Thursday, 31 July 2008

Vincent Van "Cut my Earlobe" Gogh has another woman.

Is it the left or the right ear?

As an artist, Vincent Van Gogh stood out from his compatriots in being way too tortured a soul. This reflected in his pieces, all of which are vibrant, soulful and utterly reckless in composition.

Van Gogh was one of my earlier art discovery, and his life makes very good reading of what the life the past greats lead. It has been a while since I re-read the book I have on him (cheap sale, so it was something I could afford) but this piece discovered far more recently, was most probably a design sketch. It slips my mind, by if I am not mistaken, the dull, monotone, paintings are Van Gogh's earlier works which were not among his best.

Unlike most artists, Van Gogh's art represented his thoughts and interpretration. It might not look as good as, say Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (my opinion, at least), there is a certain hard core and guttural emotional attraction to the Dutchman's art work.

Lovers of Jeffery Archer's short story should find some comparison in the Van Gogh's brothers with the latter's own "Chalk and Cheese" in "To Cut A Long Story Short" except for the sheer tragedy in the real life tale of Vincent and Theo.

Picture that makes you want to dwell into the stories behind them. What could be better than this?

"The World is Flat." "Yes, I believe it is."

Black and white is beautiful

Three years of studying in England fed me with a steady diet of good old black, grey, white and grainy colored movies that are much, much older than I was back then.

Some were quite good and left lasting impression in me. On some weekends ITV (as it was back then) would have an Alfred Hitchcock specials and everything from Psycho to Vertigo, to the classic Birds, would be shown. Most of these weekends would see me glued to the idiot box; a cup of Nescafe at my side and some kind of snacks to pass the more mundane moments, in a terrific run of nostalgia television.

There was also this one movie which impressed me a lot. Before getting much acquainted with the Internet, I remembered it simply as the “Angry Men”; and it was only recently (NOT THAT RECENT, ok) that I discovered that the title also had the number 12 in front of the two words: “12 Angry Men”.

For a movie that existed mainly inside a room and involving more talking that even Parliamentary debates, the 1957, first timer Sidney Lumet, directed movie made me sit throughout the whole film. The only actor I knew and recognized amongst the cast of no more than 20 to 25 actor and actresses was Henry Fonda, and by God, he was good as the sole doubter of a man’s guilt.

!2 Angry Men was about a 12-man jury which was supposed to decide whether or not a young accused was guilty of killing his father and sentenced to death for the crime. As the drama unfolded itself, the audience witnessed the many, many factors which often come into play in such life and death matter.

Sometimes it might not even be related to the case at hand.

Imagine 12 men who have been “quarantined” for whole weeks at ends, and finally reaching the end (the movie set on a Friday and this factor measured heavily in all the players’ mind) with a simple unanimous decision the key to their freedom. Except, it was not that simple due to a single doubter who persisted and did not give in to the niggling thoughts within that the case was not so clear cut.

The whole movie was about this cut and thrust in both legal and logical debate, whereby one by one, the 11 other jurors became convinced otherwise from the initial guilty verdict they were ready to pronounce to the court against “the boy”. There were no names except for two of the jurors surname (Fonda would, of course, be on of the one named) right at the ending of the movie, an anti-climatic conclusion after all the intense jury-room drama.

12 Angry Men was a great movie, but it did not really score with the moviegoers back then and it put off Fonda from ever producing again.

I doubt if it would have fared any better if it was produced today. A movie that depended heavily on the actors carrying their characters to the fore, it would have bombed. Tanked totally. How many movies have you watched recently that needed you to follow every word, every mannerism, every act of the actors in order to enjoy it? None would be an appropriate answer, methinks.

However, no right minded modern day producer would have even considered the movie in the first place. A movie with 12 ALL MALE, WHITE, jurors would be set upon by the liberals in no time. Having no African American (my, such a clunky term, isn’t it?), no Asian, nor other minority group members, and definitely NO FEMALE except in minor, minor roles in the lineup would have made the 12 Angry Men far too left to be acceptable today.

It, however, worked with the political, social and judicial realities during the year it was made – 1957 – when liberal ideas were still very much just ideas.

What 12 Angry Men did show – something still relevant till now - was that things are not so clear cut, and that black is not black and white is not white just because we say so. The jury system is long gone from our criminal justice system. Rightly so, as leaving the legal deliberation to logical minds is not the best of solutions when it comes to guilty or not guilty decisions.

