Once, years ago now, I came across a sculpture that literally captivated me. The name of the piece is La Valse (which is French for The Waltz). Although I found it at the Musee Rodin in Paris, this particular piece that I so love was not done by Auguste Rodin. It was created by his mistress Camille Claudel.
Such a sad life she had. From what I have read she spent the last thirty years of her life in an insane asylum not because she was crazy but because her family did not approve of her life. And yet she created this piece of art which is lasting and beautiful. There is a flow to the the sculpture that is diffiult to define. And a romance. The lovers as they dance — perfectly frozen — they seem filled momentum. It is as if they could continue the dance at any moment if only someone could find the right music to play for them. If I could find a replica of this sculpture I would buy it immediately or at very least start saving my money for it. I periodically do a search for it via Google, but so far, I have not found one. Maybe someday I shall see it again. I certainly hope so.

A few months ago I did one of these searches again and this time I came up with a link to a flickr page. http://www.flickr.com/photos/lanphere/3864638413/in/set-1126707/

I have begun a small collection of artwork. Very small. The first piece of art I ever paid serious money for I bought in Sedona, Arizona. One day I was driving through and I stopped at one of the local art galleries. There I found myself completely in awe of a tall bronze statue entitled Self-Made Man by Bobbie Carlyle. I would normally put a photo of this into the blog, but I photographed this piece back in the days of film, and my prints are currently still in Maryland. But I can describe it. The sculpture is of a man, with his right arm raised high above his head.  In that hand he holds a great hammer. He is caught in that moment right before the hammer begins it’s downward strike. In this left hand he holds a chisel to his raised left knee. As the eye continues down you see that the man is quite literally chiseling himself out of a block of solid stone. It’s beautiful. And at the time I loved what I felt to be the message of the piece. Arizona is where I was when my father died. The idea that we are carved and shaped by these terrible blows, spoke to me. That something beautiful can be born out of intense pain — I need to believe that. And this sculpture conveyed that message. So, I purchased the 12 inch replica. I’m fairly certain my brother has permanently requisitioned this piece. He liked it too and I have moved so many times I doubt I shall get it back. He may have even talked me into giving it to him. 🙂 But it will always have a place in my heart because there  is something profoundly significant about the first piece of art that you love enough to want to make it your own.

I don’t have a lot of art. I love it, but more often than not the demands of reality, such as the need for rent and groceries, takes precedence over the desire for such arguably non-essential things. When I lived in Maryland I came across another piece that spoke to enough that I wanted to have it for my own. I met a painter named Kathy Karlson. Kathy lives in University Park, Md. The Gazette did an artist portrait on her after her work was displayed in the National Cathedral and I was the photographer. Her work is spectacularly colorful and wildly free. Most of it is abstract, but in some pieces you can see the hint of a landscape. There was one piece in particular that I loved. Again, I don’t have the photo. Sorry, it’s still in Maryland. It’s a large square the upper right and across the top is a violent array of red, oranges and yellows. The lower left and along the bottom is a study in grays and greens. One of the reasons I love this piece is that these colors shouldn’t go together. There is too much contrast. Yet somehow, she made it work. To my mind the gray and green patterns look like crosses. Specifically they look like rows of crosses. They kind that you see in a military cemetery. In 2004 I was in France and I got to visit the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. The rows of white crosses became a personal obsession. And when I saw this painting I was instantly put to mind of that cemetery. One of the things that I love in abstract art is that each view sees their own meaning in it. For my eyes this piece is a combination of the fire of battle and the price of war sharing the same moment. If you want to see any of Kathy’s work you can visit her website: http://www.kathykarlson.com/

As much as I loved the painting I didn’t and still don’t have two grand to spend on a painting. But I am a photographer and so I offered to photograph every piece of Kathy’s art for her in exchange for that painting. I didn’t really know what I was getting into because there was more art than I had imagined. But I love my painting and I got to really see and closely examine all of Kathy’s work. We spent days working on capturing the raw images of her paintings. It was a lot of work, but well worth it. Because my reward has been a second piece of art for my collection.

My third piece of art I have just acquired. I contacted Scott via Flickr and asked to purchase a print of La Valse. This may not have been the most sensible use for money for my tax refund, but sometimes a little non-sense is good for the soul. For all the art I have ever been drawn to this is the first time I have ever been willing to put money into someone else’s photography. If I am going to spend money on photography, I am going to spend it on my photography. That was true until now. When I saw this picture, this image that so perfectly captures what I remember and what I loved in Claudel’s work that I knew I wanted it enough to buy it.

