Friday, March 24, 2017

Perception of the Passage of Time is Subjective

Several blog posts ago, I was discussing the topic of "tourist mind" versus "city-dweller mind." "Tourist mind," if you'll allow me these terms, is wide open. Eyes are open, ears are open, camera is at the ready. "City-dweller mind" is significantly more closed. Eyes are often shielded in some way, ears are also often occupied by headphones. This is not a mindset of absorption, but rather one of protection. And to be honest, I can understand it. Cities can be hard. Christina is having a slightly harder time living amongst all these bipedal animals than I am, but even I occasionally get fed up with the piss, the vomit, the drunks, the homeless, the police, the prostitutes, the tourists, the unfriendly shopkeepers, and the obnoxious loud-mouthed soccer-playing Turks who took over our plaza for a while there. Yes, sure, there are life-affirming and uplifting moments sprinkled in there, but having a few self-protective tools at your disposal is usually a good idea.

As documented in this blog, I felt the shift from "tourist mind" to "city-dweller mind" begin to happen to me after about 2 or 3 months here. And here is the punchline of today's post... the thing I have noticed recently and find extremely interesting: My perception of time shifted radically, also at the 2 - 3 month mark. Those first 2 or 3 months, in which everything was new and my observational capacities were turned up to eleven, moved very slowly. On any given day, I knew what I had done the day before, the week before, even the month before. I knew what I wanted to do next. I felt the days were richly full of new experience, and that time was crawling. And then... slowly... it sped up. And now it's a blur, like it usually is. What did I do yesterday? Not sure, I'll have to check my blog, or my texts.  Weird.

They say that meditation can affect the perception of time. This feels to me as if it must be related, as one of the claimed benefits of a meditation practice is an increased awareness, an enhanced perception. I can imagine that if one were to walk around perceiving everything, that time really would feel richly full and would move comparatively slowly. But can you run the gauntlet of city-center low-lives with your eyes and ears wide open, and come out the other side unscathed? My guess is that you can, but that it would require some advanced form of compassion, or perspective, or some other gift bestowed on few of us. Maybe this is why monasteries are always in the mountains.

This morning Kodiak and I were riding the metro to school. The metro is a great place to see a wide swath of humanity, and also a great place to see "city-dweller mind" on full display. Lots of sunglasses, earbuds, and closed faces. But something caught Kodiak's eye, and I looked over with him to see a young girl, perhaps 9 or 10, in a surfing stance, trying to "ride" the tumultuously moving train without holding onto anything. And she had a huge smile on her face. I told Kodiak that I love how happiness is contagious. Sure enough, he and I were smiling just watching her.

Child mind.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The World Begins With Every Kiss

In this post I will simply present a piece of public art here in Barcelona that I like quite a lot. It shares elements of street art to the degree that it could actually be mistaken for a large piece of graffiti. However, on closer inspection, it's clear that this piece is actually Public Art, done with the cooperation of the Ayuntamiento, or city government.

This is my picture of it. The web is full of other pictures, some of which might even be better than mine (although I seriously doubt it ;) )

The piece, which is called "The World Begins With Every Kiss," is by an artist called Joan Fontcuberta, and is a mosaic made up of images of everyday life, submitted by Barcelona residents, which are printed onto ceramic tiles.

First, here's what I thought about the piece before reading anything about it.

Clearly, these tiles show images of joy and love and life. And the larger assembled image is one of great tenderness, or even erotic passion. My first thoughts were basically that kissing can lead to openness, love, passion, and sometimes even children. The connection between two people, therefore, is the source of all life, and all the wonder and connection and experience of life. 

The logic of the interpretation gets a bit of a challenge, however, from the fact that the gender of the figure on the right is not entirely clear; it could be a man or a woman. If it's a woman, then clearly there are no children in the imminent future of this scene. However, rather than undercut the meaning of the image, I think it only adds another important layer. Passion is passion; some of it might lead to children and thereby help to perpetuate this great human experiment, and some of it might do nothing more than enrich the lives of those experiencing it, whether they be gay or straight. 

