Category Archives: Oscar Wilde

Walk the Walk Flaneur Style!

flaneur-style-old-nycThe definition of a “flaneur” loosely stated is “the art of strolling”. A flaneur is an “idler, a man or woman of leisure, a street connoisseur, an urban explorer”.

Isn’t that just an inflated way of describing a person who walks? Not really. If you are engaged in the act of walking, practically speaking, such as from train to office, from car to house, from desk to desk, from kitchen to bedroom, That is just transporting yourself from one place to another, usually with a necessary intent in mind. Flaneur, a term coined by philosopher Walter Benjamin in the mid 19th century, is far more involved. It’s a lifestyle, part of Parisian culture that Benjamin discovered, observing the poet Baudelaire, and other so called “dandies” of the time, whose flaneur instinct was an innate part of their personalities as artists in the society. Baudelaire was the first flaneur to appear in the literary world. Benjamin an intellectual observer of society’s nuances in his own right was influenced by Baudelaire’s flaneuristic tendencies. His famous series of poems” Les Fleurs du Mal”, describes Parisienne life in the famous arcades asseen thru the eyes of the flaneur.

From an Nyc painter perspective, flaneur or walker, is a necessary activity when on a hunt for ideas, inspiration, and insight to be utilized in the studio later. Because there is no bounty like the urban environment’s gifts naturally exposed to me on my artist walks, open eyes and open mind the necessary tools, while gathering new material for upcoming paintings!

walking-in-nyc-flaneurThe cities London, Paris, and New York are the flaneur’s heaven. Exploring by foot, at leisure, is not only enjoyable, accessible, and exciting, but is also a way to fill the creative well. One goes out with a blank mind and returns with an overflow of sensory information. The walk is not just a walk , simplistic in  meaning , but a “gastronomy of the eye” as Balzac aptly called it!  Getting out of the studio, the office, ditching the computer , is a welcome journey for the creative to go on, the simple stroll, becomes a hunt for jewels  to fill the treasure chest of the mind !

Paris is the flaneur’s natural habitat. As Edmund White paraphrases in his book, “The Flaneur”, “looking at people go by has always been the Parisian’s favorite pastime; no wonder they’re called gawkers!” Baudelaire says of the flaneur,” the crowd is his domain, as the air is that of the bird, or the fish of the sea” The cafe life in Paris caters to the flaneur’s love of observation or as we call it today, “people watching.”

gerard-de-nerval-walking-pet-lobsterIn the mid 19th century, when the flaneur became a “thing” in Paris, it was associated with the lifestyle of the “dandy”, the idle rich with excess time on their hands to stroll the city’s streets at their leisure. Oscar Wilde, Baudelaire, and Gerard de Nerval, the French Romantic poet, who actually walked his pet lobster around on a blue silk leash, were a few of these “dandys”. When questioned about his unusual lobster walking habit, Nerval retorted, “why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog?” Of course, Nerval was utterly and completely Mad! But an original flaneur in every way!

“The crowd was the veil from behind which the familiar city as phantasmagoric beckoned to the flaneur”

Walter Benjamin, philosopher and essayist, was fascinated with this subject. He noted that there was no English equivalent. Being an observer, of human behavior, flaneur was prime material for his fertile mind.

vivian-maier-photos-art-blog-nycBut what about photographers famous or otherwise? Watching, looking, recording strangers, wars, society, celebrities, buildings, faces, light, scenes, landscapes, the exotic, the banal, the photographer’s work in progress is an on going documentary of life as seen through the cameras eye. Certain Nyc photographer – flaneur’s , like, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, Edward Steichen, Cindy Sherman, were always on the GO, walking the streets , looking for new material, and thousands of photos later, we get to experience the city as they did . In the film “Finding Vivienne Maier”, we are taken on this illusive mystery woman’s  city walks, her camera focused ,watching, walking, and waiting for the photo she wanted.  Robert Franks, in his “The  Americans”, the dynamic expose of our society in the 1950’s, Weegee’s crime scene photos from the underground Nyc life, also pre 1970, Ron Galella, celebrity photographer, stalking his obsession Jackie O, up and down the city streets, Doisneau’s, iconic black & white, photographs of Paris, are spectacular records of the street life, and  give us a view of early 20th century life we can only experience through photos such as his. Amazing stuff, stepping into a time capsule, that only the flaneur, armed with camera, or sketch pad, or journal, can give us, from his street perspective, up close, we get to see what he sees and that is a special experience. Diane Arbus’s freaks, her attraction to the atypical as her subjects, the circus freaks, the retarded child, the vagrant, the downtrodden, city characters she came across during her flaneuring in NYC,  sealing her place in history ! The writer, Edmund White, cites French photographer Eugene Atget, as a “scientific flaneur.” “An obsessed photographer, determined to document every street in Paris, before it disappeared forever in the new construction looming in the future.” These flaneur’s armed with cameras, have the ability to document the city scape as it changes, is torn down, rebuilt, transformed over time, with the photographs left to document what once was. In Vivienne Maier’s stunning collection of thousands of NYC photos, now available in a book, “Street Photographer” one is given a historical photographic journey of a city that no longer exists.

