cubism, Abstraction and Surrealism, all associated with music—that some scholars have recognised to be influenced by his earlier schooling in music. Perhaps, Klee could be a synesthete like his friend, Kandinsky.

Klee was conscripted as a soldier of the German Reich in March of 1916. Fortunately, for him, he spent most of the war in an office which spared him from the horrors on the war front. Klee’s diaries and letters indicated his detachment from the war. But the war would leave profound impressions on him. The death of his friends August Macke and Franz Marc devastated him. He responded by creating pen and ink lithographs dealing with war themes. Perhaps it was during this time that Klee would come to say “I paint in order not to cry”, a phrase that has come to represent his works made during and after WWI. Critics have said that Klee’s pieces during and after the war indicated his detachment: Klee commented on the devastation brought by war by abstracting it, representing the horror by symbols and leitmotifs.

“The more horrible this world (as today, for instance), the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world brings forth an art of the here and now.” — Paul Klee (diary, 1915).

Paul Klee passed away in 1940, in Switzerland, from a wasting disease that engulfed him towards the end of his life. The pain caused by Scleroderma would enter his later work. I think apart from expressing his physical pain on canvas, Klee also drew from the trauma incurred during the war and allowed this to find expression in his work. Paul Klee left behind an oeuvre consisting of just under 10,000 pieces of artworks. Although born in Switzerland, he never obtained Swiss citizenship because the Swiss authorities felt that his artwork was too revolutionary for the period.

Paul Klee’s work can be viewed worldwide as well as at the Paul Klee Centre in Bern.

 

 

Image Credit: ‘Destroyed Place’, 1920, Oil on paper, 8 3/4 x 7 5/8 in. (22.3 x 19.5 cm), Lenbachhaus, Munich.