My print arrived yesterday. It came in a box that is truthfully the hardest to get into that I have ever dealt with. I would have smiled, except that I was terrified of damaging the print with my box cutter. I did get the box open and inside, my print. It’s gorgeous. Looks even better printed that on the computer. I have had it in my hands for less that an hour because my print and I went straight to the frame shop. It’s been a long time since I worked with a framer. Framing art work is expensive. But worth it. Jake at Montana Frameworks and Gallery helped me go through frames and mats and glass. I knew that I wanted something red, like cherry wood for the frame, but beyond that I really had no solid ideas. I settled on a medium thick deep red frame clearly showed the wood grain and went well with my print. Now to the mats. Black, of course, after all it is a black and white print, but I don’t necessarily believe that a black and white must be framed in black and white. Why not a red, like the frame? Jake seemed very happy with the idea and quickly set to help me find a matching wine-colored red. While we were looking I stumbled on a burgundy suede mat. I have never used suede in my framing. It didn’t even occur to me as an option. Fortunately for me Jake is familiar with it. And loves it. He highly recommended the suede when I saw the way it looked laying next to the print there was no other choice — it had to be the suede. The material acts a little like velvet and absorbs the light. The color is rich and also plush. And that burgundy, against the black and white, stunning. The black suede for the top mat was also a must. That material seems to enrich the colors. All the other black mats I looked at were never a true black, but only shades of grey. The suede Coal Black with a black core. Perfection. On a side note: now that I have seen suede mats I doubt I shall ever use anything else.

After all that I thought we were done, but the burgundy suede didn’t quite match. It wasn’t perfect with the frame I had selected. And this began to bother me. Jake said that when he found one little thing in framing that bothered him, he had a tendency to focus on the flaw more and more. As he said it, I knew I would be the same. It just didn’t match. But I loved the suede so the change had to be the frame. Ironic that piece of the puzzle that lead me to the suede is now the piece that I am discarding but that is rather typical of me. If I can’t have it match perfectly I would rather not try to match at all. So, we went with a slightly larger mahogany frame. Brown, then black, then burgundy, then black and white. It looks amazing and in three to four weeks I shall have my newly framed piece of art to hang in my home. I can hardly wait.

Last night I wrote to Scott to tell him my print had arrived and to let him know of my plans for it. I think that the gorgeous frame is going to be perfectly set off against the rich yellow wood of the log cabin. I am hoping for an extreme contrast between the style of the work and the rustic nature of the wood that somehow works to the benefit of both. He sent me brief note on the history of the statue and I have decided to copy that here.

Camille Claudel, created this sculpture in 1889, but it evolved into this form by 1895 and was cast by Eugene Blot Foundry in 1905.The origin of La Valse can be traced back to as early as 1889, when Claudel wrote of her work on the subject in a letter to Florence Jeans. The genesis of this group has been described as follows: “Without a doubt the most celebrated work by Camille Claudel, dating from the end of the happy time with Rodin, it is more than L’Abandon, her most erotic sculpture. In a first version gone today, the dancers were nude; l’Administration des Beaux-Arts was shocked by this audacity, and demanded that the sculptor clothe her characters.’’ (Reine-Marie Paris and Arnaud de la Chapelle, op. cit., 1991, p. 127)

In another version, today known as the first, the figures are enveloped by drapery which climbs up and around their heads. In a second version the drapery is modified, so that the figures are now nude from the waist up.  Variations also ensued from this second series, in which the base on which the figures dance was modified and the placement of the man and woman’s heads vary. The present work incorporates several of Claudel’s modifications, as here the man’s lips rest tenderly against the woman’s cheek rather than against her neck as in other versions.

Furthermore, the drapery is more worked than in other versions, and serves as a support for the two bound in their delicate and passionate dance. From the days of its first exhibition, La Valse was lauded by the critics. It also should be noted that as well as receiving critical acclaim, this subject was also beloved by many of Claudel’s friends and fellow artists. Of the many works by Claudel representing musical themes, La Valse was a particular favorite of Claude Debussy, with whom Claudel was extremely close, although the nature of their relationship has never been substantiated. He kept La Valse on top of the mantlepiece of his studio.

It has been noted that La Valse comprises some of Claudel’s “most daring and personal works’’ and that with “these works, Camille Claudel displayed a completely autonomous genius and takes a place among the greatest artists of the turn of the century.’’ (Anne Rivière, Bruno Gaudichon and Danielle Ghanassia, op. cit., pp. 116-17)

For those who are interested, Scott’s professional work can be viewed at http://lanphere.zenfolio.com/

There are a lot of photographers I admire. People whose work inspires me to push myself to become a better photographer. Perhaps the lesson I shall take out of all of this is the value in letting myself love someone else’s images as deeply as I love my own.