henry-miller-tropic-of-cancerHenry Miller, the charismatic novelist, spent his early writing life on the streets of Paris, with his lover Anais Nin, usually looking for a meal, but also gathering  material for his banned book “Tropic of Cancer”,  and the future tropics to follow. Miller is always walking the streets of Paris, from Pigalle to the Bastille, to Montparnasse, the Right Bank, the Left Bank,  he covers by foot, every avenue, every “rue” of old Paris. Miller, the Brooklyn boy, writer in training, expat, soaking up the sights, the people, the language, living as a true “starving artist”, pursuing his dream, his walks taking him into Zola’s “Belly of Paris”, and giving the world his gritty life view in the pages of his often controversial, raw, rough, provocative novels!

There was a recent study by the medical profession stating that “sitting is bad for you” physically. But I maintain that mentally, it’s not great either. Walking is physically AND mentally invigorating!  It’s healthy  mobility, your body and mind moving in tandem, together it’s a powerful combo where all systems are go, and when that happens, the mind is turned on to the stimuli around you as you walk. The synchronicity, the harmony, walking, gives body and mind, is irreplaceable. This is a process that painters get ideas from, returning to their canvas, full of inspiration, visuals, ideas, potato-planting-Van-Goghprovided by their  walk! Van Gogh’s paintings of the potato planters, his sight holding them in his artist’s eyes, as he walked through the Dutch countryside, Utrillo’s cafe scenes, clearly from his meanderings through the winding Monmartre streets in his absinthe haze, Lautrec’s cabaret posters, his brothel paintings, walking with his infamous cane, that held a beaker of absinthe, or brandy in it’s hook, making his flaneur experience compatible with his drinking. The SITTER has a very different experience. One is stationary, compact, confined. Whereas the WALKER is movement, freedom, mobility, unleashed!” Transitory poetic in the historic” Baudelaire says. As only he could, using his poetic liscence freely.  Yes, there is the possibility to “achieve transcendence” as you wander, walk, stroll stride, saunter the city streets. It’s the unexpected encounter, the surprise event, the sudden illumination, the street action, people, traffic, energy,  all carry the flaneur’s ahead, around, and towards new sights, different views of old sights, and unfolds untapped resources of the mind that your walk inspires!

oscar-wilde-flaneurWhile Oscar Wilde, the poet, playwright, gay icon was serving his prison sentence in 1897, for sodomy, “gross indecency” with other men, he wrote a journal he entitled, “De Profoundis”.

“I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a flaneur, a dandy, a man of fashion, surrounding myself with the smaller motives and the meaner minds.” He was feeling regretful, experiencing a prison sentence, ill, depressed, facing the end of a colorful, if turbulent life.

Wilde was the ultimate dandy. He carried flaneur to another level, where his strolling, or cruising, the modern description, walking the city gave him material for his literary works, as well as his erotic lifestyle as well. He was proud of his “dandy” status, unapologetic for anything he did, giving the social environment he lived in many tantalizing moments! This dress, his curls, his homosexual identity, all made him quite the outrage! Another flaneur about town, artist in the making, personality extraordinaire!

There have been many flaneur’s who have made history, as observers of the city, depicting their imagery artistically since the late 19th century. Walking is not especially newsworthy on it’s own, but the distinct qualities of the FLANEUR set him apart, this unique individual activity, absorbing, the city as a classroom, a studio, a library, a stage, where life unfolds in its personal way, view and viewer merging as one, strolling, wandering, gawking, gaping, while walking your turtle or lobster on a leash, leading to creative vision and fresh inspiration, galvanizing new goals, energizing a wider view, while revealing an expansive horizon timeless and free!

The Green Fairy

artists-paris-absinthe
Oscar Wilde once said when describing his much loved absinthe:

“After the first glass you see things as you wish they were
After the second glass you see things as they are not
Finally you see things as they really are”

It was called The Green Fairy, named so for the intense color of the liquor, and the spell though often hideous and sometimes fatal, it put it’s imbibers under. The addiction was instantaneous, the power to alter the senses intense, and the risk of poisoning by the fatal wormwood was high. But these were the attractions of the sugar laden toxic alcohol,the ladies and gents of the Belle Epoque era in Paris were smitten by daily at the Green hour of five o’clock , when the cafés would fill up with the artists and writers of the time , all looking forward to embellishing their day with the popular beverage known as absinthe.

