Many diverse images caught my eye and imagination this past week. Some were found in the details of boat bottoms in the commercial and sport fishing fleet docked in Princeton Harbor. The stories contained in the peeling paint and rusting ridges seemed to represent birth and death, beauty and harshness. Segments of these weathered ships with their patchworks of paint have created Diebenkorn-like abstracts.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is presenting a new view of two of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary painters: Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993).
This major exhibition explores the insightful inspiration Diebenkorn found in the work of Matisse. The show brings together 100 extraordinary paintings and drawings—40 by Matisse and 60 by Diebenkorn—that reveal the connections between the two artists in subject, style, color, and technique.
Diebenkorn grew up in San Francisco and first discovered Matisse as a Stanford University art student in the early 1940s. Over the next four decades he pursued a serious study of the work of the great French modernist. The exhibition represents the span of Diebenkorn’s career — his paintings in direct discourse with those of Matisse, whose own work he so admired. Take a trip to MOMA, and see the exhibition for yourself. Is there validity to my feeling that the abstract images I capture in weathered paint remind me of Diebenkorn’s masterpieces?
Another gorgeous San Francisco exhibit is on display in Golden Gate Park, especially around the Japanese Tea Garden — the cherry blossoms. In full bloom this past week, they draw us into the beauty of their branches, inviting us to stand beneath the blossoms and look up with awe at their colors and shapes. The twisting branches bend to show off the pink petals as the flowers bask in the rich blue skies of spring. The sweet fragrance that surrounds you hints at love and inner grace.
Locals and tourists flock to the cherry trees to have their portraits taken, some with selfie-sticks and some with the monster lenses of professional photographers. I prefer to photograph small segments of the branches to highlight the wonder confined in each flower.
Japan is a country rich in Buddhist and Shinto mythology and legends about nature. In those cultures cherry trees have special significance. In general, sakura, cherry blossoms, represent the impermanent nature of life. Not only is the magnificence of the flowers short and sweet, the trees themselves are also short-lived. But there are paradoxical meanings as well, meanings that symbolize birth and death, beauty and violence.
Japan sent cherry trees to the U.S. to represent friendship and goodwill. In 1915, we reciprocated by sending flowering dogwood trees to Japan. Dogwood trees represent the kind of friendship that is long lasting, even in the midst of turbulent times, much like the relationship between the creative energies of the artists featured at MOMA. In our own turbulent times, we might find some peace and direction in exchanging trees with those with whom we feel at odds, nurturing friendship and reaching out for mutual understanding. But perhaps meditating on peeling paint and rust, Diebenkorn and Matisse, and cherry blossoms will also do the job!