Sunday, May 10, 2015


Well of course the first thing I wanted to see in the Sonia Delaunay exhibition was the 1913 original of Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France. I must admit to being disappointed that the tall narrow panels were hung on the wall and framed, rather than being folded and viewed in accordion book format as intended. Also disappointing was that on the information panel next to it there wasn't more about Cendrars and the making of this work. However the voluminous and excellently illustrated catalogue does devote about twelve pages to Trans-Sib. It's hard to believe that the photo below could really have been taken in 1913 - Robert and Sonia would then have been only 28 and Blaise Cendrars 26 - the photo is blurred but even so, do any of them look that young? As well as the catalogue, I also bought another irresistible book, Blaise Cendrars: Selected Writings, with a preface by Henry Miller.

In case you're new to this blog, Cendrar's poem has occupied my thoughts, the sweat of my brow
and every other available physical and mental resource for the past nearly two years - a creative saga shared, in different ways, with Dick Jones whose splendid translation of Cendrar's poem was the stimulus which inspired me to illustrate it with over 40 relief blocks, and with Nicolas and Frances McDowall who turned the project into a magnificent Old Stile Press publication.

Now that our version - visually very different from the Cendrars/Delaunay original - is published and gradually making its way in the world, there remains the task known as PR (actually HS: Hard Slog). Promotion, public relations, publicity: does anyone actually enjoy doing that stuff? Professional PR people probably do, if the smiles permanently attached to their faces can be trusted. Although I do not in the least enjoy it, I take on this task out of habit because, for most of my life, I've had to rely only on myself to get attention for my work. That's a bald way of putting it but the truth is that what we want - and what we need if it's our livelihood - is attention for our work. Whether we're bloggers, writers, artists, actors, musicians, craftspeople etc - maybe we just want to know that what we wholeheartedly give our time and thought and talents to is seen and heard. If you're hiding because you don't want to be found, that's fine. But if you're hidden and want to be found, then some form of HS/PR becomes unavoidable.

While walking around Sonia Delaunay's quietly invigorating world - she never shouts but calmly and confidently asserts herself - it struck me that she took on that task in an original way, managing to make it part of her creative practice. She was always multi-faceted but extending her work as a painter into fashion design, interior decoration, textiles, etc. and establishing the Simultané logo not only provided financial support but also took care of PR because there was no separation between the private and the public art: you could wear a Delaunay as a dress but it could also serve as walking publicity for Sonia and Robert's other artwork.

It's a wonderful, life-enhancing exhibition and a good way to, temporarily at least, chase the blues inflicted by the Blues' incongruous victory in the election. Enough has been said and written about it so I'll stop right here.


Dick said...

I'm glad that you made the necessary pilgrimage, Natalie, and thank you for this account of it. How strange that the TS wasn't displayed as originally intended. The configuration and layout are intrinsic to the identity and character of the simultaneous work. We'll try to get up to the exhibition during Half Term, preferably a deux, but probably with three kids in tow!

marja-leena said...

I have not known Sonia Delauney's work very well so this has been interesting, thanks. I can see how very important she is in relation to Cendrars and your illustrations. Wish I could see the exhibition... and your book.

I hear you about us artists, writers, etc. constantly needing to 'sell' ourselves. You do a good job, Natalie. I know I need to work at it more, not my favourite thing, though the blog and website is one way.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dick, you and Em should definitely see it and your kids might well enjoy the exhibition too. Besides, a stroll along the South Bank is always fun - not to mention the fantastic array of world-foods on offer at Borough Market, next to London Bridge station. I always take that route to Tate Mod, rather than the dull alternative.

Marja-Leena, Sonia Delaunay isn't among my top favourite artists but seeing this comprehensive view of her work gives me much greater appreciation of it, as well as an insight into her life and character.

Hattie said...

Isn't it interesting how a good exhibit can add so much to the appreciation of an artist's work!
I was privileged to see a very comprehensive exhibit in Nice a while ago of Niki de St-Phalle's work and was amazed at her range and mastery (or is it misstery or mystery?). Single isolated works give no real sense of her importance.
I do think selling oneself is a real problem for artists. It's hard to get much attention when one is a modest person and absolutely everyone else is shouting!
And I'm sorry the election went badly, but Labour really screwed up. They pandered to the big money people and the Bushes. You need a real left party. So do we in the U.S.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hattie, I like the humor and inventiveness of Niki de St-Phalle's work and she's done some great books too. Wish I'd seen that Nice show.

I hope your next election turns out better than ours has. And please don't let another Bush into the White House!

Ellena said...

Please say HI so that I'll have yours.
Mine is