1970-concert-light-show-picSpeaking of art – one doesn’t have to be under the green fairy’s spell to achieve a similar effect of drugged out stupor, when looking at certain paintings be it a Jackson Pollock, a Basquiet, a Twombly, be it the colorful swirls of a Van Gogh,  also an absinthe drinker, or the street scenes of Utrillo, an absinthe devotee. The varied shades of the French impressionists, the New York Ab-Ex group, the graffiti artists of the 70’s and 80’s, the surrealists from Dali to Magritte and the pop wonders of Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Warhol , and Rosenquist, give the viewer of these greats works, that crazy indefineable, multifaceted range of emotions, the love -hate, that transcends us to a new level of thought and perception uniquely ours to behold and absorb.

Paintings job is to provoke, disturb, stimulate,  cause joy, or sadness, excite, or depress. The gamut of emotions stir our spirit when confronted with a work of art, and it’s always a surprise to feel the effect. As the Guru  of art education and philosophy states in his famous well read book, The Art Spirit, Robert Henri says “the artist disturbs, upsets ,enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible.”

So why have the guilty pleasures of absinthe, opium, LSD, alcohol, marijuana, been socially linked to artists as a fundamental almost necessary part of their artist identity? The fuel necessary to stoke the creative fire?
toulouse-lautrec-absinthe-art-parisIt’s not easy making art and though the paint may flow easily, from your brush, the ideas may be more difficult to give birth to. Retreating to your studio- the sanctuary where the birth takes place,means leaving behind the outer world of society’s conformist rituals in order to reach deep inside and extract the magic from the soul, that gives life to ideas, transforming them unto the canvas, the page,  as the painting, the poem, the novel, the song. The additional impetus of alcohol, or opiates serves to assist in this process and enlighten the sub – conscious where new and extraordinary visions  reveal themselves and in the process art is formed.

Absinthe was a natural during the Belle Epoch era in Paris, where the Impressionists, like, Picasso, Lautrec, Matisse, Valladon, Cezanne, Renoir, Modigliani, Rousseau, and their friends like Max Jacobsand Apollinaire, gathered in cafés after laboring in the birth process of creation all day, to indulge their senses with absinthe and conversation. Five o’clock, the Green Fairy descended and the cafés filled up with her enthusiasts!Then the 60’s brought with it, LSD, rock and roll, pop art, pot, and the art crowd were hooked! It is what it is | 23" X 30" | Acrylic on Paper | 2012Through their transformed, acid tripped heads, the artists work was enhanced with supernatural effects not achieved when their heads were screwed on straight.Be it absinthe in Paris, LSD in Manhattan, or opium in Chinatown, drugs have been a ubiquitous art tool along with paintbrush paint and palette.

Toulouse Lautrec kept his super convenient stash of absinthe in the hook of his walking stick, a clever invention making him able to supply his addiction moment to moment, as he strolled the streets of Monmartre and the brothels, of Pigalle. Picasso’s drug of choice was opium, and the only ill effect it seemed to have on him was making it possible for him to create a superhuman body of work. His productivity was  infinite!

Andy Warhol with ModelsThe factory pop gang of Warhol’s invention in NYC back in the day was known for its cocaine useage,with LSD and pot the common standby. The artists of the 70’s and 80’s thrived on hallucinogens, with the excess and transcendental experiences they encouraged. The swirling colors of those trademark hippie light shows, the expected background to the pop concerts of the day, the masses of stoned out hippies chanting to the Hare Krishnas mantras, the Haight Ashbury communes where LSD ruled, all joined art and drugs as a connected link towards the road to creative expression.Wildes 3 stages of experience in his personal absinthe history, are similar to the same mind altering events artists of all generations can attest to in one form or another.

The Cooler than School, hipsters of today in Williamsburg ,the Lower East Side, and Prospect Heights, can only imagine the world that the dead artists and writers society, lived and worked in, often from a drug induced mind,  where their subconscious floated way over the grid, leaving their incredible bounty of art to the world, the paintings and literature that documents another time past , kept alive thru the power of the paintings, the written word, the poetic visions.

absinthe-bar-trend-brooklynSo interestingly, today in our Pop culture urban life, we see absinthe bars popping up all over the Nyc metropolis. Absinthe cocktails on the bar menus of the hippest hottest restaurants in town. Absinthe had a resurrection, and became cool again, but only in the dumbed down version, the watered down let’s pretend it’real, and of course, minus the dreaded wormwood. Let’s call it a Virgin Absinthe. Yet it still holds an allure of danger, of romance, of risk, that people associate with the artists world , and if the Brooklyn hipster landing in Nyc from Cleveland, or Philly, or Seattle, can sample a small part of that taboo life, of the days of Oscar Wilde and Toulouse Lautrec in the confines of a dark, sleek bar possibly one of the new ones springing up every week in Brooklyn, in Union Square, on Pell street, in FlatIron, with the Green Fairy working her spell, stopping time, and unleashing the fantasies as you trip the light fantastique into the unknown, heading towards that mysterious place where YES!”

After the third glass you see things as they REALLY  ARE!”

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