Towards the end of his highly successful secular career as a painter in Toledo, Juan Sánchez Cotán turned towards the Spanish still-life tradition of Bodegónes (a painting of the contents of a larder or pantry), and in doing so created some of the most memorable and mysterious still-lifes in the history of art.
In marked contrast to the still-lifes of the Nederlands and Italy with their tables replete and overladen with all manner of extravagant, expensive delicacies, Sánchez Cotán’s paintings are austere, almost severe. The objects portrayed are limited in number and are of a humble everydayness. They are either perched on bare grey ledges or hanging from strings (a method prevalent at the time to stop food from rotting and out of reach of pests), without a beginning that we can see, and set against a stunning use of negative space, an intimate almost mystical velvety blackness. None of the objects touch or intersect, they retain their own unique distinctiveness in space. The positioning is geometric, especially the perfect parabolic curve described by Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, rendering the paintings almost abstract in spite of the baroque realism that verges on illusionism. This is still-life as an aid to the contemplation of God’s glory in all his works, especially the mundane and frequently overlooked.
In 1603 Sánchez Cotán closed up his Toledo workshop and renounced the world to join the Carthusians, a monastical order with a strong commitment to solitude and silence.
Juan Sánchez Cotán is believed to have painted 12 still-lifes in total, however only 7 have survived to the present day. Above and below are six works that represent bodegónes perfected by this master.
In 1938 the Swiss clairvoyant and telepathic healer Emma Kunz began to channel large scale drawings on graph paper using coloured pencils, crayons and a pendulum. During the creation of a piece, which could take up to 48 hours, Kunz neither slept or ate, subsisting entirely on liquids. Neighbours commented that the light was always on at her home. The drawings were then used as a therapeutic tool for her patients, whom she would encourage to meditate upon the mandala-like patterns.
I was first led to this astonishing artist by a comment about my post on the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, (thank you herongrace). There are indeed similarities, both were female abstract artists with an all consuming interest in mysticism and spiritualism, whose mediumistic art goes far beyond aesthetic formal concerns. Both Klint and Kunz were only discovered after their deaths, and indeed were two-thirds of an exhibition on leading female abstract artists, the other being Agnes Martin. However Klint was a professional artist who kept her groundbreaking innovations a secret, while Kunz had no formal artistic training but thought highly enough of her work (and rightly so) to publish two books.
Since the first exhibition in 1973, ten years after her death, Kunz’s work has been show around the world, including a joint show with Joseph Beuys and Rudolf Steiner. The Emma Kunz Museum in Wurenlos, Switzerland houses 70 of her most important artworks.
Agent Lee, provided with the best cover, tailed the trade and talent in Agartha on the look-out for the word on Al the Angle. What was on the agenda today? Everyone has an agenda, naturally enough, and the Angle had the poise to exploit any number of situations to his advantage. The various reports circulating of the Angle moving his operations to Agartha was of the gravest concern to the controlling authorities and the forces they in turn answered to.
If the intelligence was to be believed somewhere in this twilight territory where reality itself appeared porous, the Angle had set up base, undoubtedly co-ordinating and triangulating, in an calculated effort to bisect previously untouched zones and sectors, to expand his sphere of influence. Agent Lee was the obvious choice to go under in this underworld, fading to grey to the point of invisibility. Besides he was the kind of talker that got others to talk while never giving anything away himself. He had that talent, though he had other gifts even more highly prized by the controlling authorities.
But where in this city, with its warren of streets and rapidly changing intersections, which no map could ever capture or even begin to convey the complexity of, was the Angle hiding? Traditional enquiries only lead to suburban cul-de-sacs or dangerous dead-ends. However Agent Lee had other methods at his disposal, methods only to be in the event of extreme emergency. After rolling the dice and shuffling the pack Agent Lee was persuaded that now was such a time. He set off to the Cafe Rouge et Noir on the corner of Fascination and Oblivion Streets where he was going to meet, by chance of course, a women with a violetly vivid aura. She would have the skinny on the Angle, now going under Alabama Al, though he wasn’t American. He would have to approach obliquely.
Minimalism and abstraction are certainly not styles usually associated with alchemical illustrations and engravings, but the extraordinary emblems in the Paradoxa Emblemata utilise both to great effect, two centuries before they became institutionalised in modern art. Continue reading →