Well after having these thoughts I figured I ought to read up on the piece to see if perhaps the artist actually meant something completely different. It turns out that the explanations offered by the artist revolve around the idea of freedom, and do not explicitly discuss love or passion. 

This page offers lots of great information about the piece, including this quote offered up by the then-mayor, Xavier Trias:

“this is an extraordinary metaphor for love, of what this country aims to be: a country open to everyone, where everyone champions their freedoms and rights and yet is ready to perform a collective act of love and sacrifice for others”.

Well, that's a message worth fighting for, in my opinion. I don't veer off into politics much in this blog, but it's hard not to at this point... Can you imagine a piece of art such as this getting funding support, or any other kind of official support, in Trump's America? Of course it is not fair to compare an entire country (USA) to one city (Barcelona), but I'm trying to make a point. Trump is talking about completely eliminating funding the the NEA, as well as the CPB and the NEH. It's crazy, and a sad time for America. 

Thank you, Barcelona, for hosting and supporting this great piece of art.

Side note: I have made minor edits to my two last posts. In the Jassans post, I added a few sentences near the end of the paragraph which begins "Again, arms up, a triumphant figure", and in the Metro post I added an image showing the turnstiles, by way of visually setting the scene.

Friday, March 17, 2017

J. S. Jassans

As anyone reading this blog has probably noticed, I am having a burgeoning interest in classical figurative sculpture while here in Barcelona. (I had a moment once, while perusing the Art section of the Strand Bookstore in NYC many years ago, in which I suddenly realized the pervasiveness and durability of the human body as subject in the history of art. It was a liberating moment; it was the first time I allowed myself to identify the human body as an artistic interest of my own. Plus, I never went to art school or really even studied much art, so I've never done the "classical figurative" thing before.) Barcelona is certainly a place that is conducive to fostering this interest. The city itself is full of beautiful figurative sculpture in bronze and marble, and there are a few museums which focus on this type of work. One such museum, the Frederic Mares Museum, has already been discussed here.

Not long ago I became aware of another museum called the MEAM (or Museu Europeu d'Art Modern [that's Catalan]), which is a museum focusing on figurative art in both 2D and 3D from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I visited the museum a few months ago and was pleasantly surprised (although perhaps not "blown away") by a good selection of modern, mostly nude sculpture.

Then, about a month ago, I happened to see an announcement on one of the video screens in the Metro which was advertising a retrospective of a sculptor called Josep Salvadó Jassans, at the MEAM. From the brief clip on the monitor, I could tell I would be interested in his work, so I went back. Well, I was sort of blown away by Jassans.

This piece is called Gerda, in black marble.

I've spent some time trying to decode why I like his work so much, and it hasn't been perfectly easy to figure out. More on this later, but I can certainly start by pointing out that the guy was technically a master. There's nothing out-of-place here, no proportion that is wrong. 

This bronze is called Grella, and is one of my favorites. 

This is Portrait of Antonieta Borrás, carved in wood. 

These first three pictures start to give an idea of what I was able to identify as one reason I like Jassans... which is that in my opinion his work shows a very slight idealization... I have come to think of it as "110% of reality." 

It is essentially impossible to find any writing of substance on the topic of Jassans in English - 80% seems to be in Catalan with the balance being in Spanish. So, my understanding of his philosophy of sculpture is rudimentary. But I do know that he had an idea that sculpture could be more than just a copy of reality and could in fact be what he called "plastic reality." (In light of the facts that these days we can scan and print a person in 3D, and that there has been SO MUCH excellent sculptural copying of reality through the centuries, one might even advance the argument that sculptural copying of reality is no longer necessary. I am reminded of the way that painting was radically transformed by the advent of photography. Suddenly liberated from the obligation to accurately document reality, painting became looser and freer - it became something else entirely.)

What exactly Jassans meant by "plastic reality" is something I don't entirely understand, but I believe that it involved seeing a perfected version of reality and capturing it materially. In any case, this 110% of reality strongly appeals to me. It is as if Jassans acknowledged the impulse to depict regular people as super-heroes, or as their better and more physically perfect selves, but restrained the impulse just the right amount, never veering off into anything that might be perceived as unreal or unnatural. 

