I THINK MARC CHAGALL WAS A LOUSY OIL PAINTER…

There, I said it…

…I also think Marc Chagall was arguably the greatest stained-glass artist of the 20th century, and he was a dab hand at lithography, but as a painter in oils – average to poor.

Not that it is any bad thing, to be the greatest exponent in one artform, brilliant at another, while being massively overrated in a third. If my own gravestone epitaph were to read, “Here lies Adam Green…writer of the seminal biography of King Saul, and an alright painter…” I’ll take that, thank you very much.

However the reason I mention this is that most of the pictures below (which also featured in an earlier post) are all, to a certain degree, Chagall-influenced, and although I was no huge fan by that time, I was yet to come to the conclusion which heads this piece. That happened during the following decade or so, when the veil dropped from before my eyes regarding the alleged greatness of Marc Chagall and his even more illustrious contemporary, Henri Matisse. It was during those ten years or so that I came to understand that their genius lay not so much in the distinct styles and aesthetic they developed, but in the way those styles developed to mask their severe limitations as draughtsmen. For the stark fact is, that neither of these two artists, both obsessed with the narrative qualities of the human form, could reliably draw the human body and especially hands and feet.

With this in mind it is fascinating to ponder what might have become of these two giants of 20th century art if they had been born a hundred years earlier, before modernism liberated artists from the shackles of academic rigour.

Nevertheless, they were both undoubtedly brilliant picture makers, with a formidable sense of image and design, and thus genuinely artistically important and enduringly influential. Hence, my own dalliance with Chagallesque themes and style as an impressionable young painter at the outset of my professional career. The reason I’m re-presenting them now is because since that original post I have discovered higher quality slides , much truer to their actual colours and textures…

The Choice – 1979 – oil on paper: I think this tale of teenage angst and identity crisis is pretty self-explanatory. Sadly for the fiddler, (as much as I dearly love him, especially in the form of Isaac Stern playing John William’s stunning cadenza at the start of the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof), and “the God of my fathers”, they didn’t stand a chance against the siren riffs of James Page and co…
The Seder – 1979 – oil on paper: Long after I had stopped believing in a god, I retained a warm affection for several Jewish rituals, and none more so than the seder, which in our house at least, was always loads of wine and food infused fun. I think this highly symbolised image of the prophet Elijah actually turning up to enjoy his specially set-aside goblet of wine, with the Children of Israel walking between the parted waters expresses some of the fun I felt…
My Brother’s First wedding – 1979 – oil on paper: The story behind my older brother Michael’s first wedding is far too sordid to go into here, but this most Chagall-influenced of all my paintings from this period, captures something of the atmosphere. That’s me, bottom left, trying hard not to show my well placed cynicism at the proceedings. Michael and his bride were separated within weeks of the celebration, which was no surprise to anyone standing beneath the chupa …
The Eviction and the Angel (detail) – 1979 – oil on paper: The eviction from Eden was a theme which I returned to many times, but this was the only version I attempted during my brief Chagall phase…
Jacob and the Angel – 1979 – oil on canvas: This picture and the one below were virtually a diptych and even sold to the same person. They were the final two paintings I made in this style, and I think they are the most resolved too…
Fiddler in Green – 1979 – oil on canvas: Like Jacob and the Angel, my fiddler is reassuringly sanguine with his lot, even though contained and constrained within his canvas. In addition, the bright reds and greens and solid designs I think were intended to project a feeling of optimism.

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