AN ARTIST LOOKS BACK[1]

Jean Charlot

 

IÕm going to talk in English.  Those of you who came to hear me speak French are going to be disappointed.  I donÕt like too much that title, ÒAn Artist Looks Back.Ó  I was reading the memoirs of Paul Claudel, and I chose just the year when he was exactly my age.  IÕm too coquettish to tell you my age, but I was born in another century.  He says—I have to say it in French, IÕm sorry—ÒNous ne vivons que par le postŽrieur.Ó  You canÕt translate it.  But that tendency of looking back is so natural with us that itÕs too easy in a way.  I think perhaps, if I had to talk about looking ahead, I would do it with a little more impetus. 

When Ron Kowalke asked me—that was his idea, and I donÕt thank him for it—but anyhow, when he asked me to be one of the three artists, when he put the finger on me, he explained to me that he had found with his own students that they had been greatly heartened in their careers––of course, in their future careers as artists––because he had shown them the booboos he used to do when he was young.  And so he said, ÒWhen you go to the Academy and talk, show your booboos.Ó  Well, I looked in the dictionary, and I donÕt think he meant that...  There are different senses, I donÕt think he meant that.  But anyhow, I make no booboos.  I didnÕt tell him that.  But I looked desperately through all my slides from age two on.  IÕm not joking.  YouÕll see some of those things.  And as far as my own point of view goes—it doesnÕt mean that it is the opinion of the critics—all that is very good-looking.   

IÕll speak only, and that will be sufficient, of my painting, my career as a painter.  I hope that the two next talks will be more, shall I say, esthetic or more on esthetic grounds than the one I am giving tonight, because IÕm in a curious situation.  IÕm an artist, at least everybody tells me IÕm an artist, but I donÕt like art, that is, I donÕt like art for art.  In fact, I have a hearty dislike of art for art.  So IÕll speak very little of questions of style, and IÕll simply give you a sort of cross section of the different things I did in the different places I was; and it will be more for the subject matter, that is, like I would use, letÕs say, photographs, post cards even, of the places I was in, rather than showing you what a bright boy I am.  That isnÕt the idea at all.   

There are some influences on me that I will not be able to show you, and so maybe I should talk about them a little bit before we start with the slides.  I welcome influences.  ThatÕs another thing that perhaps IÕm a little different from some other artists of today or, I would say, perhaps of yesterday.  I cannot imagine a man without influences.  The baby who grows up in the family has influences, if it was only the father and the mother.  The painter who grows up as a painter starts as a baby painter, if you want, and has to choose––or sometimes somebody chooses for him, or geography chooses for him––his papa and his mama as far as art styles go.  I think that a man who would say ÒI have no influences; I have no papa and mama as a painter; IÕm a self-made painter,Ó would be a monster.  So here again perhaps I may rub some general ideas the wrong way.  You have to excuse me.   

But strange to say, the influence that everybody attributes in my work is not the main influence.  To come to that point right now, though itÕs not in chronological order: the influence of Diego Rivera.  Certainly everybody has heard that IÕm influenced by Diego Rivera.  Anyhow, anybody that I meet who wants to show that they know something about art says, ÒOh yes, we know your work.  You have been influenced by...by...,Ó and then they canÕt remember the name, so I have to help them.  I say, ÒDiego Rivera.Ó ÒThatÕs it!  ThatÕs it: Diego Rivera.Ó Sometimes they get the wrong man.  They say, ÒOrozco.Ó  ThatÕs something else again. 

Because influences were received by me when I was very young, I have one thing for which IÕm grateful, and that is, I was born and raised in Paris.  In fact I was raised just behind the OpŽra in la Rue de la ChaussŽe dÕAntin.  Every weekend, as soon as I could toddle along without my nurse, I would go down the Rue de la Paix and so on to the Louvre.  Arriving in the Louvre, I would loiter in the corridors of the Louvre looking at one of the greatest collections of Old Masters that has ever been put together.  They were collections of the kings in the old days.  And those are my father and mother, if you want to say so. 

Of course, I had a wide choice.  I admit that the Mona Lisa was not my favorite.  There was a number of reasons for it.  First, she was green like a pickle.  I think she still is green like a pickle, but itÕs not polite to speak about that.  Then there was a glass on top of it, and I would only look at myself as soon as I was high enough to be a little over the lower part of the frame, and I didnÕt like what I saw. 

It was rather difficult to find the things I liked, because they were not fashionable.  I was not looking for them, but from the great big rooms, I would go into the smaller rooms, and at the time––that is long ago––there was a room that was a cul-de-sac, one of those things that in streets with traffic you say dead end.  It was literally a dead end.  And in that dead end were the Italian Primitives.  The end of the dead end was Fra AngelicoÕs The Coronation of the Virgin, and, on the side, there was the Paolo Uccello of the battle.[2]  There are three panels, but that one in the Louvre is the one I knew best. 