(Please note: these are just my personal thoughts; I'm sure there are many who have written much more, and much more accurately, on Jassans... in Catalan!)

Here we have two more images which begin to reveal even more that I like about Jassans. In the first image we see Jesus on the cross, and in the second a sketch he did for a proposed sculpture of Barcelona's co-patron saint, Santa Eulalia. (Had it been accepted, this proposal would have led to a prominently placed sculpture at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia church. Despite its faithfulness to Eulalia's alleged treatment at the hands of authorities, it was rejected and never sculpted, perhaps (?) because of its eroticism). 

It turns out that Jassans was a religious man, a believer, (which is usually the kiss of death for me, but in this case just adds to the intrigue) and as such these two pieces are almost certainly not depicted in erotically charged ways for reasons of iconoclasm for its own sake, although they do appeal to me largely because of my own love of iconoclasm. Jassan's motivations must have been something else. I can't read enough Catalan to faithfully re-present here his actual position, but I can get hints from some of the short English translations presented at the MEAM. He believed that the human figure, especially the female, was nature's (or God's?) most perfect creation, the embodiment of beauty. And so why, then, would there be any reason to depict it in any way other than it's natural state? His work seems to me to be a simple, almost naive glorification of what God gave us.

And, the effect of this approach veers unavoidably close to eroticism. Here we come to yet another reason I like his work so much... it appears to ride an extremely fine line between naive and erotic. It's as if it is erotic, without meaning to be. Erotic simply because the human body is worthy of depiction, and the human body is beautiful. There is nothing that screams "cheesy" or "low" more than a piece of art made in the service of eroticism for it's own sake... yet, where is the line? Why does some work make us sigh and roll our eyes, while other work makes us simply amazed at the perfection of humanity?

Well, anyway, all this sudden interest in Jassans got me searching around the internet for more info about him, and I noticed an upcoming lecture. It turns out that we are now at the 10-year anniversary of his death, which is why there is currently a spike in interest and exhibitions. I attended the lecture, given by the ICRE (Catalan Institute for Research in Sculpture) and met the two men responsible for not only ICRE but also for the exhibition at the MEAM, Adrian Arnau and Jorge Egea. The lecture was in Catalan so I ended up spacing out quite a lot, although when I really tried I seemed to be able to understand about 20% of it.

A bit more searching on the web revealed that, although Barcelona is without even a single example of Jassans' work, a nearby town called Reus is liberally endowed. Following the thread, I loaded my bicycle onto a train and headed two hours to Reus to give myself a self-guided tour. I had stayed in touch with Jorge and Adrian, the fellows from ICRE, and they provided me with a map to get me to all the sculptures scattered throughout Reus. 

This one is called La Flama, or The Flame. Its significantly larger than life, and positioned in front of a psychiatric hospital. The building itself is also famous for its architecture. Clearly we have an example here of the female nude being articulated in a specific pose intended to convey the uplifting potential of the human spirit, or something along those lines.

This small sculptural group is called La Pastoreta. It forms a sort of dialogue within the city with another sculpture of the same name and theme, the other done by Jassans' master, Joan Rebull. Although Rebull's has a more prominent place in the city, I think Jassans' take on this theme is so much better. 
I spent some time looking closely at her face, and she is really beautiful.

Cant a la Vida, or Song of Life. This is at a hospital in Reus. At this point, there is a minor theme emerging in Jassans' public works in Reus of female figures with their arms up. Again, possible themes seem to include lofty things like "the glory of man," "the human spirit," "the perfection of human life," stuff like that.

This piece is simply called Wind. Again, arms up. This is situated in the old part of town on a pedestrian walkway.

And now, for my very favorite of Jassans' sculptures. This one is called La Republica, and is a tribute to Lluis Companys, an important figure in the history of Cataluña who was executed at Montjuic castle here in Barcelona by Franco in 1940.

