Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Temptation of James Ensor

The next morning I got dropped off in the city, which allowed me to avoid taking the train which really does seem to be a blessing sometimes. The trains never run when I want them to on the weekend. Door-to-door service to the museum seemed like the most perfect thing. Dinner was scheduled for later in the evening with my love and I went in for some culture.

“Have you seen  the Ensor exhibit yet? Dude is seriously messed up. But it’s a great exhibit.”

“I have not seen the Ensor exhibit, I think that is what I am going to do.”

On the way we coordinated by text but I easily beat the Author to the museum. Checked my coat, and headed in to the hall of the gods where I could bask chummily in their glory while walking through to get to the main exhibit.

Ensor, really did have a twisted sense of the world. One of the things that was so interesting to me was to see just how utterly dark his work was, and not so much dark in composition as dark in pallet. This is an artist whose color pallet never met a brown it didn’t like, and it shows. While you can see the influence of some of his contemporaries, the reality is that his particular art and working are a magnificent melancholy on canvas that grow more grim as you move throughout. I was only about a third of the way into the exhibit when I got the text that the Author and his lady wife had arrived so I went down to the member’s lounge to meet them for some coffee before heading back into the exhibit.

The Author is settling in well in his job, my old job, in Chicago; a job he is much better suited for. He has a posh little apartment near the lake on the north side, and is living much closer to his lady wife, at least in time, money, and convenience of flight. Like me, it’s a balancing act between time, distance and closeness with the ones you love. Distance is less distant when you have contact and a real desire to maintain relationships.

We sat in the lounge and talked pleasantries, enjoyed coffee and shared our Christmas stories.

“The Bard and the Electrician cooked, and my GOD the food was amazing. I mean, they really love cooking.” They had apparently gone all out, including a number of gluten-free delights for the non-gluten consuming lady wife.

“All right, so, I only got about half way through that exhibit and I want to finish it.”

“She hasn’t seen it yet.”

“You ready to go? I’m going to head in to where I left off, but I’m really slow, so I think it should be okay.”

“Sounds good.”

So the three of us set off and returned to the dark interior of Ensor’s mind as he struggled with his gods and demons, doctors, health, life and the fickle nature of the canvas and the page as conduits for the human experience. Does it manage to capture all of it, or do we miss it somehow when we try to paint it? Did his exercise in painting his inner turmoil and great conflict make him feel any better at all? It’s an interesting question.

All three of us were drawn to one of the most interesting (if most disturbing) pieces in the exhibit. A painting of a man being held down by doctors, while one wound out a tapeworm from his bowls, the others looking on with garish faces, seeming to be laughing. Clearly a scene of great distress. It was also one of the lighter pieces in the exhibit which interested me, and reading the card I could see why it was not only so ghastly but relevant to the artist.


Apparently, Ensor was afflicted with a very large tapeworm, one so big that it was eating more than half his food. Making him sick, and of course, causing him to lose a great deal of weight. From his perspective it took laughably too long for the doctor’s to correctly diagnose him, and in the end, he lost all faith in the medical profession while maintaining what must have been a rather gruesome memory of having had the awful thing removed. It was an effective scene and painted in a way that left little to question about his feelings.

Fascinating stuff. From there the only thing for it really was a couple of very well-made martinis, pleasant chat with old friends, rehashing life the universe and what not, before heading out for some shopping to end my evening.

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