Since really I was very, very young, and by very, very young, I mean maybe twelve years old, I looked at those Italian Primitives, and I learned from them, I would say, more than I did from any live teacher.  Later on, again to anticipate, when I did my first fresco in Mexico, it was a battle, and there were some lances painted red on a black ground, and it was obviously, of course, all the love, admiration, respect I had for that panel of Paolo UccelloÕs that had come out in that first mural of mine. 

Among the living, we are going to see some of the people that I respected very much.  I was born a painter, I would say, more or less at the same time that Cubism was born.  But there was another element, and because I donÕt have any slides about that, I have to speak of it now.  It is a man that for the moment has not survived: Marcel-Lenoir.  ItÕs not the same as Auguste Renoir; thatÕs another one.  Marcel-Lenoir.  He was a great example for me because he was a man who was a born mural painter.  In fact he was a born fresco painter, and at the time––well, letÕs say 1910 or so––nobody but nobody knew what he was about.  Because he wanted to paint in fresco, and he certainly couldnÕt afford a mason, he built his own walls, with trowel, mortar, and brick.  He couldnÕt build a big wall, because he wanted to show his fresco at the Salon.  Not...never say saloon.  Salon.  Salon, where every year all the people showed.  I remember him arriving with his little wall.  It was about that height, maybe four feet high, on wheels.  He had to put wheels on his wall to bring it to the Salon.  And...  I was going to say museum people...well, the Salon isnÕt a museum, but some people get annoyed at things that are unusual.  And that poor little brick wall on wheels didnÕt look very artistic to the people.  It was the time when you still put those gold frames, heavy gold frames, on your oil easel pictures.  So they always put him in the wrong place.  There was no light, or he was in the way of the people.  They had to push his fresco sidewise.  I thought he was a heroic man.  He really and truly was a heroic man.  He was born a mural painter; he was born a fresco painter, at a time when nobody cared about those things, and heÕs one of the great influences on my life.   

I suppose we could begin with the slides. 

 

1.  Self-Portrait (in grays), full-front, oil, 1932, checklist 291. 

Now this is just to show you what a pretty boy I was.  That is the only self-portrait I made of myself...in oil anyhow.  Let us say roughly that is around early 1930s.  You wonÕt see me again.   

 

2. Juvenilia: Cook with Basket Going to Market, pure wash.    

My son John is engaged in a very interesting paper about how his papa grew up as an artist,  so he has unearthed things that should not be unearthed.   The number at the top you can discard.  ItÕs not my own.  ItÕs not in my catalogue of paintings.  ItÕs one of the ledgers that my father, who was in the import-export business, used.  But there is in here something which I didÉ  Well, let us say that I was maybe five years old, something like that, already grown up.  YouÕll see some earlier things.  I remember that it was a moment when I discovered the difference between drawing and painting.  Up to then, I had been drawing and drawing very well.  I could already infuriate my English governess by making portraits of her.  One day I was sick.  I was in bed.  I had only brush and watercolor, and so I started painting directly in color, and I got very excited.  I got so excited that I got the fever.  I remember that. 

 

3. House at Poissy in Snow, oil. 

I grew up.  This is, incidentally, my grandfatherÕs summer home in Poissy.  It is a very interesting place.  It had been in the early 1880s Claude MonetÕs house.  It gave on the Seine on the other side.  While I was growing up, every summer we would go to grandfather, and without knowing it, I looked, and in fact I made watercolors and pictures from exactly the same spots on the river where he had done his landscapes.  This is an oil, small oil.  I was probably seventeen or so. 

 

4. Sunny Sous-Bois, oil, 8-1/2Ó X 5-3/4Ó, ca. 1916, checklist c. 

Of course, the other one was a direct rendering.  It was a nice thing to remember what that house was like, but I was beginning to make a difference, shall we say, between representing a corner of nature, even if the corner was full of memories, and making a picture.  This is already organized, certainly.  You can feel that it is nature filtered in a kind of a composition which I would say is French, in the sense that there is something rational about it, underlying the pretty colors. 

 

5. Hall of Casts at the ƒcole des Beaux-Arts, pencil, 7-1/2Ó X 11Ó, 1915, Fra Angelico side.  

As soon as I was growing up or big enough to go to the Beaux-Arts school in the Rue Bonaparte, I went there.  It was a very interesting, very interesting place, completely old-fashioned as far as studying art went.  I had there—of course, I was quite young—I had there ancient professors, who looked to me like they all were at least a century old.  They had enormous long white beards, and my remembrance is that they stepped on their beard as they walked, because they were bent in two.  ItÕs only later on that, of course, I found that those dear people were not really survivors, but that––letÕs say, only ten years before or a little before that––they were the people who had taught men like Georges Rouault and Matisse their craft of painting.  I know that I am very grateful to those people for showing me what academic art means.  Nowadays academic art is not very well seen, but I am sure that there will be a re-estimate of academic art, which is a wonderful thing; certainly a wonderful discipline for the young man that I was.  