Again, arms up, a triumphant figure, a beautiful female nude (or near-nude). Christina asked me why a female nude would be used as a tribute to someone like Companys, and given such a lofty name as La Republica. I must admit that I do not really know the answer, but my thoughts are this: Jassans may have felt that nothing is more perfect than the human female form, and as such nothing is better suited to sculpturally expressing ideas or feelings. If you want to sculpturally express something like "the glory of Cataluña," let's say, just do it with a triumphant and glorious female figure, arms up. If you want to sculpturally express something like "the power of wind," or perhaps "the power of nature," for instance, do it with a female figure being bent by the wind. The same holds true for Cant a la Vida (the glory of life / birth), La Pastoreta (the bounty of the land), and La Flama (the eternal flame of the human spirit to overcome adversity [mental illness??] through striving upward... or something like that). And why not? Why not choose the female form, the pinnacle of God's, or evolution's, work as a vehicle for these forces, thoughts, and ideas? Is it not more original, interesting and thought-provoking to show a woman bent by wind rather than a tree? (Again, please note that these are just my thoughts, and not scholarly or researched opinions... remember, me no Catalan.)

For reasons that I cannot really explain and which must be subconscious / psychological in nature, I have a long and abiding interest in sculptures of women with their arms triumphantly raised. Many years ago I did such a sculpture (of which I unfortunately do not have a picture to post here), and I recently began another such sculpture here in Barcelona.

Strangely enough, when I started this sculpture I said to myself "I must not make this one look just like that other one I did several years ago," but I am pretty sure I have inadvertently done exactly that. How's that for psychology? As you can see, this sculpture still has a way to go.

Although I can't explain the source of my interest in the triumphant, arms-up posture, that very interest of mine does at least explain my love of La Republica.

OK, so when I got back from Reus I was quite keen to try to get more serious about sculpting on my own. I was in the middle of looking into various classes at various art schools around town (all far away from the Raval), trying to decide which of the (too expensive in my opinion) classes to take, when I wrote an email to Adrian and Jorge, the guys from ICRE, telling them about my adventure in Reus. I off-handedly asked if I could see their sculpting studios, and to my surprise Jorge wrote back quite quickly and said I could come by that day, after lunch. And, his studio is right here in the Raval. So, not expecting anything in particular, I headed over there. 

Well, it turned out that Jorge 
• Is a really nice guy
• Is a super talented and famous sculptor
• Gives very reasonably priced classes in his Raval studio, and
• Was a student of Jassans!

There was even a Jassans piece sitting in Jorge's studio. He explained to me that it is there for repairs of various damages done to it by its careless rich owners (you can see that the arm at left was actually completely broken off! And there are other smaller damages which are harder to see)

I was excited about Jorge's close association with Jassans, and asked a few questions. Although we didn't talk that much, I learned that Jassans had no interest whatsoever in becoming famous, which might partially account for his relative obscurity. And, he apparently talked a lot about the perfection of river stones, and about ways in which the body might be depicted more like a river stone. Jorge pointed out to me that Jassans almost never sculpted wrinkles, or even fingernails. Not too far off from my 110% / super-hero theory. I hope to learn more about Jassans as I spend more time with Jorge.

Yesterday I took my first class with him, my first day ever in my life sculpting from a live model. It was fun, and frustrating. I want to be "a natural," immediately good, but I'm not, really. But I think I'm not bad, either. Classes are 7 hours long, every Thursday. Sometime soon, when my sculpture looks a bit better, I will post a pic.

Every August Jorge organizes a trip to Carrara, Italy, for a marble sculpting workshop. Boy oh boy do I want to do that! Will update.

Well if you got this far, thanks for hanging in there with me through this long post. I'm pretty sure the next few posts won't be this epic. 

Goodnight, from Barcelona.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

So, continuing with the theme of "it's the people. It's the damn people"...

Not long ago, Christina told me that she is frequently a victim of "fare-jumping" (which is a term I just made up). It goes like this: When one inserts their metro card into the turnstile, a pair of glass half-doors slide open to allow that person to pass through into the metro system.

Those doors then shut behind the person, but remain open just long enough for another, second, person to slip through with the first person. So what happens is that people who are too poor, or too stubborn, to buy their own metro tickets hang around the turnstiles and when an unsuspecting paying passenger inserts their card and goes through, the lurker cozies up behind the paying passenger and squeezes through with them.

