Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A is for Art

It's been a rather discouraging evening, and I required distraction.
TV options: latest news 1:US bans weapons sales toVenezuela; latest news 2: more dead people - pick a country, any country; formulaic pout-glossed teen movie; Other Movie II; Spanish channel confirming that a) Spanish people speak even faster than I do, and b) I've forgotten everything again.
Book options - not really, brain in neutral.
Music - nah, nerves on edge.
Pictures - yes. Give me colour and line, and an artist's distinctive eye and purpose.
Feeling better by extension. So here I am again.

One of the things I really enjoyed about setting up this blog was the favourites list. Habibi says all those profile lists are a waste of time because no-one ever looks, and maybe he's right, but that barely came into it. Tired and crumpled at the end of a crowded term, I spent several happy hours contemplating all my favourite things, both current, and from way back, and felt much better for it. I also got a kick out of My Karma Just Ran Over Your Dogma which is drenched in style and colour - also surreal silliness......

So for my own pleasure - and yours too I hope, here goes an occasional alphabet of favourite - or newly discovered fabulous - art and visual pleasures. (Incidentally, here's some weird science for happy chemists. Don't ask me what it means, just sing along if you can!)

A is for the paleolithic cave paintings of ALTAMIRA, near Santander - in Cantabria, Northern Spain.

When I was eleven, I bought an old black hardcover book at a school sale or an Oxfam shop. It was The Testimony of the Spade; perhaps an odd choice for an eleven year-old; but I read about the cave paintings of Lascaux and the Sutton Hoo treasure, and Tollund Man, and studied the black & white photos and found it endlessly satisfying.

Time passed, and I read elsewhere about the cave paintings of Altamira, just over the border from Lascaux. And this time there were colour photos. The Altamira paintings are not as sharp as those at Lascaux - which are gloriously alive, teeming with bison, horses, allsorts; but, from that time before borders, they are believed to be by the same Magdalenian people who made the Lascaux paintings. (I confess, I can't retain these classifications, no matter how often I look them up.)

Where before I had responded to the energy, fluidity, and astonishing realism in the black and white photo images, now I could see the richness of the colours they used - these cavemen working 12,000 or more years ago!

I read somewhere recently that the artists worked with the natural curves and bumps of the rock, and on occasion worked the rock itself to better define the musculature of the bison, horses and other creatures they were painting. According to the inspiring and extremely well researched Wild Colour, which I have to return to our school library soon (Don't want to!) prehistoric cave artists were using pigments derived from ochre, iron, mineral clays, malachite and lapis lazuli.

I'm not alone in my fascination: do an 'altamira' image search in Google, and you'll find contemporary work inspired by Altamira and Lascaux, and no end of well-illustrated sites on the caves themselves.

Ok, happy now. Time for bed. Goodnight!

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