Monday, July 9, 2007

The Color of Love

“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art,” Marc Chagall once wrote. “It is the color of love.” Chagall, born on July 7, 1887 in Vitebsk, Belarus, beautifully painted the colors of love in images such as The Birthday (above) throughout the 97 years of his event-filled life. Few painters capture the magic and color of love like Chagall.

Despite the turmoil of his life, essentially the turmoil of twentieth century Europe, Chagall never lost touch with his Russian and Jewish roots, even in Paris and later in America. Hoping for a better future, Chagall aided the Russian Revolution of 1917 and even became the Soviet Ministry of Culture’s Commissar of Art for his region. When that hope went unfulfilled, Chagall fled back to Paris until the Nazi occupation during World War II. Thanks to Varian Fry, Chagall and his wife made it safely to America. Chagall kept his village memories in his heart everywhere he traveled. Images of cows, chickens, horses, simple villagers, and their plain houses populate Chagall’s imagery, including I and the Village (above), and comprise the main elements of his personal mythology, symbolizing the fertility, joy, and hope of his childhood memories, which grew into his adult ideals. “We all know that a good person can be a bad artist,” Chagall once said. “But no one will ever be a genuine artist unless he is a great human being and thus also a good man.” Equating great painting with great humanity (Caravaggio notwithstanding), Chagall links inseparably his beliefs in the power of art and the goodness of people.

In The White Crucifixion (above), Chagall co-opts Christian imagery to convey the larger human issues of suffering and pain, perhaps at the hands of Soviet and Nazi fascism. Some critics see Chagall commenting on the Holocaust here, but I see Chagall more as a painter of generalities than specifics. I’ve always viewed Chagall’s painted ideas to be as broad and as universal as the appeal of his colors and symbols. What star-eyed lover hasn’t imagined craning his neck magically for a birthday kiss as in The Birthday? Chagall stretches the boundaries of reality to reach the fundamentals of life: faith, family, and love.

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