When Christina told me this was happening to her regularly, I was slightly alarmed. It feels like a real violation of personal space, not to mention illegal. I suggested various approaches to her to prevent this behavior, such as walking through backwards, etc. She was equivocal.

So today, this morning, it happened to me for the first time. I put my ticket in, and, as sometimes happens, the doors did not swing open because I was accidentally too far forward, confusing the proximity sensor. The proper maneuver is to step backwards, which allows the sensor to reset and the doors to open. But as I stepped backwards, I backed right into a guy who was trying to squeeze in with me. When the doors did finally open half a second later, I stepped through and immediately stopped and turned around to face the guy, not allowing room for him to come through with me. The sensor still detected a person in the pass-through zone, so the doors remained open. We looked eye-to-eye, he smiled sheepishly and stepped back, and the doors closed. I was annoyed, and I'm sure it showed in my face.

But in the next few minutes, I felt several other things. The guy happened to be an old man, clearly poor, and he looked like a nice guy. He had smiled at me. The situation suddenly seemed more complicated. Is transportation (on the metro, for instance) a fundamental right? What if you can't pay for it? And as I went over the situation in my head, it also occurred to me that instead of facing a nice old man, I might just as well have been facing a big strong thug. Or a drug addict. Was it worth it to me to have that kind of a standoff? Kodiak was with me this morning, which would have made a bad situation (IF the situation had turned bad) even worse.

I told Christina the story, and she says it continues to happen to her, regularly. Although she is still far from happy about it, she is kind of getting used to it.

So again... life in the city. The good and the bad. Wouldn't it be nice to have all the cultural, intellectual, economic, and material resources of a city, but without the annoyances of people? But without people, there would be no city. And with the economic stratification which only seems to be getting worse on a global scale (which is of course a factor in the fare-jumping situation described above, as well as most crime), these issues will probably not be getting better any time soon.

A few weeks ago, I awoke around 6AM and was gripped with the idea of taking a bicycle ride. It was the first time I'd seen large areas of the city with no people. Nice.

Oh well, today is beautiful and sunny. I think I'm going to go ride my bicycle. With all those people.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Oh, boy, here we go again...
One doesn't post on their own blog for a while, and suddenly there's so much to write about! So much happens in life!

Let's see here... I will start with a brief discussion on the topic of motorcycles...
Let me start by saying that I miss my babies back home!

As I mentioned previously, I can't really consider getting a motorcycle here in Spain until my residency papers are more in order. That is looking like it will be sorted out within 4-6 weeks from now, so... the idea is creeping in again. However, after having lived here a while now, I'm actually no longer sure it's worth it to get a bike.
• Public transport in this city is excellent; fast, easy, and good coverage.
• Bicycling is fun and even faster than public transport, unless you are going a long distance.
• I rented a moped (as mentioned here in this blog a while ago) and that was an illuminating experience. What I learned is that a two-wheeler is not a slam-dunk in the city. Badly-timed traffic lights, congestion, unruly pedestrians, difficult parking in my neighborhood, cops who love to ticket everyone for everything - all this makes for a sub-optimal riding experience. (And that doesn't even touch on all those issues I did not have to deal with when I had the moped, such as registration, fees, inspection, and insurance)
The flip side of the equation is that I think a bike would be excellent for getting OUT of town once in a while. I did ride up a mountain road when I had the moped, and although it was freezing cold, it was good for the soul. I am still considering a little 250 enduro-type bike.. something not too expensive that Christina could ride too, something I could ride out of town and on some dirt if I could ever find any dirt. 
So, who knows. We will have to see what happens.

Now, on to the art.
I'll start with some more street art. There's so much good stuff!

Here's one in the Poblenou district by the relatively famous Miss Van. I find it slightly sad, but also slightly funny, that something like this gets defaced by other, later "art", if you could call the weird crap that's painted over the face of the central figure "art". I guess it's a known risk that artists take. 

