In praise of the P volume of World Book Encyclopedia
I was definitely the latter. With its glossy paper, very readable text and lots of images, World Book Encyclopedia was my first and only "art school." Now and then I'd open a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica in the school library, but quickly close it; its dense, scholarly text on bible-thin paper, law-book leathery binding scant illustrations seemed to be talking to a different kind of kid than me - one who didn't care for pictures.
This is the volume I took of the shelf most often: The P volume, pages 26 to 77.
I can safely say my obsession with art comes from the PAINTING section in this volume. I'd flip through the pages for hours, poring over the images, reading and reveling in the captions. Years later, on visiting MOMA, there they were, these iconic paintings hanging life-size in front of me.
I felt a wave of nostalgia to see my long-donated P volume again. I went online trying to wrestle it from eBay sellers insisting on selling the whole set and was eventually able to buy this musty copy for $10.
It did need a good sponge bath and quarantine in a plastic bag with bicarbonate of soda to try and remove the mildewy smell from years of neglect, thanks to the internet.
The musty smell remains. But I said down with a tingle of excitement and nostalgia as I turned to page 26.
The first painting that captured my attention was Return of the Hunters by Peter Breughel the Elder. I even bought a poster of this and hung it on my bedroom wall. The panoramic perspective is amazing, jettisoning me from my suburban Sydney backyard into somewhere so far and cold - and blanketed in with snow I'd never seen (Sydney doesn't snow. Ever).
|Return of the Hunters by Peter Breughel the Elder.|
Then, Chagall: what kid didn't stare at this trip shot of a man floating to kiss that lady as she ran towards the window? I could feel the air under my feet as I mentally floated up and over with him, and wondered about my neck, bent at 270 degrees, and her tiny, tiny feet.
|Birthday by March Chagall|
Flipping past the more religious, classical works, I spent a lot of time gazing at the Picassos. In Mandolin and Guitar, wanted to go behind the instruments to where I could see water, and and walk on those terra-cotta tiles with my bare feet. Seated Bather made me want to stick my hand through the spaces between the orbs of stone-like flesh. The spaces in Picasso's abstractions felt like Alice through the Looking Glass to me - like most kids, I loved to fantasize about portholes, wormholes, secret doors, mirrors you can jump through into another world.
|Mandolin and Guitar, Seated Bather and Woman Weeping by Pablo Picasso|
|Albert's Son by Andrew Wyeth|
|Detail of Man with a Magnifying Glass by Rembrandt|
Now despite being a budding modernist, frescos and illuminated manuscripts fascinated me, particularly the 2-dimensionality of this Giotto:
|The descent from the Cross by Giotto|
|The Annunciation by Fra Angelico|
|The Burial of Count Orgaz by El Greco|
|The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault|
|Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte bu Georges Seurat|
Rousseau had one of the most unique styles in the history of art. He painted dreamlike, mysterious scenes that resemble surrealistic paintings of the 1920's. The Sleeping Gypsy illustrates the remarkable individuality of his style. In this painting, Rousseau created a sense of haunting mystery by placing the sleeping figure and the lion in a dreamlike landscape.(Aside: Rousseau was actually considered a schmuck by critics, only to be hailed a genius much later - thanks to his pal Picasso, who recognized his talent).
|The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau|
|Little Pleasures No. 174 by Wassily Kandinsky.|
|The Barber Shop by Stuart Davis|
|Gala and the Angelus of Millet Immediately Preceding the Arrival of the Conic Anamorphoses by Salvador Dali; Landscape by Joan Miro|
|American Gothic by Grant Wood; Woman I, by Willem de Kooning|
|Night Owls by Larry Rivers|
|Forty Feet of Fashion by Larry Rivers|
And finally, the minimalist guru himself, Frank Stella, with Jasper's Dilemma. This pair of paintings make me think of the color and black and white TVs scattered around my parent's house.
|Jasper's Dilemma by Frank Stella|
$10 well spent!