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Goat Man, Shattered People, and Magical Moustaches

May 12, 2011

If you want to meet someone a little wacky, hang out with artists.  Those people are not normal by any definition.  I mean, you’ve got dudes like Van Gogh and the chopping off his ear thing.  Michelangelo, the 15th century Italian Renaissance artist, rareley took his shoes off – even sleeping in full dress – It got so bad that when he finally did take them off, his skin peeled off like a snake’s.  Leonardo Da Vinci was lefthanded, which, really, is weird enough, but he wrote all of his notes backwards, so that his left hand didn’t drag across the page and smear his writing.  Caravaggio was known as the most famous artist in Rome during the early 1600s, but after killing a man over a tennis match, he had to run away, becoming the most famous artist in Naples where he was protected.  Sometimes artists are a wee bit on the other side of the odd line on purpose – American artist, Andy Warhol acted like a nut, because it was good self marketing and kept him in the news. 

Who knows for sure why artists don’t act like other folks?  Maybe paint fumes soften the brain, maybe years of seclusion working on your craft drives you batty, or or maybe it just takes a special kind of oddly wired brain to create great art.  Who’s to say? All I can tell you is Spain didn’t lack for their fair share of wacky artists.

Francisco Goya was born in Spain way back in 1746.  He started off normal enough, painting portraits of rich and powerful people to get his start, but soon started creating detailed pictures of bullfights, one of his favorite past times.  He became the court painter for the royal family, and was well on his way to becoming one of the most famous artists in Spain.  The thing that people really loved was that Goya was able to not just paint what someone looked like, but he had a knack for somehow getting their personality into the painting too.  He had money, he had important friends, he had a screw loose. 

Out of nowhere, Goya got sick.  Really sick.  I’m not talking about sniffles and chicken noodle soup kind of sick, I’m talking about some mysterious illness that had him on death’s doorstep and made him lose his hearing.  The illness changed Goya.  Instead of outgoing and fun, he became strange and reserved.  He spent most of his time alone and really weird stuff started showing up in his work.  Skeletons, witches, giants, creepy goat people… Goya got it together, at least publicly for a while, and his paintings were pretty normal.  He worked on churches and more portraits for a time. 

Around 1808, when the French general, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain, Goya changed again. He was in Madrid when the French forces slaughtered Spanish citizens, which led to a series of dark paintings showing the horrors of war. As he grew older, he moved into a huge house and decided to decorate. The decorating he did would probably make those people from the design shows run away and cry. On Trading Spaces and Design on a Dime they like throw pillows and fancy wall sconces, but Goya went a different direction – he covered the walls of his house with creepy witches, men clubbing one another to death, and demons eating babies.  Probably not what most folks would put in the living room, but the illness, the deafness, and his anger about the war all tipped Goya over the edge into the realm of Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. He wasn’t the only weird Spanish artist.

Almost a century later, Pablo Picasso was making a name for himself in the art world.  Just like Goya, Picasso started off painting realistic portraits.  Even as a kid, he had an amazing ability to paint things just as they looked.  Then the deep end called for him.

In 1901, Picasso’s BFF killed himself, sending Pablo into a deep depression.  For the next few years, Picasso painted almost entirely in the color blue, and just about everything he painted looked sad and depressed.  Some people felt this was brilliant, and others didn’t understand it, but it’s now known as Picasso’s Blue Period.  Pablo emerged from his funk a few years later, falling in love with a girl.  This started the Rose Period – where everything was orange and pink, and there were loads of paintings of circus people. 

Then came Cubism. For some reason Picasso started painting people like they were made of glass, fell on the floor, shattered into a thousand pieces, and were glued back together by a four year old with no thumbs.  Cubism became what Picasso was most famous for, and it had a huge influence on artists that came after him, but these are some seriously messed up looking paintings.

Finally, Spain gave us Salvador Dali.  This dude was goofy.  Just like the rest of them, he started out learning his craft with realistic portraits.  Soon though, he was inspired by Picasso and started painting in the cubist style.  Before too long, he joined a group of artists that called themselves surrealists.  Look at the middle of that word – you get “real.”  The “sur” part means “Only if you’re completely insane, live inside a drug addict’s brain, or have been repeatedly kicked in the head by very angry monkeys could this be seen as.”  These surrealist claimed they were painting things as they really looked, in your dreams, where the world is the way it should be.  If that’s the way the world should be, I’m quite happy with it looking wrong out here in the land of the normal people.  Dali’s paintings were filled with images that played tricks with your mind, people with holes in them, melting clocks, and things that were distorted and oddly shaped. 

There’s no real way to describe his work, so maybe it would help to know that these paintings come from a man who was invited to a movie premiere and showed up in a car so over filled with cauliflower that he barely fit inside it, a man who was asked to speak to art students and showed up to give his speech wearing a deep sea diving suit, a man who told people that his moustache wasn’t just a moustache, but an antennae he could use to communicate with aliens.  Then he got so weird that even the surrealists didn’t want him around anymore. 

I realize the world is full of kooky people, but it seems the art world is overflowing with them.  As we wander through Spain this summer, let’s keep in mind that a lot of the amazing things we’ll see were created by some of the strangest people you’d ever meet.  Also, keep in mind that if you want to tell anyone back home what you’re seeing and learning, some folks in Spain have magical facial hair that may be a cheaper than sending a text.

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