A few weeks ago, I saw a great little piece of street art hiding in a doorway and I thought to myself "I've got to photograph that, one of these days." It was of a poor-looking (refugee?) young girl looking out from behind the corner of the architecture, and there was so much detail, so much expression. Well, the next time I passed that doorway it was gone, painted over in flat black. This piece, above, is definitely by the same artist, so when I saw this one I wasted no time in getting out my camera. At first I thought it was a wheat-pasted print, but it's actually several layers of overlaid stencils. To the right of it, under all that pink and blue lettering, is another stenciled face. It's of a woman, and its difficult to say if it might be by the same artist. I wish I could see it better. I'm not a huge fan of the lettering, the "tagging." 

Back at the zoo... or rather, the wall behind the zoo, which is a place that is apparently sanctioned for graffiti / murals. (I posted a few pix from this same wall several months ago). I love the skull. 

And this is from the outside wall of a warehouse / art space called Nau Bostik. Nice color, nice narrative, I'm a fan.

OK, moving on. OPEN AIR MARKETS. Barcelona is full of them. I love them. and, they're big. To give you an idea of the sort of scale I'm talking about, here is a pic of a weekly book market which I just discovered. (books only - although amusingly there is a seller of toys prominently shown in this picture; I believe it was the only non-book seller in attendance)

But the most unique market in Barcelona (or perhaps it's the biggest? Or the weirdest? Or the sleaziest?) has got to be Encants.


It was quite hard to take a decent picture of Encants. The upper two levels, where I am standing as I take this picture, are full of established sellers with fixed locations and stalls. The downstairs area, what I like to think of as "the Pit", (shown here) is just a big asphalt slab, on which different sellers stake their claim. The market is open EVERY Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and I learned the hard way that there are no fixed "claims" for these guys in the pit; they move around, they come and go. When I say that I learned the "hard way", what I mean is that I went there a few weeks ago looking for a mannequin head, but all I could find was a whole mannequin. After bargaining the price down about 50%, I paid in full and, knowing that I could not take the whole mannequin on my bicycle, I arranged with the guy that I would take the upper body "today, and come back for the legs on Friday".

Well, I went back on Friday and, guess who wasn't even there! I went back days in a row and those sellers never reappeared. In fact, I'm going back today, although not to look for my lady's legs. I've given up on seeing them again.

The mannequin head was for a mock-up of a new large-scale sculpture for a proposal to a festival here in Europe. Christina and I are slowly accumulating small tools, and doing more and more art projects here in the apartment. Of course I'm not ready to splash pictures of the proposal around just yet, but I'm excited about the possibilities. 

Oh, jeez, I've got so much more to blog about, but I've got to go over to Encants to buy a barbie doll as partial reference for a new sculpture, and you might be getting tired of all this by now. There's more street art, LOTS more sculpture (including more Frederic Mares, my new favorite Catalan sculptor Jassans, market and gallery objects of desire, Swedish nudes, funerary monuments, and more!), my new clay work (yes I'm being reasonably productive), and snapshots of this and that (including Sweden in Winter!)

It seems I've been ending my last few posts with random thoughts about city living, so why not start a pattern! (But don't hold me to it... I might not have anything smart to say one of these days). One thing I have noticed is the huge difference between Spain and many other "western" cultures I've visited in the cultural norms around eye contact on the streets between genders. I think I really first became aware of the enormous range of eye contact behaviors amongst humans when I was in college in New York City. I noticed that some people make eye contact, some don't, some hold it for a long time, and for others it's brief. In the USA, it often says a lot about the psychological state of the "looker." Confidence begets more eye contact, and the opposite holds true as well. Well, in Spain, you can't infer anything like that, because there is essentially no eye contact between genders on the street. I've looked online to find the reasons, but really the best explanation I've heard was provided by my friend Grey. Women, he explained, must not make eye contact with men for fear that this might be interpreted as romantic or sexual interest, thereby unleashing a torrent of unwanted attention. If true (and I see no reason why it wouldn't be) this certainly says a lot about the lack of boundaries on the part of Spanish men. In my online readings about culturally acceptable levels of eye contact, it has become clear that the norms I am observing here adhere more closely to those in the Muslim world than anything I've seen in America, England, Australia, Russia, or even Brazil. In that same conversation with Grey, he told me what a strange sensation it was for him, what a surprise and even a relief it was, to step off a plane in Holland and have a woman look at him. The few women who have looked at me, here in Spain, were either foreigners or prostitutes. And yes, it was jarring. 

