Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
attributed to Picasso
This year, the Ripoff Artists take a flying leap at Marc Chagall’s Blue Circus, painted in 1950. Chagall (1887-1985) worked in many different artistic media: painting, drawing, printmaking, illustration, theatrical backdrops, ceramics and stained glass. He studied and participated in many of the major artistic styles of the early twentieth century. In the 1950s, Picasso said, "when Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is"
Chagall was born in 1887 near Vitebsk, a small city in Belarus. He knew early he wanted to be an artist, which wasn’t easy for Jews in Imperial Russia. He chose to use his Jewishness as a major artistic theme, but came to see his art as "not the dream of one people but of all humanity." He moved to St Petersburg, then to Paris to develop his art career. In 1914, he went home to his home village to marry his sweetheart Bella Rosenfeld, just as the First World War broke out. They were trapped in Russia. They moved to St Petersburg, then in 1922, they left Russia, never to return. They lived in Paris, then in New York.
Chagall said that every time he was with Bella, his feet didn’t touch the ground, and in his paintings, happy loving couples lift off and float, as in one of his best-known works, The Birthday. Bella wrote about that day in her own memoirs, when she surprised him at his studio with cake and flowers she’d hidden in a shawl. ‘Spurts of red, blue, white, black. Suddenly you tear me from the earth, you yourself take off from one foot. You rise, you stretch your limbs, you float up to the ceiling. You head turns about and you make mine turn. You brush my ear and murmur.’
His work was an outpouring of his inner self onto canvas, and he had more in common with the poets, writers and thinkers of Paris and New York than with many other modern artists. His figures are abstract but recognizable, and his work is full of movement, colour, emotion, dreamlike settings, whimsy and humour, personal symbolism and references to his own life. A fish often appears in his paintings as a tribute to his father, who worked long hard hours for a fish merchant. Chagall set many paintings in his home village, long after it had been destroyed by two World Wars and the Russian Revolution, but the Eiffel Tower may appear in the background. In his work, rabbits play in an upside down landscape, horses fly and mermaids soar above a moonlit sea.
During the Second World War, some prominent Jewish scientists, writers, artists and thinkers were taken to the US on a special visa program, among them Marc and Bella Chagall and their daughter Ida. By the end of the war, almost all European Jews had been wiped out, and of 240,000 people in their hometown of Vitebsk, only 118 survived. Bella died in 1944. In 2016 a musical play about Marc and Bella Chagall, “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk,” was mounted in the UK (A glowing review of the play is here) (And the 1:53 minute trailer for the play is here)
A year after Bella’s death, Chagall began a romance with photographer Virginia Haggard, and they had a child together. She left him in 1952, then his daughter introduced him to Valentina “Vava” Brodsky, a woman from a similar Russian-Jewish background. They married and were together for the rest of his life.
Chagall was already well-known by the time he moved to the US. In the 1950s, his career and reputation exploded and he took on much larger challenges: a painting on the ceiling of the Paris Opera, stained-glass windows for the synagogue at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and in many European churches and cathedrals. He created a stained glass window called “Peace” for the UN. He also did backdrops, set and costume designs for theatre, mosaics and many tapestries. On the day he died, he did a design consultation with the weaver of a tapestry he’d designed for a hospital in Chicago. He was 97.
Blue Circus is one of many images he created of the circus. He would attend with artist friends, taking his pencils and sketchpad. As one writer states, Chagall loved the circus. “Why am I so touched by their makeup and grimaces?” he said. “With them I can move toward new horizons.”
The Ripoff Artists are moving toward our own new horizon by doing the 2020 challenge in a virtual format. Each artist will work at home, and every day during Ripoff Week, July 6 to 11, we’ll share photos or video of our progress. Look for those by late afternoon every day during the week.
Leading up to that week, we’ll be sharing photos, videos and updates as we prepare for the challenge.
Look for “Virtual Studio Tours” and slide shows on our website, ripoffartists.ca,
our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/southokanaganripoffartists
And our new YouTube Channel, South Okanagan Ripoff Artists! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEdXUR1mEhMerxb0diJTQCA