Acting, Ethics and Being Human

An incredibly incisive comment on the moral obligations of acting by Eddie Marsan on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking show (available to listen here):

I was making a film with Ewan McGregor once and we had a couple of hours off; we was watching a film with this big American star, making a film and the performance was awful and Ewan said this great thing. He said, “He’s referencing other actors and what he’s doing is he’s playing a character based on other performances of other actors.” And we both realised that that’s morally a terrible thing for an actor to be, because as an actor you have to be a human being so that when people watch you they think “that’s me” and they don’t feel lonely any more, they don’t feel isolated, they feel that they could talk to the person sitting next to them; but if you portray characters referencing other actors, then you create a character of what we wish we could be, so those performances create more isolation. They create more detachment, more depression, more low self-esteem and so the job of an actor is to give an honest testimony of what it is to be a human being.

— Eddie Marsan

David Hockney at the Royal Academy

By Rob Packer

The cadence of summer schoolboy shorts and winter mittens and bobble hats determined my life from an early age. Fireplaces and cold at Christmas, the end of cold around Easter and my birthday, summer picnics in the park marked time. But in every new city, my European rhythm has had to be adapted to learn the subtle modulations and surprises of the heat of a Kyrgyz October, the rain of a Hong Kong May or the bitter cold of a southern Brazilian winter (by far, the worst I’ve ever experienced). It is these barely perceptible shifts that David Hockney focuses on and powerfully captures in his Royal Academy exhibition, A Bigger Picture (link to the Royal Academy here with video).

I often associate Hockney more with his role in Pop Art and his swimming pool paintings than landscape work, but the strong geographical and thematic focus on the Yorkshire countryside works in the exhibition’s favour. Around half of the galleries are hung with series of paintings of the same view at different times of year, which makes for a far more inclusive and responsive exhibition than a typical retrospective. This time, the cliché of creating a dialogue with the viewer really does ring true.

For me, most impressive was the opening gallery of a four-part series of trees in Thixendale (the exhibition is full of delicious northern place names). The same three trees, arranged around an octagonal room, appear like three ladies with spring branches dancing in the wind, in the exuberant steadiness of summer, clad in red matching the brown of a harvested field, and in the grey sadness of winter.

A fascinating difference comes in the differences in method between painting from memory and from observation. In his memory paintings, roads seem to meander through red-brick suburbia, the Salt Mills in Saltaire lord over tiny purple-roofed terraces, or the Yorkshire Wolds undulate across fields in a panoply of colours: oranges, pinks, crimsons or turquoises. When painting by observation, his colours and shapes are (understandably) more realistic, although even then geometric shapes seem to appear in hay bales and country lanes or trees appear to be trying to escape the ground.

By far the most impressive part of the exhibition, however, is Hockney’s embrace of new media. Towards the end come slow videos of the Yorkshire countryside and ‘The Arrival of Spring’, a series of 50 sketches that Hockney created with iPad and stylus during the first few months of 2011. The results are hard to believe with postimpressionistic misty greens and purples or lines of red and orange, and it feel like a combination of paint and graffiti art and you might not, quite frankly, know these were iPad sketches unless you were told.

These repeated thematic series foreground subtle changes that are often felt rather instinctively, and in one case—where a pile of logs is suddenly missing—I felt the same dull disorientation of something familiar no longer there. In January, the BBC Radio 3 broadcast a documentary on Hockney entitled ‘New Ways of Seeing’. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but these past few days have probably been the best possible time to visit, as bright sunshine and blue skies have caused what feels like an explosion of spring and I’ve noticed my own reawakened interest in and sensitivity for the changes in seasons. It truly is a new way of seeing.

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture until 9 April at Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

Art and Microfinance

This is a repost from my blog on Kiva Stories from the Field. Check out the site for blogs from other Kiva Fellows across the world.

By Rob Packer, KF10 Colombia

When I first became a Kiva Fellow, I never imagined that one day I’d spend a cold, rainy afternoon in Bogotá discussing the merits of art-as-expression against art-for-profit with an aspiring artist and Kiva borrower.

