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Marc Chagall I and the Village

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A clear example of how Chagall turned the picture plane into the mirror of memory is given in the large painting "I and The Village". The surface itself has a "mirro-like" quality. Without any impasto, the spontaneous brushwork gives a painting that is shiny and smooth, suggesting the transparent hardness that is produced by the techinque of painting on glass. Behind this glassy extior the picture plane, in the manner of a relief. This basic structure of the picture space is many-faceted: here the areas are small and arranged in a decorative pattern; there in empty contrasted fields; here in luminous transparent planes: there fitted together in interpenetrating seggments. Merely out of these superimposed layers is created a crystalline spatial structure, a backwards-and-forwards rhythm, which gives the impression of a breathing surface that nonetheless retains its character as a plane. The pictorial space created in this way has nothing in common with the perspective of the three-dimensional natural world which surrounds us. It is a completely independent pictorial space, brought into being only by paint and brush. This fascinating surface pattern is energized by the hallucinatory contents of the picture. At the right, solidly posititioned in the constructive framework, appears the sliced-off, greenly illuminated profile of a man, an adridged version of the painter's own face. In amazement he stares fixed at a white cow's head which emerges from the light-blue-and-white layer of the crystalline, fragmented plane like an apparition from a dream and stares back at the painter. Their intimate relationship is indicated by the fine line which connects the two eyes so steadfastly regarded each other. It is futher emphasized by the shy qesture with which the beringed hand introduces a wonderfully elaborate, glittering nosegay like a love token into the symbolic world of the picture. The cow! Chagall recalls, "The cow in our yard, with her milk as white as snow, the cow who used to talk to us." In the magical atmosphere of the cow loses her animal status and becomes a familiar personality, symbolic of rural security, of the mother, of woman, of the beloved even; the glittering nosegay is meant for her. Additional symbolic objects set the scene: at the top is a naively abbreviated version of a typical Russian village with its domed church, out of which the priest is solemnly peeping; a peasant with his scythe strides across the open field; a peasant woman points out the way for him, and the fact that she , together with some of the little houses, is upside down is not the least disturbing in this dream atmosphere, for she only serves as a symbolic sign in the poetic context of the picture; in the transparent region where the cow's head appears, milkmaid sits and milks the same white sow. Al these elements, fitted like allusive words in the rhythmic construction of the picture, call up a whole sequence of meanings. So, out of Chagall's longing memory of his native Vitebsk slowly emerges a readable picture which reveals the entire complexity of the poetically transfiguered memory picture. It is no "view," no rebus pieced together with symbols, but an imago which reflects the psychically experienced reality in the pictorial parable of colored forms.

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