Under the Rule of Law, as accepted by many countries all around the globe, someone accused of committing a crime is presumed innocent until proven beyond doubt that they are indeed guilty. How indeed can one be sure, when a single doubt could easily be amplified to destroy whole cases, no matter how solid the evidence?

When the world was without color, showing that black and white were not absolute with varying range of grey thrown into the mix, was far easier.

Slowly, though, these gray hues are becoming darker and darker, as they are overwhelmed by the vibrancy of colors gone mad, and the lines between right and wrong decided by those who shouts the loudest, and hustles the strongest.

Sadly, a single doubter might have worked all those decades ago, but even Davis (Fonda) would found himself swimming against a Tsunami had he tried the same stunt today.

Think about it.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Defining Beauty


Portrait of a Lady (1993)

Not her, but a distant cousin..

I had chance upon her during a visit of an Indonesian Trade Fair exhibition sometime ago, the year of which now misses me, entirely.

She was looking towards the horizon, but for all intentions, you somehow knew that she knew she was the subject of admiring glances. There was a sweetness of innocence about her, something so surreal and yet, so down to earth. I had walked passed her, but managed to catch a glimpse through the corner of my eyes, and it was enough for me to do a backtrack of my steps, stunned by the simplicity and grace in her beauty.

While some might frown at her show of ample skin in baring her shoulders and the upper part of her chest, her doing so provided the most vivid of contrasts between her fair skin and the myriad of colors in her sarong, tied neatly just above her bosoms (as Javanese and elderly Malay women of the yesteryears are wont to do). Her dark hair emitted its own radiance, highlighting her perfect features even more.

Up close and personal, I saw that she was even more beautiful than I thought she was.

I knew the VGA camera in my Sony Ericsson Z600 would not do her any justice, but it was the only thing I had. Even with a snapshot stored inside my phone, I returned to the booth yet again when its time to leave the exhibition.

She had no name, and the only identity to the artist who drew her was a scrawl I could not decipher. I left it at that and walked off, cursing myself for not being rich enough to just buy the painting so that I could gaze at her for the rest of my life.

Unlike those by the Great Masters, this painting seemed as though the artist was enjoying him or herself fully, perhaps chatting with the model even as the image presented itself on canvas. The final work was so simplistic in its strokes that you’d almost swear that even you could do it.

She stayed on in my mind for a while, but as the saying goes – out of sight out of mind – and now I do not know where the pixilated file resides as I have since changed phones. After a while, I totally forgot her until I boarded the Putra light train, heading from Setapak to Suria KLCC. They had this Art Gallery-on-wheel presentation as the train’s interior d├ęcor – kudos to the management for the high five to Malaysian art lovers – and, lo and behold, one of the portraits emblazoned along the make-believe corridors was a painting etched in the same style, the same pose.

Memories of her came racing back. While this portrait was certainly fairly executed, it pales with the image etched in my mind’s eye. Alas, frantic search could not arise her file, lost amidst years of similarly forgotten images and snapshots.

I search long and hard in the Internet, hoping for some art aficionado to have come across her and posted the image. No such luck, but I did come across a delightful rendition by Indonesian artist, Srihadi Soedarsono, lifted from one of the many Art sites I am coming across with increasing frequency.

It’s not her, but then again, this one’s not so far off. Could well be a distant cousin.

If only I was rich enough. Beauty would have been firmly in my grasps.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Of Cold Hearts

Image from

Imagine being unmoved by tragedy and feeling really sick because of it, as this is exactly how I feel right now.

It's actually the second time that I'm feeling this cold, hard emptiness inside where there should be something; anything that would be a semblance of what may constitute normal reaction from normal, ordinary people. One reaction I know zilch about as I did not and have never once experience before. Nada, Yilek.

Backtrack: The call came at about 11.30ish pm when I was reading (yup, a should be favorite past time long neglected). The hp number seemed familiar and it was only when the male caller identified himself that I realised why. It was a number I once knew by heart as it belongs to someone dear to me. That, however, was not as important as the news that followed: She had passed away. Apparently, was in a road accident a few days ago. Her husband (the chap who called me) said he thought I should know as I was one of her friends.