This incidentally represents the hall of casts, I think was the name, which had been built specifically on the same plan and size than the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, because it was to house, in fact it did house, on the other side of the end that you see there, a life-size copy of MichelangeloÕs Last Judgment.  On this side what you see is a life-size copy of the Great Crucifixion of Fra Angelico.  There were also casts, of course, of sculptures besides the copies of paintings.  So my first tries at, shall we say, good drawing were done under the double blessing, or so I hope, of Fra Angelico on one side and Michelangelo on the other. 

 

6. Nicolas Poussin: The Inspiration of the Poet, oil, ca. 1630. 

At the Louvre, I chose my masters.  I spoke of the Italian Primitives, but perhaps I was even more at ease...  strangely, I would say, not in awe, I never was in awe.  I was already a conceited fellow.  But Poussin, Poussin is a very curious fellow, because he cannot be exported, and all nonFrench people who have spoken about Poussin have spoken of him, trying to put themselves in the skin, so to speak, of a Frenchman and have not quite realized what he can mean, letÕs say, to a parisien, a fellow born and raised in Paris.  His things are not extraordinary in a way.  That is, for example, he hides to a great extent his brushstroke.  If he gets a little excited and gets a little bit romantic in the drapes, he will cool it off instead of warming it up, and yet is perhaps, if I had to choose any one man among the Old Masters as an influence, the one that certainly would be my choice.  This is called The Inspiration of the Poet and is by Poussin, in the Louvre. 

 

7. Portrait of Louis Goupil, profile, pencil and gouache, 20-1/2Ó X 32Ó wide, April 26, 1920.  

I came out of my bath in academic art with good drawing in many ways.  I think this portrait of my grandfather is an example of the severity, of the acceptance of the rule, that I had learned at the Beaux-Arts and in the Louvre. 

 

8. Juan Gris: Le Tourangeau, oil, 1918. 

I told you that I was born as a painter roughly at the time that Cubism was born.  Among the Cubists I had people that I loved perhaps more than others.  They were people who represented for me the rule, that is, I could not see, literally could not see, a conflict between the art that I had learned at the Beaux-Arts and in the Louvre––Old Masters and academic art––and Cubism.  In fact, I loved Cubism because it seemed to me that it exhibited very clearly the rule, the same rule that I had learned by looking at Poussin.  This is by Juan Gris, who is one of my great favorites.  I should add, so you would have somebody to look at here in the collections, Severini.  I think Gino Severini, Juan Gris, were two of my favorite Cubists.  Man with a Pipe. 

 

9. Bullet, gouache, 9-1/4Ó X 7Ó, 1921.  

Naturally, just because it was, shall we say, in the air, I could talk the Cubist language even when what I wanted to say was very personal and very dramatic.  This is, for example, the summing up, the summing up of my––I would say more than experiences––simply my being in the First World War.  And it has to do with the...  of course, that gray-blue uniform, with the wounds, with death, with those searchlights in the dark of the night that were there all the time, because we already had, not so much the planes at the time as the balloons, zeppelins and whatnot.  And it is interesting to show you this because even though it looks like a stylized affair and could be said at first sight to be art for art, itÕs actually the one picture in which I summed up some of the most tragic among my lifeÕs experiences. 

 

10. Cubist Nude, Standing Female Nude Model, full front, pencil and gouache, 13-1/2Ó X 6-3/4Ó, 1921. 

When I got a little cooler, I would say––maybe this, around 1920 or so––I did things that look suspiciously like what people nowadays call abstractions, abstractions of a certain type.  ItÕs not wild; it is ruled; we would say hard edge with a geometry underneath.  This is, of course, done from a model at one of the Academies.  This is perhaps as far as I went, that particular style, into something that would be considered abstract.  Though I loved to do that, I had a certain scruple, because it seems to me that––I said that before––art should be put to other uses than itself. 

 

11. Sainte Barbe, lithograph, 1917, Morse number 8. 

So we could say nearly at the same time––this is a little before actually; this is while I was in the army––another of those influences came into play, and that is the influence of what Frenchmen sum up as Images dՃpinal, that is, the penny-sheets, I think you say in English: those same penny-sheets that have centuries of tradition behind them, that were sold at pilgrimages and fairs, and so on.  This was done also with a very deep intent.  That is Saint Barbe.  I donÕt know if sheÕs Barbara in English, but she was the patron of artillery men in the old days when every craft had a holy patron.  Saint Barbe was the patron of artillery men, and so I represented her in a pious image which I hoped my friends––I was in the artillery at the time with the 75 mm guns––my friends could put in their, well letÕs say the trenches or wherever they were, and pray to.  We needed a lot of prayer in those days, because death was very close by. 

Ò2ccÓ at the top is canonnier conducteur; that is the boys who were on the horses.  The only way of carrying our guns were horses at the time.  Ò2csÓ at the underneath is canonnier servant, who were serving the guns, and the Ò2Ó means that it was the lowest possible rank in the army.  If you were very, very good, you became first canonnier conducteur or first canonnier servant.  I think I stayed in number 2. 

