Chagall at Tate Liverpool
Marc Chagall’s style is known for its unusual figures floating above the ground levitating with sheer emotion or heads spinning. He often turned his work upside down whilst painting surreal images before the word was even applied to art. But he is the most down to earth artist I know of. Here, the exhibition is on the top floor of the Tate in Liverpool, and we hover around the gallery looking down on one of the most down to earth cities I know of.
I feel as if we could almost climb into one of his paintings and experience that levity floating around and above the Liver Building and docks outside. Although a contemporary of Picasso, Chagall was more of a poet than a posturing modern artist, a little shy and self-effacing. Always the outsider, revealing his heart and mind to the universe.
I come to this exhibition as a fan of Chagall, the man and his art. Liking an artist’s work will often lead you to find out more about their life and experiences. With Chagall there are many experiences. Chagall faced plenty of obstacles in his career. One of those was his identity as a Russian Jew experiencing the pogroms and further anti-semitism in Europe. After four years of poverty in Paris, his first solo exhibition was in Berlin, Germany (1914). Soon after, he visited Russia, a visit that was to last for eight years. The rise of Nazism and the turmoil of World War II followed by the Russian Revolution also put a temporary stop to his painting. He lost all his paintings in Europe, did not receive money equal to their value and had to repaint many from memory. Against the odds Chagall made a career from his art.
Chagall was successful pursuing his own vision despite a lack of affiliation with particular art movements. This lack of assimilation has meant he is sometimes overlooked by art historians. Hadn’t he assimilated enough by changing his name — Moishe Segal — to something a little more French?
Arriving at the exhibition, immediately the art looks familiar. If you have seen a favourite artwork many times in books you’ll know the feeling. It’s like finally meeting someone you’ve only ever seen in photographs — like meeting Chagall himself at times. It’s also like time travelling, you get to stand directly in front of the very object that the artist stood in front of. This is more so when you can take time to examine the brushstrokes and drink in this intensity of colour. This is the special nature of exhibition. You can get so close as to almost touch the textures, smell the paint and be caught off guard by the scale. Some of Chagall’s paintings are much larger than I had imagined, especially I and the Village, having only seen it A4 size or prints.
I’m not a stickler for taking the chronological route around an exhibition. I prefer to wander instinctually if not entirely aimlessly. The layout of the exhibition allows this: not too rigid but keeping his Paris work, Russian work and some later pieces together with a little historical context. You won’t get the life story of Chagall here. Luckily, if you are interested, you can get Chagall’s own personal account of his early life and art in his autobiography, Marc Chagall: My Life
, written in 1921-22, a wonderfully poetic read.
Chagall: Modern Master was showing at Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool until 6 October 2013.