The Colours of LA BOHÈME

LA BOHÈME, acrylic on canvas, 5'2.9'' x 6'6.7'' - 160 cm x 200 cm, £1,200.00
LA BOHÈME, acrylic on canvas, 5’2.9” x 6’6.7” – 160cm x 200cm, £1,200.00

When my parents died within days of each other my ability to create came to an abrupt halt.  I could no longer paint.  I did not have the emotional energy.  The trauma of the deaths had run my creative well dry.

It took 2 years to get me back into the studio.  It was a difficult re-entry.  It was as if a muscle I had once used on a regular basis no longer worked.  I felt that my emotional and spiritual connection to painting lay behind deep layers of fog – vaguely visible, but wholly unreachable.  During this testing time, however, one thing remained constant.  And that was listening to the opera, La Bohème.

I played La Bohème on a constant loop for over a year as I reintegrated myself into the world of paint.  My father had brought us up listening to opera and Puccini was his favourite composer.  So perhaps it was an attempt to link with my missing parent that caused me to play this opera over and over.  I don’t really know.  All I knew was that this music somehow supported, nurtured and held me as I attempted my return to the mystical, mysterious land of painting.

So when the chance to create paintings for a theatre bar came my way, La Bohème was the first thing to leap into my mind.    my paintings for the Astor theatre

My starting point was colour – it is always colour.  And to me La Bohème is an opera of celebration, passion, struggle, life and death … and VIBRANT COLOUR.  Jonathan Miller did a production of it in 2009 .  I was very excited to see it as I had adored Miller’s 1986 production of Puccini’s Tosca set in Nazi-occupied Rome in 1944. However I was to be visually disappointed with this La Bohème, and mainly because the whole production was virtually monochrome.    a review of Miller’s 2009 production

LA BOHÈME, detail, tribute to the artist Bohemians
LA BOHÈME, detail, tribute to the artist Bohemians

No! No! No!  La Bohème begins on Christmas Eve in a Parisian garret of the 1830s where live struggling artists – a Painter, a Poet, a Musician and a Philosopher.  It is full of high drama, intense passion and heart-wrenching emotional peaks and troughs.  It needs passionate colours.  It needs colours that will sing to the same level as this fabulously theatrical work.

I knew I needed to choose colours that would communicate my passion for and complete devotion to this opera.  I chose Gold and Silver – the connection of the artist to the divine;  Red and Green – passion and hope, as well as Christmas;  snow White and Midnight Blue – the chill but also the potential of the garret and on a deeper level, death and life.  I wanted the painting to pulse with energy, to communicate and to celebrate the intensity of Puccini’s most passionately romantic of operas.

Together with the colours, there are the symbols.  It has the garret skylight beyond which is the midnight sky, the candlelight, Mimi’s lost key, the staircase to the garret, the artist’s disciplines, Musetta’s shoe, a large glass of wine and Mimi and Rodolfo huddled in the snow.

LA BOHÈME, detail, Musetta's shoe
LA BOHÈME, detail, Musetta’s shoe

Undoubtedly my single most favourite part of  La Bohème is an intentionally dramatic aria by Musetta, the former lover of Marcello, the Painter. The Bohemians are in a café when Musetta makes an attention-seeking entrance on the arm of her sugar daddy, Alcindoro.  The ensuing tumult reaches its peak when, trying to gain Marcello’s attention, she sings a waltz about her popularity. Complaining that her shoe pinches, she sends Alcindoro off to fetch a new pair. The moment he is gone, Musetta falls into Marcello’s arms.

At the private view for the Astor theatre paintings, 2 young daughters of a friend came up to me and told me that, because of the staircase and the shoe in the painting, they had thought it was about Cinderella.

How fabulous!

I was thrilled!

That a shoe and a staircase could say so much.  The power of semiotics!

8 Comments

  1. La Boheme is, as you say, such a layered work and so rich with all kinds of human behaviour. I love how you have integrated the symbols into all the sumptuous colouring – your painting speaks of the passion of the story and your passion for it. I think your father would have been very moved by it.

  2. What a gorgeous post and painting. I love the pen hovering in the air. Well, as a writer I suppose I would! The other paintings as well look fantastic. The Anthony and Cleopatra is very intriguing. How lovely to have a piece of music to lead you back to painting. i think that’s wonderful. That song about her popularity – WOW! I must remember to put that on when my confidence is low! It’s such a tour de force, isn’t it?

  3. It really is, isn’t it!
    I got quite emotional writing the post, thinking back to those difficult days, but you are right, what a piece of music to lead me back to painting.
    Does music play a part in your creative process? I heard Tracy Emin talking about her studio and she said she played music on a loop while working. And that recently it had been the Scissor Sisters and that she felt sorry for all her assistants having to listen to that, but that it was her studio …

  4. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.
    You are right, La Boheme is full of human behaviour in all its glory and passion is uppermost.
    I hope too that my father would have been proud …

  5. Recently when I was writing a Synopsis which I hate doing I played on a loop Walking on Sunshine, Mr Blue Sky, Tainted Love, Glory Days and probably one of my all time favourites – Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear by Alan Price. I just want to live in that song! Not very high brow but it did the trick of keeping me up beat!!!

  6. Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear – I have not thought of that for years! Fabulous!
    It’s not a wonder writing a Synopsis would drive you mad. I was just at a creative meeting this morning where the person trying to convince us visual artists of the value of writing about our work (something we find teeth-pullingly difficult) quoted Samuel Johnson: ‘I am sorry for writing you such a long letter, I did not have time to write you a short one.’ Just about sums it up.
    Happy dancing!

  7. Beautifully vibrant painting – I don’t know La Boheme, but I love the way you describe it in paint and words. Your story of losing painting is similar to mine of losing writing, but also there were songs that I played over and over – one in particular, driving to and from hospitals, hospices and so on.

  8. Thank you, Andrea.
    Gosh, I can wholly imagine very particular songs being required for such journeys.
    And re losing a painting, I rather think that it is all about putting the paint on and then taking it off until you find a balance. Creativity eh?!

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