To me, a painting is a large surface with objects represented in a certain order... for example, the headless woman with a pail of milk who appears in one of my canvases executed in 1910-11; if I had the idea of separating her head from her body, it is because I needed an empty space right at that spot. Chagall said that about his painting To Russia, Asses, and Others. But he might just as well have said it about other paintings of his, including The Poet, or Half-Past Three. What interests me in Chagalls explanation is his phrase an empty space and his need for it.
Apollinairethat gentle Zeus, Chagall, liking poets, called himviewing Chagalls paintings at the same time, 1910-11, in Paris, uttered the magic word surnaturel which, translated, meant Chagall had a vision of the world, his own peculiar way of seeing it. But Chagall himself admitted only to solving a compositional problem when he separated that womans head from her body. He needed an empty space.
So do I, as a man who writes poems about Chagalls paintings. The need I have for an empty space is this: without it, I am helpless before a painting. I cant find my way inas if the paintings first and last message to me were KEEP OUT, as if I were being intentionally and aggressively excluded from the paintings action. And so much is going on in Chagalls paintings. Thats why I like them... because Chagall put empty spaces in them for me. They invite me. In.
At the same time, 1910-11, Chagall was worried about laying himself open to the accusation of falling into literature. I confess, he confesses, that when I heard this word uttered by young avant-garde painters and poets, I went a little pale. The word literature was deadly to him, inasmuch as it suggested everything, in painting, that could be explained and told from beginning to end. Understandably, Chagall summoned up in himself all his capacity for resistance to meaning of that (literary) kind. It would deny his paintings their mystery, which mattered greatly to him. Perhaps, it seemed to me, other dimensions exista fourth, a fifth dimension, that would not simply be that of the eye, and which, I insist, did not seem to me to have anything at all to do with literature, with symbolism, or with what is called poetry in art. He said. His paintings in 1910-11 were about the astonishing freedom light of Paris. Thats all. They didnt mean anything else. He was (merely) solving compositional problems... separating bodies from heads. His reality was elsewhere.
My relationship to Chagalls paintings is different. Once admitted to them, through the empty paces he has left me, I can do with them whatever pleasures me. I am free, in Chagalls light, to collaborate with him, to re-create his paintings in my own (minds) eye. Line, to me, is not a thin, continuous mark, as that made by a pen, pencil, or brush. It is story-line; it is narrative. Thats what I would fill Chagalls empty spaces with: poems that tell stories. The story of The Poet Lying Down, the story of The Drinker, the story of The Rabbi with a Lemon, the story of The Poet, or Half-Past Three...
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