john berger our faces mu heart brief as photos illustration

John Berger and his ways of moving me

John Berger (1926-2017) has written such beautiful things, reading his books inspires me to draw or paint. I really can’t get enough of his books, so happy that I still got several to go. If you don’t know his writing, he usually writes about art(-related) or social subjects, a bit philosophically, very interesting. Besides that he’s also written several fiction books, though I haven’t gotten around to reading those yet ;-)

My drawing based on in his writing

This is an illustration based on part of his book: And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, one of my favorite Berger books. It’s a strange little book filled with lovely and interesting essays about art, love and humanity. Not only did this following passage make me draw, it makes me want to sent parcels and letters to loved-ones as well :)

I know it could be a little daunting reading this next text thoroughly, but I’m sure you won’t regret it. And you’ll get a good taste of John’s way of writing ;-)
Here it goes:

“The post office at Auxonne is small and the postmistress has blue eyes. I have been there only twice. The first time was to send you a parcel; as the postmistress weighed it on the scale, I imagined your hands opening it. “Four kilos, three hundred grams.” In a parcel, wrapped by hand, there is a message weighing nothing: the receiver’s fingers may unknot the string which the sender’s tied. In the post office I saw in my mind’s eye your fingers untying the knot I tied at Auxonne.

Ten days later I again stopped in the town, and went to the post office, this time to post you a letter. I remembered the day when I sent off the parcel and I felt a twinge of loss. Yet what had I lost? The parcel arrived safely. You had made soup with the beetroots. And the bottle of distilled water from the flowers of the orange trees you had placed on its shelf, above your dresses in the cupboard. All that had been lost was the little future of the parcel.
What we mourn for the dead is the loss of their hopes. The man-with-the-parcel was as if dead; he could hope no more. The man-with-the-letter had taken his place.”

Some other John Berger books that I really enjoyed:

  • The Red Tenda of Bologna
    A very short, but beautiful book about his visit to Bologna.
  • Bento’s Sketchbook
    A book with Berger’s illustrations and writings inspired by the writings of Baruch Spinoza
  • About Looking
    Essays about looking, seeing
  • Portraits
    A large collection of his essays on painters and their work

PS: The portrait on top of this post I drew with a fountain pen, the way he loved drawing most, with all the smudges and all that :) – He (and Dr. Who) made me fall in love with it too!)

Autumn photography

In Autumn

It’s only in autumn that I sometimes confuse birds in the sky with falling leaves. A leaf touches my hair, my cheek, another falls right in front of me. Though falling doesn’t seem like the right word, it’s more like dancing, floating elegantly. A joyful, unpredictable flight through the sky. Almost as if in this one moment of moving from the height of the tree to the crowded floor their whole life happens. As if they were made for that one flight. The tree their mother birthing them, the ground their final resting place. Amazing how the road to death can be so beautiful and so colorful.

Autumn photography
Autumn photography
Autumn photography
Autumn photography
Autumn photography
Autumn photography
El salvador

What can be said of my heart?

In my apartment, near my work desk, underneath two book shelves hangs a little reproduction of a painting by El Greco called ‘El Salvador’. It’s kind of a cliché Christ painting, it has all the usual elements of one, but somehow this particular one fascinates me.

One afternoon last week, as I was feeling restless, leaning against my radiator, staring at the large blank sheet before me, my eyes somehow landed upon this El Greco reproduction and I thought: Why not? I took some leftover paint from my last project and started painting that face. The narrow shape of the head, the long nose, the big round eyes. Underneath this El Greco reproduction I’ve taped a short quote by Oscar Wilde. It says: “Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said, He is just like a work of art. He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something.” (From The Profundis)

I think Wilde talks about the capacity of art to transform. How a silent, still picture can make you aware of yourself, your aliveness, your presence. And he attributes those same capacities to Christ. That by looking you know that you’re alive because you meet the eyes, the stare, the gaze of something outside of yourself and hidden deep within you. So often I deliberately ignore that presence. I pretend it’s not there at all. I don’t know why I do this, because being aware of it, seeing it brings so much joy and peace. It is so good, still I throw it away like it’s nothing.

El Salvador
el salvador
The painting somewhere in the middle of the process

Working on this painting (though I used more chalk than paint) was a way for me to try to come back again to that presence. A long conversation made visual. A meditation. A prayer. This song by The Welcome Wagon played in the background when I had just finished the painting and seems to accompany it perfectly:

El Salvador
The finished painting
rembrandt inspired photography

Keep going – Rembrandt and me

This morning I listened to Tomas Sadlacek talk about the story of the prodigal son. He said that the phrase: “When he came to himself.” Felt very weird to him. He said: Somehow we as people are not ourselves. He linked it to God, who says: I am who I am. And that with human beings it should be: We are not who we are.

Later in the day I was leafing through a book about Rembrandt and it made me wonder why he painted the way he did. Those lights and shadows, the mysteriousness, the atmosphere. So I made a little study of it. I took a photo of myself and edited it the way Rembrandt painted. The result was interesting. A boring, awkward self portrait had turned into an interesting, mysterious portrait of a woman who wasn’t me.

The fact that we as humans are not who we are gives us room to try, to change, to adjust, to see ourselves in a different light. Keep what we like, discard what we don’t like. Rembrandt said that life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses. And so I hope that the older we get, the lovelier we look 😊

rembrandt inspired photography
photo transformed into rembrandt painting

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