Saturday, March 22, 2008

March 22 - Celebration of Two Artists

Marcel Marceau and Agnes Martin:

Mime and Minimalist

Admist all the celebrations for Spring, I decided that it was high time that I lived up to the subtitle of this blog and began paying homage to art - and indeed those Amazing Ones who create art. Today, March 22, marks the birthdays of two artists, Marcel Marceau and Agnes Martin. Although their medium of choice was quite different, each of them spoke eloquently of their personal experiences and philosophies in the world through their art.

Marcel Marceau was born in Strasbourg, France on March 22, 1923 and captured the world's attention through "the art that dare not say it's name." Yes, you guessed it. Mime.

Born Marcel Mangel, this thoughtful child found great inspiration from film stars. He reveled in the comedic brilliance of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy, but the genius that truly captured his heart was none other than Charlie Chaplin. His father took him to see Chaplin in "City Lights" and soon after that, Marcel began his first silent impressions.

"I have designed my style pantomimes
as white ink drawings on black backgrounds
so that man's destiny appears as a thread
lost in an endless labyrinth. I have tried to
hed some gleams of light on the shadow
of man, startled by his anguish."
Marcel Marceau

During the early part of the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, Marcel and his brother Alain moved to Limoges and worked for the French Resistance. (Their father had been captured and killed in Auschwitz). It was at this time that they also took the surname "Marceau" to conceal their Jewish roots. It is no wonder that Marcel sought to bring light to Man's suffering and inhumanity through his moving, silent commentaries.

"I learned to become a humanist, and not to dwell
on the differences between Jews and Christians."
Marcel Marceau

Through the world of his well-loved character, Bip, Marceau eventually became a household name, appearing on American Television in the 1950s and 60s and then wowing the world around the globe. He died on September 22, 2007 (exactly on his 84th and a half birthday), leaving a legacy as an Artist and Humanist, having opened our eyes to the wisdom and unity of silence in a divisive and clamorous world.

Preceeding Marceau by some 11 years, Agnes Bernice Martin was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan on March 22, 1912. She spent a good part of her youth in Vancouver, British Columbia, before moving to the United States in 1932, becoming an American citizen in 1940. Her ventures into art began that same year while living in New York and studying intermittently at Columbia University as well as in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico. She also taught painting at UNM from 1947-48. In 1958 after returning to live in New York, she held her first one-woman exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery. Her paintings were constructed on a grid system, where she superimposed lines in pencil with bands of washed painted colour over fine-grained canvases. Sometimes it gave the impression that the colours were floating off the canvas. (Above work: "Friendship" by Agnes Martin, 1963)

Martin's paintings actually influenced the development of Minimalism in the U.S. (The Museum of Modern Art defines as a "Term used in the 20th century, in particular from the 1960s, to describe a style characterized by an impersonal austerity, plain geometric configurations and industrially processed materials..." Although some described her work as austere in form, she defined it personally in a lecture that she gave at Yale University in 1976 entitled, "We are in the Midst of Reality Responding with Joy." In her mind, the work she did was not intellectual, but highly spiritual. (Above work: "Untitled Number 5" by Agnes Martin, 1975)

In 1967, Martin concentrated less on painting and more on writing, but went on to form alliances in 1975 with the Pace Gallery in New York, and in 1991, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam opened an exhibition of her paintings and drawings which then travelled on to other European museums. In 1992 the Whitney Museum of American Art held a large gallery of her work. She passed away in 2004 in Taos, New Mexico.

Althought one might not immediately see similiarities in their chosen artistic expression or their messages, I believe that both these "artistic Ariens" were both successful and highly expressive in mediums that are not easy to master.

Out of interest, I decided to run a natal astrology chart for both of them and found that they shared a Sun in Aries and a Moon in Taurus - many artists have these two signs in the same placement. The forward moving, self-interested Aries combined with the loving, dependable, and strong-willed Taurus moon.

Even though both these artists are no longer with us in the flesh, we have been fortunate to have known them and the gifts that they bestowed upon us. To see such wisdom in silence and simplicity is certainly the truest test of an artist.

As I bid you a fond goodnight, I'd like to also wish Mr. William "Captain Kirk" Shatner a very Happy 77th Birthday today...


"Never get a mime talking. He won't stop." Marcel Marceau

My thanks to Danann and Butterflies-R-Free at Flickr:

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