Prostitution... that's another interesting topic. I don't know much about it, but what I'm able to observe is interesting. Basically, it's legal here, and it appears to be centered mostly here in our neighborhood of the Raval. The Raval seems to be the last part of the city center (perhaps with the addition of adjoining areas of Sant Antoni) which is still "gritty", not yet completely gentrified. But the forces of gentrification are moving in, slowly, inexorably. So you've got these little boutiques selling hand-printed t-shirts and greeting cards next to run-down bars, next to upscale new hotels, next to marginally legal phone-hacking shops and busy north-african fruit sellers. On the streets in front of all these places you've got street people, nice-looking Japanese tourists, homeless, police, thugs, drunks, couples out on dates, bicycle messengers threading through it all, and prostitutes. On some blocks, lots of prostitutes. And they are looking for eye contact. The Raval is an interesting place. 

So, until the next time, good night from the Raval. (Ha ha, it's not really night-time, but look at that sunset!!) 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

So, I don't know if my last post got you thinking, but it got me thinking.

In a nutshell, it's this: When living in a city, it's not the city itself that causes you to gradually close down and carve out a private psychic space for yourself, inside your sunglasses and headphones... it's the people. It's the damn people.

Its the sideways glances (sometimes worse than sideways, but hey.. sorry you're such an unhappy person!), the offensive behavior (which is sometimes "universally" offensive, and other times it just points to a cultural difference), the traffic and the noise and the bustle. All because of people.

Now, don't get me wrong... Barcelona is what I would call an extremely "livable" city. These "people factors" I'm pointing out are really NOT all that bad here. Certainly not bad when compared to other cities in which I've spent time. And, I'm sure that these observations I'm having are not new, not even to me, but... one forgets after living in the desert for over a decade.

Something from Wikipedia caught my attention, something from the Spanish Language page "Arte Público de Barcelona" (Public Art of Barcelona). Here's the quote:

En el ámbito de convivencia urbana intervienen asimismo diversos factores, como los fisiológicos, los sociológicos y los psicológicos. En estos últimos cabría englobar las necesidades estéticas del individuo, la existencia en un entorno que procure una dimensión de retiro y descanso, de evasión de los problemas cotidianos, de un cierto componente de belleza que amortigüe la dureza de un entorno hostil como es a veces el ámbito urbano.

Translated (roughly):

On the topic of urban living, several other factors are involved, such as physiological, sociological and psychological. In the latter it would be necessary to include the aesthetic needs of the individual, the existence in an environment that seeks a dimension of withdrawal and rest, evasion of everyday problems, a certain component of beauty that softens the harshness of a hostile environment, as the urban environment sometimes is.

So, the urban environment, if it is beautiful and carefully curated, can have the capacity to act as a foil, a balance, to the stresses of urban life. (Maybe this is why places like Los Angeles, in which the interpersonal factors are significantly reduced by dint of the fact there is so very little urbanized interaction with actual people, can get away with being so ugly.) But Barcelona is people-dense. And luckily, also very beautiful.

So this points us in the direction of a certain balance that needs to be struck. How to protect oneself from the psychic onslaught of people, while remaining open to the city, AND to those (thankfully quite plentiful) interactions with people which actually turn out to be lovely, and rejuvenating? I think that finding that balance is probably one of the key ingredients to successfully living in a city. You know those people who "had to leave the city because it was getting too intense"? They couldn't find the balance. And I'm not saying it's easy, or that I have found it. Some cities are undoubtedly harder than others, and some people are more sensitive than others, which is not a bad thing.

Jumping backwards a few paragraphs, to the idea that a beautiful urban environment can help mitigate the difficulties of city living, seems as good a segue as any to get into some pictures of sculpture, and of Barcelona.

The "monumental nude", or "desnudo monumental", is quite popular here. These are all from Plaça Cataluña, Barcelona's de facto central square.

These three are also from Plaça Cataluña.