 

12. Processional, color study for parish fresco project, 1920, detail: children in yellow. 

There was that other thing which I spoke of, and that is my feeling that like Marcel-Lenoir I was a mural painter.  ItÕs a horrible feeling when you donÕt know where to get the wall.  So before leaving for the army, I had a parish priest who told me to come and see his parish, and he wanted something on the wall.  So I rushed, and I took all the blueprints, and I started working out a frieze.  This is just a small part of a large frieze that ran all around the church.  This, of course, is small scale, but to scale, to the architecture, and could have been translated at the full size I think very well.  It is made in fact for that. 

 

13. Massacre in the Main Temple, Escuela Preparatoria, Mexico, D.F., 14Õ X 26Õ, October 2, 1922–January 31, 1923, detail. 

I had to wait to do my first mural until I was in Mexico.  After the war, after the Occupation of Germany, where I was involved, my mother and I remembered that a goodly part of our family was in Mexico.  My father had died in between, and we went, I would say, back to Mexico.  When I say back to Mexico I mean that around 1820 my great-grandfather[3] had emigrated, we could say, from France to Mexico.  So we are mixed up between the two countries. 

Mexico was still in revolution.  The party that had the power was quite in power and was not against annoying the reactionaries, the bourgeois.  Now they could be annoyed in many ways, of course, but I think what annoyed them the most was that the Minister of Public Education, JosŽ Vasconcelos, gave the walls of some of the ancient palaces to artists in their twenties to decorate, and to decorate in such a way that you couldnÕt roll the paint back and forget it.  You could, of course, whitewash the wall, and that was the solution that at the time was proposed.  But eventually it never happened. 

This is in the Escuela Preparatoria in Mexico City.  ItÕs part of a great staircase, and, as you see, it is not a rectangle.  It is one of those special spaces that exist only, or reasonably exist only, for a muralist.  Just now, at the press Building, there is a beautiful show by a man who doesnÕt like rectangles and cuts his canvases in different ways.[4]  ItÕs a good show too.  But here we had no choice, because we had to take the wall as it was. 

Because there were two diagonals, one going down and the other, of course, inclined the other way, I had to work out parallels to those diagonals, at the same time relationships of verticals and horizontals, and so on, all kind of things.   

I would say that I was supremely happy when I painted that first fresco of mine.  The subject is not terribly happy.  ItÕs the massacre of the Indians by the Spaniards in the main temple in Mexico City, while they were busy dancing in honor of the god of flowers.  Maybe you have seen the play Indians, which in a small way suggests something similar.   This, of course, is painted in fresco. 

 

14. Drawn plan for Massacre in the Main Temple.  

This is actually what I put on the wall.  Those of you who have seen perhaps in the Metropolitan the show of frescoes that came from Italy, or who have simply read in magazines that the painted part of the fresco can be rolled up and then under the painted part were discovered what is called sinopias, because they are done in that particular color on the wall by the fresco painters, and then that is covered up with a second coat and color.  This is the sinopia, that is, the drawing that I made actually on the wall for that particular picture.  Being young, I was trying to do things the most difficult way, and instead of squaring—horizontals, verticals—instead of that, I used only to use ruler and compass and just changed, of course, the length of the line and the ray of the compass.  So itÕs all done with my old Cubist know-how, with circles and straight lines.  Then it was clothed, if you want, with the subject matter. 

 

15. Old Woman, Santa Anita (La Gata), oil, 32-1/2Ó X 23-3/4Ó, 1922, checklist 6. 

My first tries at representing Indians, the Indians of the plateau of Mexico, were all mixed up with my own tries at style with mostly Cubism.  This is one of those rather rare early portraits that I did at the time.  ItÕs an old woman drinking something that is delicious because it is pulque, but it is pulque curado de fresa, with strawberries in it.  Very, very good.  She has a lei of poppies on her head, because I saw her in Santa Anita at a certain feast where the girls wear poppies on their heads. 

 

16. Landscape with Magueys, oil, 10-3/4Ó X 14Ó, 1924, checklist 49.  

Very soon, I found I couldnÕt go on, I would say, as a Frenchman, as a Cubist, in front of the things that I was seeing, because they were different.  They were different from Paris, and I had to learn again.  I had to be, I would say literally born again.  And so I started with small pictures––that is a very small picture—doing in a way which is closer to that of the penny-sheets or the Images dՃpinal; that is, popular, folk art, painting like a folk artist without wanting to, but simply because I was in a hurry to forget what I knew.  And I knew a heck of a lot.  I still do. 

This is a landscape with maguey.  The maguey leaf has been cut.  That thing is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, if I remember rightly. 

 

17. Plaza, lithograph, Morse number 131. 

This is a lithograph, but there is also a painting of the same subject.  It shows, of course, how I knew very well the value of architectural lines, I knew very well the value of cubes, but I also knew that I could not flaunt art in the face of my Indian friends, because it would be wrong, it would be prideful, and it would end by alienating them.  So I had to learn as I said.  I had to be born anew.  

