Occasionally, an artist comes along who just makes you happy. I’ve felt that way about certain pieces my whole life. And whether its fine art or a cartoon or an children’s book illustration, the love for a piece comes suddenly and without warning. I remember, upon first moving to Washington DC for an internship in 1993, I took myself to the Hirshhorn (I am a huge proponent of visiting a museum alone – particularly if that museum has a nice spot for a latte) and, upon climbing the stairs, came face to face with this piece : Ernest Barlach’s “Old Woman Laughing.”
And I was immediately filled with an absolute happiness that came upon me suddenly and unexpectedly (the best kind of happiness, I might add). The joy of this piece has stayed with me all these years and it still maintains its place as one of my all-time favorite works of art. Of course, another patron might just walk on by this piece, without being moved at all – and come to find their own treasure just around the corner. Which, for me, is the true wonderment of art – what speaks to one person may not speak to another and that’s just the point. Art is subjective and should remain so – as long as we, as onlookers and appreciators, continue to respect the art itself.
Another piece that has always stayed with me is Manet’s “The Brandied Plum.” My grandmother Deedles gave me a little compact to keep in my purse in college with a mirror on one side and an empty space for a photograph on the other. Rather than fill that space with a family portrait or glossy of my boyfriend at the time, I immediately put in this picture. This painting just moves me immensely. Not only do I love her cigarette and her little dish with the plum inside (how I wish I could order one of those!) but I love how she’s sitting and have always believed that she’s not waiting for someone but rather enjoying a moment alone in a cafe with just her thoughts and a fabulous hat.
And who could resist Chagall’s “Birthday” in which the lady’s suitor hovers above her like a green and blue bird with a kiss? From an illustration point of view, I’m also a complete sucker for Edward Gorey and I think it probably dates back to watching PBS Masterpiece Mystery with my grandmother in which the opening credits were animations of Gorey’s drawings. Yes, Gorey can be quite macabre (take his books “The Loathsome Couple” and “The Glorious Nosebleed” for example) but nothing captures his inimitable charm better than his book “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” which details the untimely demise of an alphabet of children. Gothic? Certainly. But who could resist “N is for Neville who died of ennui.”
Come to think of it, I would like to have my own museum (which would, of course, have a fantastic all-night cafe) and fill it with all of the pieces I’ve adored throughout the years. Wyeth’s “Around the Corner” and Whistler’s “Mrs Frederick R. Leyland” and just about anything by Juliette Borda. I’d have Magritte’s “Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe” (in homage to my Modern Lit professor in college) and Thiebaud’s “Cakes Poster” (since I’m hungry) and Klimt’s “Farm Garden with Sunflowers” (because there’s really nothing more gorgeous). And I’d let everyone in for free and we’d spend a lovely afternoon toodling around the exhibits and I’d be able to share all of these little pieces of me just hanging there on the walls. And then, you’ll invite me to your museum. And I’ll happily see you there.