Saturday, 20 August 2011

Seurat as Pastoral

There's a lovely Natalie Shapero poem in a recen(ish) Kenyon Review called 'Pastoral'. It describes a nighttime citscape, a public park, in which A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle de la Grande Jatte (Seurat's desperately famous image) has, with eminently plausible kitsch grandeur, been rendered into the sculptural medium of topiary:
Above the Deaf School, oddly opportune:
This whittled city’s whalebone-sliver moon.
Somebody has teased imported shrubbery
Into Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon

on the Isle de la Grande Jatte. The island scene
in monochrome, with shadows the same green
as sunspots.
Sunspots are black, not green; but the image is strking, and works. I can't decide if its because it taps into the 'false colouration' aspect of impressionist painting (where orange light would throw a green shadow), or whether it simply, neatly, folds together the greenery of the shrubs and the blackness of night.
The capuchin

monkey strains at its wire leash. Long pipes
protrude from hedge-lips; Gallic archetypes
smooth out their verdant skirts, the fresh-cut hems
obediently flaring.
I hadn't noticed the monkey in the image until I read this! The park gift-shop sells ('what else?') prints of the painting. And, the gardener has installed in the pond, to stand-in for the Seine, some carp:
a school of twenty-eight
Japanese Gin Rin B were introduced
to the muddy park. Their long fins undulate

above the pond—when it was deepened by
a passing storm; they grew too large. Heads high,
we coax out art to meet our hungry eyes.
Nature is the call, and the reply.
We are the carp; our fish-shaped eyes swimming in the medium of art, and hungrily grazing upon it -- made, here, actual foliage, a kind of literalisation of the pastoral mode (art not just about nature, but actually an example of nature). Very nice.

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