Of course, one of the great influences on me at the time is Luciana, who was my Indian model.  I would ask her what she thought about the things I did, and I would correct them very carefully.  For example, I remember once I had put a highlight in her hair.  She was in her twenties, and her hair was a beautiful black, and those highlights were, of course, white.  And she said, ÒWhy do you put white hair in my head.  I donÕt have white hair.Ó  So I had to learn and try something else by which I could make her head go round without highlights.  It wasnÕt easy. 

Another one of my teachers of the time was my mason, because when I did that fresco, I had a mason, Luis Escobar, and he was quite outspoken about what he liked and what he disliked.  I remember that one day in the top of the wall, where I hoped that nobody would see what I was doing, I had done a little bit of thing that was a little bit Cubist.  I hoped nobody would see that.  So he was up there on the scaffold, and he looked at that, and said, ÒOh, you had a headache yesterday, no?Ó  So there went my Cubist knowledge. 

 

18. Luz with Basket, oil, possibly 1924, checklist 40. 

This is Luciana.  I was speaking of her.  SheÕs been a great influence on my art.  SheÕs been a great influence in introducing me to what I could call my ancestors, that is, the Aztec Indians, because I am part Indian.  She spoke beautiful Aztec.  In fact, later on, when she was older, she was what is called an informant on Aztec languages in the school of ethnology. 

This is a portrait of her in that particular style that I worked hard to do as if I had never known Paris.  Of course, the people who would come and see my pictures would all tell me—some of them very famous critics, American critics—ÒWell, your things are very nice, but you should be more aware of what is being done in Paris.Ó

 

19. Festival Procession at Chalma, oil. 

With Luciana, we went for example to Indian pilgrimages, which were really pagan business and not white manÕs business or tourist business.  This is a procession in Chalma.  The Virgin, the statue of the Virgin with the seven swords in her heart, is being carried along on the shoulders of the people.  You can see, of course, the Veronica Kerchief carried by an old gentleman in front, and so on and so forth.  There was a terrific intensity in the devotion of those people, and they were so intent that that particular procession caught me between two walls in a narrow alley, and I thought I was going to be flattened as a pancake.  Much as I tried to press against the wall, I was somewhat bruised.  So I tried to celebrate such a happening with this picture. 

 

20. Cargador, round bundle on back, oil, possibly 1924, checklist 33. 

Another one of my plagues, I would say, besides the Diego Rivera affair, is that people wonder if in those days I was a communist.  In those days, communism was something very nice in a way.  It was a fellow with lots of bushy hair and beard, and he was biting a bomb, I remember, in his mouth.  I remember a bomb in his mouth.  It wasnÕt at all the communism you know now.  But, even so, you didnÕt need to be a communist to see that even though the revolution had triumphed, there were, shall we say politely, inequalities in the social order.  With my knack for doing the wrong thing, I took immediately the party of the underdog.  This is a good example of some of my pictures that, when I went later on to the States, people explained to me were social conscious.  I didnÕt know that when I had done it, but I had done it with much feeling. 

 

21. Archeological painting of Chac Mool Temple column, red-skinned priest. 

There was a second experience, very different experience from that I had in Mexico City, and that is my doing archeological work in Yucat‡n.  Yucat‡n is part of Mexico politically, but actually is a peninsula which has its own race, the Mayan Indians, and is practically independent, I would say, even nowadays, from Mexico, certainly as far as race and habits go.  I went there for the Carnegie Institution of Washington.  That is, I knew that the money we used in the excavations came from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, though I didnÕt know what Washington was.  There I copied literally hundreds of bas-reliefs and, of course, met Mayan Indians, so different from Aztec Indians. 

I chose two of those copies, which come from the temple that we call the Temple of the Chac Mool, that had been buried inside the larger temple by the Indians themselves.  The temple that tourists see is the Temple of the Warriors in ChichÕen Itza.  Then inside––by now you can go in, and they have lights and everything––you see that Temple of the Chac Mool, which is smaller, because already there they had the idea that doing things bigger was better.  But actually the sculptures in that more ancient temple were beautiful and were intact as color goes, while those of the larger temple, having been exposed for centuries, the colors were gone.  It was a great discovery, a great pleasure, to copy those ancient works, and, of course, to tie them up with the things we were trying to do in what has come to be known as the Mexican Mural Renaissance. 

After doing those things, I became the greatest expert on something that, IÕm sorry to say, I could never cash in on, and that is on the costumes, dresses, and so on, of the Mayan people in the fourteenth century.  ItÕs astonishing how few people are interested in that topic.  But supposing that a Mayan entered this room, a Mayan of the fourteenth century, I would know immediately what his profession was, what he did, what his relations were, and so on and so forth.  For example, this gentleman is a priest.  HeÕs a priest, and in one hand, heÕs holding a little fan, because the mosquitoes are impossible in Yucat‡n and were forever impossible.  In the other hand, he uses something which looks like a devilÕs fork and may have been used, I would say, just for that, just as a fork.  Then around his neck there is a human bone.  That human bone, if you look carefully, has little holes in it and was used as a flute for sacred music.  He has something like a tibia, I donÕt know what, in his hat also which is human.  You come to like those guys, you know.  They are very original. 

