Do you know the story of Proust’s petite Madeleine? I haven’t done research, but I’m sure I would not be too far from the truth if I say that this is the most quoted story in papers’ introductions. Let’s be honest, the idea of Proust remembering his childhood with cookies (i.e. Madeleine) dunked in tea, one bite at the time, is just too beautiful. After all, who did not find memories hidden in random places? In songs, for instance. I cannot count the times music brought my mind back to the warm summers in Italy, to my first love or to my solo travels. But also paintings. And particularly with paintings, I am fascinated by the way some of them seem to recreate my moods and feelings of the past.
A Motley Life (1907) of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, for example, reminds me of my years at university when I was first introduced to Modern Art. I got literally hypnotised by this painting, which is, however, by no means the reason why Kandinsky is considered a pivotal artist. For that very exam, indeed, I’ve learned that Kandinsky is above all the father of Abstract Art, and that, within The Blue Rider group (1911-1914), his theories more than his paintings revolutionised art at its very core, freeing it from the limitation of figurative shapes and giving new meanings to colours.
Why of all paintings did this one get my attention and become the door to my university memories?
Well, beauty calls attention. The bright, glossy colours, applied in tiny strokes create a wonderful mosaic between life and folklore that I could not ignore. But why the memory? We do not fully understand why our brain keeps something and forgets the rest, but I have my hypothesis.
In this Russian, nocturnal landscape, many things are happening at the same time. If you look carefully you’ll see that this painting represents every aspect of life, a motley life, with heterogeneous elements and colours, in the same way fairytales do. I see, for example, two lovers about to kiss each other while leaning on a tree and I ask myself: why is the knight running in their direction with a drawn sword? I see an old man plodding forward with his stick. He has red cheeks, he must have certainly been drinking too much and for too long. Next to him an happy mother is lulling a new born child while a couple, dearly holding hands, is looking at her with a concerned gaze. Of whom is the child? I could go on and on fantasising around each character of this amazing painting, but perhaps you would like yo make your own story too.
The point I’m making here is that this painting told me a story and it kept telling me a different story every time I saw it until it absorbed the idea that I held back then that I could be whoever I wanted to be. Perhaps this is a to rational explanation, but I find this hypothesis very charming: A Motley Life crystallised the optimism and the excitement I had while ahead of me I was seeing an infinite amount of possibilities and not a single obstacle.
I don’t mean to suggest that I’m hopeless now. I simply don’t feel the same way. But I’m happy to have found this shortcut – Kandinsky’s painting – to that part of my life. This is also what art is for. Don’t you think?
I hope I made you a little curious about the painting too. Enjoy and don’t miss the murderer!