I offered my condolonces, asked some questions and hung up.

Digesting the news, I then told my wife about it and one of her question was whether I was about to cry. There's actually a good reason for her question. I was, let's say, kinda involved with the deceased (Allah bless her soul) some good number of years sometime back and, later, for a brief, short, while in far more recent time; a period of which I lost control of my feelings (something I am not extremely proud of..) before everything came to the fore. Now, its all history, abeit a very bitter one.

I laughed my wife's suggestion. She said it was somewhat a bavado on my part, but in truth, I felt nothing.

Just like it was when I was told (decades ago) by a teacher that my grandfather had passed away. Nothing. You could almost feel the temperature dropping inside my heart compartments.

I felt sure that there should be some kind of reaction. What is a question I cannot really answer as; one, I do not know, and two, I have never experience. I am totally at a loss, here. There was nothing then, there is nothing now.

Perhaps it's a valid reaction. After all, I was not really close to her anyway, not in the physical sense. In the years and months that I knew her, there was not a single face-to-face meeting. Not once, except for the first ever, and that too a totally a chance meeting, when I went asking her dad to borrow his pots for some chicken cooking project of my dormitary. It's a long story. Suffice to say, we then connected for quite some time even if it was mainly through spoken words via the telephones, and written words in a flurry of letters, sms text and emails.

I was initially head over heels over her - along with many, many others; some I knew personally, others not - but after a while, the feeling had passed, but I still love her company and chit chats.

Then, as life's journeys are fond of doing, we sort of went separate ways and lost touch with each other.

She came back sometime last year and with a single phone call I was hooked again in a whirlwind of daily calls and messages that nearly destroyed my marriage. My wife (Allah bless her) decided that I was worthy of her forgiveness for a betrayal most foul. Since then, it has been a year before last night's call.

I am not proud to admit that I was pretty objective, almost nonchalant, about her death. No more than a stranger would upon hearing similar news; as if I was merely talking about news of a fatal accident and conveying it to my wife. Despite the considerable history with her, I felt nothing. Just like it was with my own grandfather. Nothing. Cold, empty.

What is wrong with me?

Friday, 25 July 2008

Blue with envy

A panorama of Place d'Armes in Old Montreal

A panorama of Place d'Armes in Old Montreal.

Right now I would give anything to get a job that pays to do nothing but learn in a country with four seasonal changes instead of just a mix of heat and rain, and the occasional storm.

Hell, if they want me to sign up for a lifetime career I would jump to it like a Tom Cat deprived of feline company for many, many moons.

One of my wife’s friend’s husband ( hmm..what does that make me?) is flying to Montreal, Canada soon. His wife and kid will be following him for two or three whole years.

I looked up Montreal (I do know its in Canada, duhh..) and what came out from under my breath was the expletive “Shit!”.

There were tonnes of information had I care to read about the once-largest city in Canada, but I was transfixed with the many, many beautiful pictures posted in Wikipedia. Even the small thumb of Montreal’s skyline was enough to make me go blue in envy.

Being formerly French seems to have left some class to Montreal. (Try saying the word out loud. Beautiful, isn’t it?) The European-ish legacy is pretty much evidence in their building’s architecture and design. It’s only lower down the information blitz that I found out Montreal is one of Unesco’s design capital.

Imagine a place where the names of their buildings are so exotic that you’ll be tongue tied to pronounce them with beautiful skylines you’d want to immediately become a freelance photographer.

The aesthetic appeal of Montreal was beyond everything I had imagined it to be. Out of envy, I kept thinking that “Yeah, but everyone speaks French, so it’s going to be difficult to live there.”

And yet…

I would not mind if the lucky tells me he wants to switch place, that is, he would rather stay here instead of going to Montreal. In fact, I would jump at the chance.

Don’t you think we were somewhat unlucky to have the Brits as or colonizers all those years ago? Had it been the French, we would be Bourgeoisie artistan who speaks lyrically with a penchant for all this maqnifique.

Thanks to the likes of Francis Light and Frank Swettenham, we are what we are now. The British were simply too brutish. Just like their jokes. Way too dry. You can judge this by their biggest artistic export: Mr Bean.

I’m being biased, I know, but that is because I am so damn envious of him who shall remain nameless.

PS: But then again, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are not exactly handy dandy, aren’t they? Shudder…