 

22. As above, black-skinned Jaguar priest.   

Most of those things are more difficult to understand because the figure is masked.  This is a priest also who is disguised as a jaguar.  Actually he is not entirely masked.  His face was painted blue for the forehead, black for the cheeks.  He had only what we could call a mouth mask.  The mouth mask and the tongue are those of a leopard.  HeÕs dressed up in a leopard skin also. 

In the back here you can see the wall of the Chac Mool temple as we found it with all around a great plumed serpent.  Oh, itÕs not a plumed serpent, but it is a similar affair, running in beautiful curves. 

 

25. Mestiza with Orange Fan, 39Ó X 22Ó, 1926, checklist 121. 

I told you that the Mayan Indians are so different from the Aztecs as to be nearly the opposite.  There were, there had been, many wars from the ones and the others before the Spaniards came.  This is, for example, a typical Mayan mestiza, as they are called, though sheÕs a pure Mayan Indian.  You can compare her with the portrait of Luz to see that there is no relationship between the two races.  In the back, a classical temple with a classical molding, which is one of the most beautiful that I know, representing something that has been tied and gives at the place in the center where it is tied. 

 

24. Mayan Builders, oil. 

This is a view, I would say––I told you I would use those things nearly as postcards––a view of the excavations that we were doing with Mayan diggers and Mayan masons in that Temple of the Warriors.  Even the light is totally different from the light of the Mexican plateau.   

Now after we finished those diggings, between times when I went there only to do drawings, they had found that I could read and write, so they asked me to write about the sculptures that I had copied.  That meant that I had to go to the United States.  I didnÕt know where that was.  To Washington! because in Washington was the place where we were to do those proofs and copies of proofs and whatnot, and write on the excavations.  So I left.  I wasnÕt entirely unprepared, even though I had the wrong idea about things, because one of the Americans I had met in Mexico, and I knew thenÉ  

 

25. Zohmah Day, yellow on purple, oil, 15Ó X 19Ó, 1932, checklist 271. 

——was my wife, that is, she wasnÕt my wife, she was going to be my wife, if she was patient enough.  This is a portrait of Zohmah, and one of the things that made it such a slow affair, our getting married, was that she had friends who didnÕt know better, and they looked at that and said, ÒDear, dear me!  If the man paints you like that, heÕs never going to marry you!Ó  Well, she wasnÕt so sure. 

 

26. Paul Claudel II, lithograph, 1930, Morse number 92. 

Another of the people I met, which was very pleasant, in Washington was Paul Claudel.  Paul Claudel at the time was ambassador of France, of course.  It was the time of Coolidge and Hoover, bless their souls, and Claudel was sort of happy to see me because he had just written something.  It was called Christopher Columbus, and in it he had something about the Mexican gods.  So when I told him I was sort of an archeologist and knew rather well the Mexican gods––I nearly told him I was worshipping them, but I stopped short—he was happy because he needed the illustrations for a part of the play that was published in The Forum at the time, representing the Mexican gods.[5] 

This is a portrait incidentally of Claudel that is in the deluxe edition of Christopher Columbus.  Claudel—itÕs his own Latin; itÕs not mine—Claudel didnÕt like it very much.  His family didnÕt like it very much.  So when people asked them, he said, ÒWell, we say itÕs a portrait of Christopher Columbus.Ó 

 

27. Paul Claudel: The Book of Christopher Columbus: A Lyrical Drama in Two Parts, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1930, title page. 

This is the title page of the book.  The plot, if you want to call it that, is clear enough, with, on the left side, the Mexican gods and, on the right side, we could say, Colonial angels, lifted from the cathedrals of Mexico City, actually. 

 

28. Hopi Snake Dance, fresco, Arizona State College, Tempe Arizona, 25Õ X 25Õ, 1951.

I already mentioned two nice people in the States, even though one was a Frenchman, but there were other people that were awfully interesting.  Some of them were the Hopis.  I was asked to do a mural representing a Snake Dance in Tempe, Arizona, the State College, so I was delighted.  I had never seen a Snake Dance.  ItÕs not allowed.  You canÕt photograph them anyhow.  The only photos date from about 1880 or so.  But I reconstructed as best I could the Snake Dance with ancient lithographs and so on.  There were dates for it, and I couldnÕt wait for the Snake Dance, which happens only at certain times of the year.   

This is a fragment of a rather large affair that goes down the stairs of that particular place.  Actually, the front dancer who holds a snake in his mouth, I think, is 24 feet high, something like that.  Bigger than it seems here. 