Mermaid in Sitges

While we're on the topic of boobs... This is somewhat typical fare on "regular" buildings...
(But don't be blinded by the boobs, this is fantastic first-rate relief sculpture, and it's everywhere!)

But the prize for the strangest boobs really must go to the caryatids on this Poseidon sculpture!

Or wait, maybe this one gets the prize....

The Palau de la Musica Catalana, an amazingly ornate building in the Born neighborhood. It was hard to get a decent picture of this building as the streets are all very narrow. I am sure there are better pix on Google. 

This is fairly standard stuff, I guess, for European cities. But it's beautiful, there is clearly a dramatic narrative being played out with the figures, and it obviously serves to connect the populace with the history of the place (if anyone ever stops to notice it, that is...)

Josep Granyer's "Meditación", or "Thinker Bull." A parody of Rodin's "The Thinker." Personally, I love it.

Another one by Granyer, "Coqueta", the flirty Giraffe.

Still outside, in the public realm... The outsides of churches are obviously full of sculpture, some of it quite spectacular. I'm not sure who this angel is supposed to be, but he looks serious. 

And speaking of churches, Barcelona's most famous church, La Sagrada Familia, is a bonanza of outdoor sculpture. The entire place is basically one huge sculpture, festooned liberally with smaller sculptures. I could write a whole blog post on it (which I may or may not do; I am sure the topic has been covered ad nauseum). I will post only this one picture for now, of this figure which I personally like because of the rough, blocky treatment he's received. 

Now let's go inside some churches...

For the most part, the churches and cathedrals of Barcelona seem to be open to the public, and as such are also part of the public realm. 
A seated bronze guy, who is also a chair? Love it. 

Very gothic. 

Wow. Very baroque.

OK, let's visit some galleries and museums. Here is Jaume Plensa's new work. He's a pretty famous Catalan sculptor. I must say, I do love it that I can just go to a gallery and see work like this in person, whenever I feel like it.

These two are the work of Gerard Mas, another super-talented Catalan sculptor. I happen to really love his work. Whenever it makes sense, I try to expose Kodiak to some of this culture which is so abundant here. 

One of my favorite places in the city, so far, is the Frederic Mares Museum. Mares was a Catalan sculptor who was associated with Barcelona his whole life. Several of his sculptures grace the streets and squares of the city. He was also, however, a prodigious collector of anything sculptural or beautiful, and in the 1940's he donated his enormous collection to the city. It is now a huge and fantastic sculpture museum in the heart of the Gotico, just behind the central cathedral. The photo above shows two of many marble sculptures from ancient times. I guess people have been doing this sculpting thing for a while now.

Stone tomb from the Mares Museum.

Woman with Ermine, Mares Museum.

Adam and Eve and... wait, isn't there supposed to be a snake in the tree? I guess this is a slightly different take on the "temptation" theme....  Mares Museum.

Juan de Juni, Mares Museum. This piece is quite small, about two feet across the base. But look at the dynamism and emotion packed into this small package!

And wow... talk about emotion and dynamism! Mares Museum.

This is a panorama of just one room among maybe 60 or 70 rooms in the Mares Museum. I think you'll have to click on this one to see anything.

The museum also houses a nice collection of Mares' own work...

Which includes all sorts of work, from portraits....

To monumental nudes. 

Let's allow Mr. Mares to take us back out onto the streets. Here is one of his, on Gran Via. (I must say, either boobs themselves were different back then, or some of these guys just never looked at them. Because they are not sculpted right. Leonardo Da Vinci was even worse. Look here if you don't believe me.)

OK, believe it or not I still have MORE pictures of sculptures that I would like to share with you, but I think this has gone on long enough. To bring things back around, I offer you one final picture on the theme of monumental sculpture improving the lives of city-folk....

Doesn't she look happy?

(Oh, and for those of you who are wondering what the hell we are doing over here... Christina is learning Spanish and Cello, I am brushing up on my Spanish, I'm working on a new clay portrait sculpture, we are finalizing some new ideas for proposals to European festivals, and nailing down new gigs for the summer months for some of the existing work. So there!)