Las Delicias De Un Ambiente ArtísicoSaturday, May 22, 2010
Ambiente in Spanish is not all that equivalent to either ambiance or atmosphere. It is closer to the French milieu. Since I can remember I was surrounded at home by an ambiente of music, books and film. Because I am that old we had no TV yet. Radio was important and I listened to lots of it. At night my mother would put me to bed and she would switch on our wireless (as my father called our radio) to LRA Radio del Estado. I was lulled to sleep with concerts of classical music from the Teatro Colón. When people asked me what kind of music I liked I would always say, “The music of the Teatro Colón.” I had no concept of anything called classical music. In those late 40s and 50s of my life the Argentine tango being popular (in all the meaning of the word) meant that we never listened to it at home. My parents were snobs. I grew up to classical music. This was reinforced by visits to my grandmother’s apartment in downtown Buenos Aires. My mother would play the piano (Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert) and she would accompany my uncle Tony and my grandmother who sang songs of Gershwin and others that were popular during WW II. Sometimes my Aunt Dolly would play her violin.
I was no older than 9 when my father and mother took me to Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileo Galilei in Spanish. I remember vividly that the play was in a theater in the round. They also took me to a summer outdoor production of the Barber of Seville. I must have gone to many amateur and professional performances of Gilbert & Sullivan musical. My father loved them.
I had to take guitar lessons (I was not very good) and I went to drawing classes. Before we left Buenos Aires for Mexico City in 1955 I had to take lessons in Argentine folkloric dancing. It involved lots of zapateado (foot stamping).
In Mexico I rebelled against the guitar lessons but my mother insisted I take art lessons. I never did tell her some of the unintended fringe benefits of her idea. My teacher was an English man called Robin Bond. During the war he had been drafted by the British Army to help in the camouflage of ships, tanks, trucks and warehouses. This kind of work served him well when he moved to Mexico City in the early 50s. Bond was an expert in how colours would reproduce in different shades of gray. He became the best set designer for TV in Mexico. He worked for the Mexican TV company Televisa. At the time, of course TV was in black and white.
Bond had his house and studio in la Zona Rosa which was not yet the tourist Mecca it became in later years. It was with Bond that I learned about the bohemian life. As Bond lived it, it meant that he would go to bed around 2 or 3 in the morning and he would wake up late morning. It meant that I often arrived to my class when he was still in bed and I would see some woman run, quite naked, into the bathroom. He would then offer his friend and me very strong coffee. He smoked lots. On other occasions I would show up and Bond would be drawing his friend (there were many different ones and they were always nude). He was so immersed in what he was doing that it was about that time that he began to mix his colours on his walls.
I was attracted to this sort of life. I was fascinated. Bond was always kind and gentle with me. To this day I have a memory for the smell of his studio which was a blend of cold coffee, tobacco and oil paints.
One day I could no longer paint or draw. I was too old (15) to be spanked when I told my mother that all I could do was to stare at a blank canvas or paper and that I could not do anything. She was furious but she realized it was futile to punish me. But by then the shape of my life had been set by the example of my parents and family. I had been raised in an ambiente artístico and I would never ever be able to live without a constant reminder of how important art, music and later dance would be in my life.
This ambiente artístico hit its heighest moment when I befriended the Argentine painters Juan Manuel Sanchez and his wife Nora Patrich. The situation lasted for close to 10 years until they abruptly decided to call their marriage quits three years ago and they went back to Buenos Aires in separate planes. For 10 years I shared their bohemian life, (not quite as I had to get up early to either teach or work). I talked to them every day (in Spanish) and we shared books and films. We worked on colaboraciones which were studio sessions (in my studio or in their home which was full of antiques, books, real Picassos and etchings of Goya. In 10 years Juan Manuel Sanchez gave me an arts education.
I marveled on how one day when Chilean director/actress/playwright Carmen Aguirre (a stunning woman) came to my studio. I checked my watch and within two minutes she was “en bola” (nude). Sanchez had and has a way just like Robin Bond had. It was Sanchez who taught me that my desire/obsession to photograph women in the nude was perfectly natural and logical.
One day Sanchez told me a joke ( a real story). It seems that he and some friends were having cafes cortados (strong Argentine coffee with a drop of milk) in a café in Buenos Aires when someone asked him who his favourite saint was. Juan answered, “Santa Conchita.” The joke is entirely Argenitine. Conchita is the Spanish (but certainly not Argentine!) endearing way of calling women who are named Concepción which is usually short for the complete María de la Santa Concepción. The problem in Argentina is that thanks to Linnaeus who identified the anatomical bits of a clam with sexual underpinnings, a concha in Argentina is a woman’s private part. A conchita would thus be a little cute one.
Taking Juan’s idea to its end we brought in several models of different ethnic backgrounds into his living room and Nora, Juan and I painted, drew and photographed ethnic Virgin Maries. The one here is a severely cropped (so you cannot see that which is the raison d'etre) of the picture of an Santa Conchita de Valparaiso or translated into English Holy Mary of Valpariso, Chile. Which brings me to C, the Chilean subject of today’s blog.
While I had been taking many nude photographs of women in my studio, the garden or in my favourite location a “suite” in the fleebag Marble Arch Hotel, I had never done so with two painters. This was a different and much more rewarding experience. I had to do my photo setups slowly so that my Argentine friends could sketch. This taught me to observe. We began to draw from each other for inspiration. With Sanchez and Patrich I took some of the best nudes of my life. As always because they were portraits they do not seem to suffer as much as they should when I crop them to fit within the standards of my blog where I determined over four years ago that I would do my best not to show nudes, or at least without the conchitas and the other bits and pieces that just might offend somebody.
C and her animator husband were happy in Vancouver but they were unable to get a permanent visa and had to return to Santiago. They have been successful in obtaining that visa so they are returning in June or July. I look forward to taking pictures of one of my best muses.
C has what I think is a immensely erotic mouth, more so as it seems to be the right combination of petulance, disdain and voluptuousness. This voluptuousness of the lips spreads to the rest of her body. Her breasts are magnificent and her extremely white skin glows in some of the pictures here were I used Kodak b+w Infrared film. In some of the other photos I used very fast film with the existing light of the Sanchez/Patrich living room. There is some degradation of the image because of the cropping out of the interesting parts!
Last Tuesday I decided to teach my two Focal Point classes at home. The idea was to teach them to use studio lights in the garden and learn to mix existing light with artificial light. The weather was not cooperative so we stayed mostly in the house and they shot in the living room, the dining room, the den and the entrance. One of the models, a lovely woman of uncertain age willingly took it all of quite quickly and some of my students (in their 20s and early 30s) photographed their first nudes ever. I felt a bit frustrated in being the teacher and not one of the photographers.
But I somehow felt a bit like being on Robin Bond’s side and even Sanchez watching my students develop their style in my home with the help of an excellent nude model. I hope my students get to meet a Bond or a Sanchez who will explain to them the wonders and why we must all do this without ever feeling any pang of guilt.
Both Rosemary and I do our best to give our granddaughters a bit of that ambiente artístico in the hopes that they will grow up with inquietudes. Inquietud in Spanish is a feeling of unfulfillment that can only corrected with a plunge into the arts.