I did not meet with unqualified admiration.  At the time I was painting that, there were some metal workers who were putting on that staircase that you see here finished, and one of them told me—they were very nice—ÒGee, my grandmother was a Hopi, and she must turn in her grave when she sees that.Ó  Then little by little as the thing went on and got bigger and bigger—people usually stop when it gets bigger and bigger––they stop their observations.  We would come every day and work together.  They would work on the metal, I would work on my fresco.  They would call me Frenchie by then; they knew me better.  They said, ÒGee, look at Frenchie.  HeÕs putting on his magic pants.Ó  They had the idea that if I put those overall pants on, there was something magic about it that allowed me to do those things. 

 

29. Study of Head of Negro Worker, blue overalls, for Cotton Gin, oil mural, 4-1/2Õ X 11Õ, Post Office, McDonough., Georgia, 1942 

In Georgia, I did also some frescoes and some murals.  IÕm not showing you the murals themselves, but studies for them.  That was a cotton gin in a little place called McDonough, and I had simply copied what I had seen.  That is, the cotton gin was a little old-fashioned cotton gin.  Everything was done by hand.  All the machines were wood, not metal.  All the workers were negroes.  

It was the times then of Roosevelt, and it was commissioned by the government, the United States government.  I had to send a study or small model of the thing to Washington for an OK.  So I sent my little model.  It was full of black men.  I received a letter which my dear boy John dug up in my papers, which was a very embarrassed letter because they would not even hint that there may have been discrimination somewhere in the south.  But they said ÒHavenÕt you heardÉdonÕt you think that...Ó and then dot dot dot dot dot dot.  So I went to the postmaster, who was the biggest man in town, in that little town, and I said, ÒLook what I received from Washington.  What does it mean?Ó  He had himself suggested the subject matter.  He was very happy with what I was doing.  He read the letter, scratched his head, and said, ÒI donÕt know.  I donÕt know.Ó  So I wrote back to Washington saying, ÒPlease be clear, or weÕll go on with the mural,Ó which we did. 

So this is one of those workers in a cotton gin.  Incidentally, from time to time I receive clippings from Georgia.  It seems that I had sketched the last of those old-fashioned gins, that now they have machines that do the things that people were doing by hand, and that people make a sort of a pilgrimage to that mural, and especially the old men cry, remembering the good old times. 

 

30. Study of Head of Negro Girl, necklace, for Cotton Gin. 

Another one of the studies for that same mural. 

 

31. Jean Charlot painting the ceiling section of Our Lady of Sorrows and Ascension of Our Lord, Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, Farmington, Michigan, approximately 1300 square feet, 1961.

We painted, we painted—because when I do large frescoes, as you know, I have almost always squad of people with me—we painted churches.  We painted very interesting things.  Perhaps the most difficult was a ceiling.  That ceiling is very high up in a church, and the perspective is such that for some of the personages, here an angel, we had to paint them, the angel itself, head-side down, so that we had to stand on our heads literally to see what we were doing.  So you can imagine this maybe forty feet up on a scaffold, and you see what happens when you paint a ceiling.  Later on, I found out that in the old days of the 18th century in France, the painters charged three times as much to do a ceiling as to paint a wall.  By then it was too late. 

 

32. Trinity and Episodes of Benedictine Life, fresco, Monastic Chapel, St. BenedictÕs Abbey, Atchison, Kansas, 21Õ X 29Õ, 1959. 

This is a Benedictine chapel in St. BenedictÕs, Kansas.  It is called a chapel because it is a monastic building, but actually it is the size of a cathedral.  This is just a back wall.  The cross, as you see, as I tell you anyhow, is in relief.  It is not on the same level than the corners of the wall.  There is then a three dimensional effect, which is heightened, of course, by the metal strips that I put on that cross, which is definitely the Benedictine cross. 

There is the robed Christ.  For those of you who donÕt know that, it is one of the ways of representing Christ before more emphasis, weight, was put on his sufferings than his glory.  Then there are two saints, among them St. Benedict; and angels who carry the instruments of the Passion; and God the Father and the Holy Spirit at the top. 

 

33. As above, detail: head of Christ. 

I include the Head of Christ you see here[6] to show you that you have to simplify and go perhaps even more delicate for things that are far away and high up than if they were under your nose.  Many people get the wrong idea and think that you have to be very violent so that things can be seen at a distance.  Actually itÕs the other way around.  This is the head of the Christ. 

 

34. As above, detail: angel holding chalice. 

An angel holding the chalice; one of the corners on the side of Christ, with the lance, that you can see.  That diagonal (I still painted lances) is the lance that pierces the heart of Christ, and the angel is holding the chalice to receive the blood. 

It was nice to work with Benedictines because they are very knowledgeable about liturgical art, and we could do lots of things, and they understood them. 

 

35. As above, detail from top left panel: St. Benedict in profile with staff. 

St. Benedict raising a boy who had drowned, I think.  That pleased the monks very much.  They said it looked just like an old Benedictine monk, even though I didnÕt have any model for it. 