The Nevera (the fridge as Bogotá is known to costeños for its chilly climate) has a very feel from Colombia’s Caribbean coast where I’m based. Partly this is because you need a coat and an umbrella; but it’s mainly because of Bogotá’s urban charm, which sometimes reminds me of European cities like Madrid; and the more formal and reserved nature of the cachacos (people from the interior of Colombia). Bogotá is also a city of revolutionary urban projects, such as Ciclovía—other cities might boast at closing their streets on Sunday mornings so inhabitants can go cycling or running, but the roots of this began in Bogotá 30 years ago—and the TransMilenio, the urban transportation system of running buses in dedicated lanes—admittedly Curitiba was the pioneer, but Bogotá’s version is often cited as the model when yet another Latin American city opens a network. As the capital, it’s also a national centre of art and on a previous trip to Bogotá some Colombian friends had shown me around La Macarena, a bohemian barrio of the city admiring the street art and imaginative restaurant concepts.

On my next trip one of Bogotá’s credit officers, Luis Carlos, and I headed to the south of the city to visit Germán Gustavo Garzón, a self-taught and aspiring artist as well as Kiva borrower, who lives in a barrio called La Macarena de los Alpes: like its namesake it’s perched on the side of the escarpment overlooking Bogotá, but lies at quite a different end of the socioeconomic scale. As we arrived at the point on the hillside where Bogotá ends and the mountains begin and the rain began to fall, I was struck by how unexpected the situation was: I’ve realized I’m far more used to meeting artisans than artists (for more on the difference in perspective, check out Suzy Marinkovich’s 2009 poston the same topic in Peru).

Germán in his studio in Bogotá.

The view out over the rainy skies of Bogotá.

Germán’s parents moved from the countryside to Bogotá many years ago and began setting up businesses very similar to the microbusinesses that I see on a daily basis: his father worked as a shopkeeper, his mother as a seamstress. Germán told us that “A muchos de los papás de mis amigos era impensable que su hijo pueda ser pintor, o poeta (To a lot of my friends’ parents, it was unthinkable that their son should become a painter or a poet).” As if to express the irony of this view, all of their children developed an artistic streak of one kind of another; Germán told us that during his childhood, the house would be dominated by his two sisters dancing on the staircase—both are now contemporary dance and performance art teachers—while Germán painted and his brother wrote poems and short stories on a typewriter. For much of his childhood and adolescence, he had no formal artistic training and only started taking courses in the past few years. It was at a woodwork class at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios—an organization with links to FMSD—where he attended an information session with two Bogotá credit officers and became a borrower with FMSD.

Paints, paid for by Germán's Kiva loan.

In my experience of microfinance, it can often be difficult to support a family member in their dreams as an artist: I have come to learn that it’s an incredible luxury for a Kiva borrower’s child to attend music or ballet classes and a sign that their business is going well. Germán’s response to these needs has been to bridge the gap between microentrepreneur, artist and artisan, and to do both: he used his first loan to invest in materials, which he uses to create artisan works (art-for-profit) and it’s the proceeds from these artesanías that then support him in his true passion, art-as-expression, either as work for friends, for art shows or socially-minded projects such as murals in the local community or performance art with marginalized groups in Colombian society.

As the conversation continued to a rainstorm and background music from Beirut, Sigur Rós and Björk against a view over southern Bogotá, adding to the magic, it emerged that both Luis Carlos and I were frustrated artists—he a painter or sculptor, I a photographer or writer—beaten as we both became to realize that art wasn’t for us.

Germán as artisan, showing us a lamp that he makes to be sold in artisan shops in Colombia.

Germán as artist. This painting representing his grandmother was one of his first paintings and was what made his realize he should follow the path towards becoming an artist.

Meeting people like Germán is one of the most rewarding parts of being a Kiva Fellow. It makes you realize that in spite of the difficulties that borrowers might experience, sometimes vocation is vocation. It made me thankful to know that microfinance provides people like him with the means to pursue their dreams.

Rob Packer is a Kiva Fellow currently working with the Fundación Mario Santo Domingo in Barranquilla, Colombia. There are borrowers from Colombia with FMSD who you can help by contributing to a loan today, and many other entrepreneurs from around the world on the Kiva site.

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