Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Multiple meanings of Fruit; Strange & Forbidden.

Biscuit Porcelain washer in the form of a lychee fruit, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi period. Length 10.2 cm.

New concept, new product.
In my quest to produce a new ceramic product, I was drawn to the idea to manufacture a ceramic product based on the expressed view, that man is what he eats. What came to mind was a basket of fruit with ambivalent and multiple meanings; based on an investigation into its varied symbolism from a religious and sexual perspective. There are many references to the symbolic meanings of fruit and its use in creative production. This investigation lays the foundation to produce an innovative and creative ceramic product (contemporary) that will function on a number of levels (decorative, utilitarian and ornamental - design based), especially the expressive, as is the nature of all my latest works.

    Mind Map. Painting by Giuseppe Archimbaldo, Summer, 1585, Paris Musee du Louvre.

    What follows is a breakdown of the preliminary research process;
    Mind maps
    Relevant Books
    Ceramic Products.
    Mind map including Visual Documentation and or stimulus.
    I have adopted a mind map approach in formulating the initial research investigation. This allows for an organised, yet broad based creative approach (all inclusive approach) to the topic at hand. I therefore have a record of the diverse issues (thinking) that will play a part in the conceptual development phase of the investigation. It mainly helps me structure the concept and narrow the research investigation within the parameters of the said topic to be explored.

    Mind map with images of Caravaggio's Still Life, Milan, Ambrosiana. 1598? and a detail of Bachus, Florence, Uffizi.c 1595-96.

    Why a Basket of Fruit and Why "Caravaggio", his name was actually Micelangelo Merisi (1571-1610). In my quest for an example of a basket of fruit (visual stimulus) the above image came to mind. I have always been fascinated by this particular work and although I initially had a very clear recollection of the image, I typically, could not attribute the painting to anyone artist in particular. A trip to the FADA library and a scan of a general art history book, confirmed the reasons for my fascination and its creator. The painting titled Still Life, was the work of none other, than the controversial painter Caravaggio (this kind of paining was not particularly fashionable in Rome at the time). Nicholas Poussin stated in 1660 that Caravaggio "came into the world to destroy painting", De Sade referred to his works as "beautiful horror", John Ruskin in 1850 called it "Horror and ugliness and filthiness" whilst Robert Hughes in 1985 termed it "Saturnine, coarse and queer".

    A study of the following inspiring works of art explain the significance and relevance of his work in the context of this investigation, and possibly shaped the expressed views of his critics above. The following extracts from the book Caravaggio, written by Howard Hibbard, provides insight the artists works such as The boy with a basket of Fruit stands as a prop for a still life -pictured below).
    "The luxuriant produce, vaguely autumnal with three kinds of grapes, is not precisely a seasonal display as it includes fruits that mature earlier. There is a soliciting aspect to this painting, writes Hibbard, and since some of Caravaggio's other paintings of 1590's are apparently homosexual in implication, we may read at least unconsciously elements of this kind into The boy with a basket, whose fruits have various potentially symbolic meanings.
    The gender of the figure in the following painting (image on the left) titled The Lute player is more ambiguous than his previous works. During the renaissance androgyny was equated with homosexuality. Hibbard states (1983;35) "That the musician now plays, and again (as in the painting the Concert of Youths) a violin, bow, and music are waiting, as if someone, perhaps the viewer, to take up and join in. Lutes were associated with particularly erotic music, and many amorous songs for the lute survive from this period. The erotic message is expressed in the languid imagery of the Del Montean Caravaggio, but the mock solicitation of the viewer is far more blatant than it was in the Concert, reinforced as it is by figs and cucumbers on the table.The vegetables seem overtly sexual, but they are only a gross footnote to the flowers, which have always been symbols of messengers of love'.

    Hibbard states (1983:37) that "the androgynous lutenist is an attractive mixture of the sexes -again a kind of discordia concors - and, just as flowers produce fruit, so to the lutenist, the musical scores and the violin on the table are sources of harmonious music. This picture could have read in this way as well as the other. It could also be taken as a illustration of the five senses, since flowers imply the sense of smell, the vegetables taste and touch, and the music touch and hearing. The whole painting is of course an appeal to our sense of sight and exists only because of it".

    Caravaggio, Still Life, Milan, Ambrosiana. 1598.
    Hibbard states that Caravaggio was credited for turning still life painting into art, and his creative skills in this genre is notable in the following works, Supper at Emmaus and his only independent painting of a basket of fruit titled, Still life featured above. Hibbard states that 'the fruits in Caravaggio's Still Life are basically those of late summer; four kinds of grapes, two of figs, an apple, pear, and peach. Everything verges on decay - which may simply be a function of elapsed painting time, Caravaggio's realism. There are also overtones in any display of maturing fruits that make them paradigmatic of the endless cycle itself. Such pictures can symbolize the vanity of earthly things, not merely by showing the inevitable maturation and decay of all life but also, as Ernst Gombrich put it, because every painted still life has the vanitas motif "built in" as it were, for those who want to look for it'(1983:82).

    Relevant Books, documents and essays.

    Cooper,JC.1978. An illustrated encyclopaedia of traditional symbols. Thames and Hudson Ltd. London.
    Ferguson, G. Signs and symbols in Christian Art. Cassell. London.
    Hibbard, H. 1983. Caravaggio, Thames and Hudson Ltd. London.
    Higonnet, A. 1998. Pictures of innocence, Thames and Hudson Ltd. London.
    Regnerus, M. Forbidden fruit; Sex and Religion in the lives of American teenagers. Image enclosed above.
    Robb, P.1998. M, Bloomsbury. London, 2000.
    Sill, G. A handbook of symbols in Christian Art, Oxford University Press 1961.

    Strange Fruit; Comparing the struggles of African -Americans for Civil Rights with the Struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Peoples, by Miss Poppy Dixon, 06.01. Dixon states, "The word 'fruit' has, in the context of the article, three meanings.

    Billy Holidays haunting 1939 rendition of the song (below), 'Strange Fruit' gave voice to a nation's anquish over the lynching of African -Americans (1).

    Strange Fruit, a song by Billy Holiday (1939).
    Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
    Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees,
    Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
    The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
    Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
    And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
    Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
    For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
    For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop'
    Here is a strange and bitter crop.

    Dixon also refers to the word 'fruit' as derogartorily to homosexuals in relation to hate crimes, a violation of both race and gender issues (2). To claim their deaths were caused by one prejudice, and not the other, would be presumptuous. In the essay she also outlines the meaning of the word fruit in relation to other related categories including (3), the law, marriage definition, the body and finally a conclusion.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    hi eugene... on to fruit, i admire and envy your approach to research and conceptualizing. alas i'm not wired that way but like salieri to mozart, i know enough to envy the approach. i'd imagine with fruit, there would be mountains of pertinent info to dig through. looking forward to where this leads