"..in the still-life you have a tactile, I might almost say a manual space.. This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them.. In tactile space you measure the distance separating you from the object, whereas in visual space you measure the distance separating things from each other. This is what led me, long ago, from landscape to still-life"
Thus explained the French artist Georges Braque, who along with Pablo Picasso founded the Cubist style of the early twentieth century. Though Picasso is more of a household name today (at least outside of France), Braque, if anything, concentrated in a more focused manner upon Cubism in his work, while Picasso was more inclined towards dallying with or incorporating other stylistic elements and approaches. Indeed, the very recorded origins of the term "Cubism", via French art critic Louis Vauxcelles, lay in the describing of Braque's works as being "full of little cubes". This isn't a case of one artist gaining credit over another however - Braques and Picasso in fact worked side-by-side, in a very close artistic friendship, developing Cubism, with one result being that the artworks of each from part of this formative period could easily be passed off to most of us as having been the work of the other.
As suggested by the opening quote to this entry, Braque possessed a great affection for the still life on account of its intimate qualities, as well as its innate suitability to experimentation with perspective. Given both his appreciation of that relationship between art and viewer that it allowed, and the time-period in which Georges lived and worked, it should come as little surprise to we aficionados of tobacciana that the pipe made quite a few appearances within his compositions:
Still Life with Jugs and Pipe, 1906 (One of Braque's pre-Cubist, Fauvist works.)
The Romantic period of the first half of the 19th century was born in rebellion against the embrace of science, reason, and the advancing Industrial Revolution which defined the Age of Reason by itself embracing flights of dramatic fancy, emotional and philosophical turmoil, and an idealized (often unrealistic) Medievalism. But then the Romanticists of central Europe got all the Sturm und Drang they could handle, via bloody political upheaval. Following this came, unsurprisingly, another art movement (defined less by a fixed time period, and more by a central mood) which brushed all of that aside for a focus on quieter, more sentimental subject matter; the Biedermeier.
Given the introspective nature of this movement, I wasn't entirely surprised to find plenty of pipes popping up in the works of one of its more famous figures, the autodidactic Bavarian artist Carl Spitzweg. He was in many ways a very fitting representation of Biedermeier ideals, with his works eschewing politics or social commentary to concentrate on satirical, yet also at times deeply symbolic, representations of often eccentric individuals (The Bookworm being the most famous), as well as his quiet, almost monastic way of life, keeping to a small garret apartment above Rothenburg's (at the time) quietly decaying medieval architectural grandeur, from which he could look down upon the people of the town in search for inspiration.
Carl Spitzweg: He Comes
Carl Spitzweg: He Comes (detail)
A Hunter Looking to a Young Girl
A Hunter Looking to a Young Girl (detail)
The Cactus Lover
The Cactus Lover (detail)
Suspicious Smoke (detail)
Like the anti-rational tempestuousness of Romanticism, though, the quiet introversion and contentment of the Biedermeier (as particularly expressed in Spitzweg's depictions of guards and soldiers nodding off or knitting at their posts - both completed in 1848 as Europe again stirred towards a restless froth) couldn't last forever - such things never do.
When we think of pipes in art, it's easy for our first thoughts to be of images specifically from Western works. From Adriaen Brouwer's unflinching scenes of early 17th-century hedonism, to the stylized Cubist still-lifes of Juan Gris, to the sentimental illustrations of Norman Rockwell, the tobacco pipe has indeed seen great popularity in the art of Europe and the Americas alike. The Occidental world, however, hardly has had a monopoly on the enjoyment of tobacco - indeed being responsible for its dissemination across the globe. Of course, the people of each culture that adopted the pipe also adapted it to suit their own tastes, their environment, and their supply of tobacco itself.
Much like the older clays of Europe, designed for sparing use of an imported luxury, the traditional Japanese kiseru features a long, slender stem and a small bowl - only even more so. Contrasting those delicate clays, longer metal-stemmed kiseru, slung from one's waist, were (so they say) adopted by those forbidden to bear weapons - both as tools for self-defense and as the accoutrements of gangster culture.