 

36. As above, detail from bottom right panel: still life of carpenterÕs tools. 

A little corner of the carpentry shop, which shows the mallet and some tools.  I represent a carpentry shop usually in pictures of St. Joseph, but here it is the building of the first Benedictine abbey in Kansas.  I like to show you because itÕs a still life, and it shows you that you have to be careful even of small details in such a large work as that. 

 

37. Hawaiian Drummers, fresco, 4, X 6Õ, May 5, 1950.

IÕm going to pass very rapidly on Hawai`i as long as we are actually in Hawai`i here, and you can go, if you have the time, to see some of the things I have done here.  This is the first fresco I painted actually when I arrived in Hawai`i.  John Young, who is a very foxy guy, said, ÒI know that you like to paint fresco.Ó  I said, ÒYes, yes, yes.Ó  He said, ÒWell, I have a nice wall.  Why donÕt you come and see it?Ó  Well, I went and saw the nice wall, and I was hooked, of course.  May Fraser did the drums, to be fair, and I did the drummers.  So it is one of those things where we collaborated.  Even now, twenty-five years later, I think I had hit a certain note about Hawaiian culture, ancient Hawaiian culture, that I think is quite valid.   

 

38. Hawaiian Swimmer, violet fish at bottom left. 

She caught the fish. 

 

39. Black Christ and Worshipers, fresco, 10Õ X 30Õ, St. Francis Xavier Church, Naiserelagi, Province of Ra, Fiji, 1962, view from back of church. 

Another thing that happened to me in the Pacific is Fiji.  In Fiji I painted a mission church.  It is a church built around 1910 by French missionaries.  Beautiful stone church.  I made that sort of a triptych in the back of the altar.  I think weÕll see one or two details about it.  But my big impact was, of course, meeting Melanesians, who are very different from Polynesians. 

 

40. Jean Charlot and Franz Glinserer painting Fiji altar fresco. 

This is myself and Franz, a lay brother, doing the central part of the triptych, which is a black Christ.  The Sacred Heart with breadfruit trees that also have their fruit.  The heart and the fruit have the same name in Fijian.  

 

41. Meke Make-Up, full-front with white make-up, oil. 

A dancer ready for the meke, for the dance.  You can go and see them in L‰`ie,[7] but they are not quite the same there.  

 

42. Portrait of Celestino, 3/4, oil. 

One of the people I put actually in the fresco, but this is an oil painting actually of the model. 

 

43. Fijian Musician with yellow arm bands and five bamboo pipes, oil. 

One of those musicians with a pan-pipe, a rather large type. 

IÕm not a professor anymore, of course, IÕmÉ  Well, I donÕt exactly know why, but anyhow they told me I couldnÕt be a professor anymore.  So...so I used to tell my students, when I had students, I would say, ÒDonÕt go to Paris, you idiot.  DonÕt go to New York, you idiot, because things here are so rich, so beautiful that you donÕt need to go anywhere.  Just look whatÕs around you.Ó  But they didnÕt believe me, and IÕve never heard of them again.  

 

44. Billboard announcing 1968 Mexican retrospective: Obras Pictoricas de Jean Charlot.  Zohmah Charlot at far end of sign. 

Ah, this is my greatest moment as far as the world recognition goes.  It says ÒObras Pictoricas de Jean Charlot.Ó[8]  Anyhow, it was in Mexico City.  It was the Olympic year, and the Mexicans are such backward people that they had not only sport events but cultural events.  And the most amazing thing is that there are as many people who go to see the cultural events as there are people who go to see the sport events.  So, very nicely––and I was very touched, because I hadnÕt been there for so long––they wrote me that I was a chosen fellow for one of the cultural events at their Museum of Modern Art.  So I made that photograph of my glory. 

The person in the back is my wife.  She looks mighty little there, but it is a question of perspective.  IÕm not that big, and sheÕs not that small. 

 

45. Ostrich, pencil, 1900. 

When Ron spoke of booboos, I looked desperately for my booboos, and in one of my drawers, I found that.  People say itÕs an ostrich.  Well, I think itÕs...  Scientific people tell me that the legs are going the wrong way.  So this is my booboo.[9] 

 



[1] Lecture delivered at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, March 8, 1972, organized by Professor Ron Kowalke of the Art Department, University of Hawai`i.  Transcribed and edited from the tape recording by John Charlot.  Words have been added where the tape failed, notably at the end of the lecture.  Some of the illustrations cannot now be identified.  All footnotes are by the editor. 

[2] Paolo Uccello, The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1455. 

[3] In fact, this was CharlotÕs great-great-grandfather. 

[4] Jerry Okimoto. 

[5] Paul Claudel, ÒThe Gods Churn the Sea,Ó The Forum, Volume 82, August 1929, pp. 95 ff. 

[6] Two parts of the tape are blank in this section.

[7] The Polynesian Cultural Center, Brigham Young University, L‰`ie, Hawai`i. 

[8] ÔPictorial Works of Jean Charlot.Õ 

[9] The last two sentences have been supplied from memory by the editor.