While the gracile proportions of the kiseru, along with various aspects of the traditional techniques and approaches of Japanese art, results in their presence often being rather discrete, you can still certainly find them if you're looking. Take, for example, that most widely-known of all Japanese artists, Katsushika Hokusai. Whether it's his vibrant, dream-like color prints of looming mountains and towering seas, or his haunting renderings of legendary ghosts, demons, and spirits, when people think of "Japanese art", odds are the first images to pop into mind are going to be his works - whether they even know him by name or not.
As it so happens, it didn't take very long to find Hokusai depictions of kiseru in the former and the latter alike, as well as quite a few of a more day-to-day nature:
Mishima Pass in Kai Province
Can you spot the man enjoying his pipe? Have a closer look. His posture was the only thing that gave it away to my eye:
Mishima Pass in Kai Province -detail
And below, a much more obvious one, obviously - and which also happens to be a self-portrait:
Old Fisherman Smoking His Pipe
As was the case in contemporary Europe, Japanese men were not the only ones partial to to the ritual and experience involved of smoking tobacco through a pipe:
Yes, Japanese women also smoked kiseru. As did, apparently, terrible monsters in the guise of Japanese women - all the better to fool their neighbors into believing they were perfectly ordinary subjects of the Emperor. In this case, they’re rokurokubi, creatures whose natural tendency is to delight in terrifying mortals, and whose mystic power (and telltale feature) are necks that magically extend in the night. Some Japanese folklore apparently tells of rokurokubi who do not know they are not human, and whose necks only extend as they sleep, leaving them with disorienting dreams of seeing the world from highly unusal (and highly, well, high) angles. Those of us who’ve underestimated certain blends can no doubt relate to the sensation.
The birth of the "Pesaro" school was something of a renaissance for Italian pipe design, born, so the story goes, out of reaction to the rise of the Danish pipe during the 1960s, and the contrasting decline of attention to the Italian tradition. And just as with the works of the historical Renaissance period, that birth was affected by the meeting of well-heeled, established patrons with a skilled and dedicated artisan. More specifically, when a group of successful, patriotically-minded Italian pipemen, represented by one Terenzio Cecchini, found a younger countryman, student of fine arts, and autodidactic pipemaker all rolled into one, in the form of Giancarlo Guidi.
From this meeting was born Mastro de Paja, and from Mastro de Paja Giancarlo both developed and honed his own pipemaking skills and approach to design, and in turn helped shape those of the numerous Italian artisans whom he worked with. From here what we now call the Pesaro style would spread, as these various artisans set out independently to create such marques of their own as L'Anatra, Il Ceppo, and Don Carlos. And today Giancarlo himself is of course best known by the unmistakable briars of his own workshop - Ser Jacopo.
Just as the boy is said to be the father of the man, the nature of the seed from which the Pesaro school has grown is evident to this day in the fruits it bears - Giancarlo's original background was in art, and artful flourish, posture, and form remains the very essence of the "Pesaro look". And you'd be hard-pressed to find somewhere where this was more self-evident than in Ser Jacopo's own Picta lines, wherein Giancarlo has interpreted the designs of pipes found the artworks of some of his favorite masters.
The Picta series-of-series is an expansive and still-expanding project, to this date covering designs from the works of Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Rene' Magritte, and, most recently, Joan Miro. And it has no doubt been a challenging, albeit also satisfying, one as well. After all, some of these works, Magritte's in particular, contain some of the most undoubtedly iconic images of a pipe. As much as the aforementioned's Treachery of Images may rebuke us, when we see it we think, "That is what a pipe should look like." Then there's also the challenge of wrestling with some of the master artist's own styles.
As you can see, they range from the clearly rendered:
Head of a Peasant with Pipe, Vincent Van Gogh
...to the abstractly obscured:
Catalan Peasant with a Guitar, Joan Miro
But no matter the challenges created by the whims of those artist-artisans who came before him, Giancarlo has nonetheless seen to it that interpretations pleasing to the pipeman are produced:
Rene’ Magritte may indeed have never made an actual pipe, but, fortunately for us, Giancarlo Guidi certainly does.
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