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Vivid and surreal

Local gallery to host Marc Chagall works

February 21, 2008
Movie fans may remember Julia Robert’s comment on Marc Chagall’s painting “La Marie” in the movie “Notting Hill” — “Happiness just isn’t happiness without a violin-playing goat” — or Cher’s assessment that his murals at the Metropolitan Opera House are “kind of gaudy” in “Moonstruck.”

However, the people of Williamsport can to judge his work for themselves starting March 1, when 42 of his pieces will be on display at the Ankleroot Gallery, 42 W. Fourth St., one of Williamsport’s newest art spots.

Chagall was born in the restricted world of provincial Russia in 1887, and chose art, as opposed to the more usual path of scholarship, as his escape route. He spent time in Paris, Germany and New York before his death in 1985. In his lifetime, he produced enough paintings, prints, and murals to establish himself as one of the most prolific artists of the 20th century.

However, his work never been on display in Williamsport until now. Geoffrey Haun, curator of the Ankleroot Gallery, and John Bianco, local art and Chagall enthusiast, always have been fans. Together, they are displaying the 1977 edition of 42 lithographs by Chagall, depicting the Greek story “Daphnis and Chloe.”

“Our goal is to bring a different facet of art with historical significance to Williamsport,” Bianco said. “Our local artists are wonderful and well-represented, but we would love to bring something new to the table for the community’s enjoyment.”

Bianco and Haun also are endeavoring to create a more “museum-like” experience than one would usually attend on a First Friday in Williamsport. By that, they mean a more formal mounting and arrangement of the work and additional information: Bianco will present a short talk every hour on the first and last Saturdays of the exhibition about Chagall and the prints on display.

A Chagall piece usually is recognizable by its vivid colors and surreal elements, such as people posed in mid-air and symbolic animals and objects. He also is noted for his religious themes; elements of his Jewish faith appear constantly in his work, and he created a collection of etchings to illustrate the Bible.

Though most famous for his paintings and prints, he also worked with stained glass and executed large-scale projects involving public spaces and religious buildings.

Many have tried and failed to classify him to an artistic movement: expressionism, cubism and surrealism don’t quite embody his vast range of color, imagery, and media, despite his connections to all of them. He was more concerned with his art’s quality than belonging to a specific school. He is noted to have said, “When I am finishing a picture, I hold some God-made object up to it — a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand — as a final test,” he said. “If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it’s bad art.”

Chagall was commissioned to illustrate “Daphnis and Chloe” in 1952, a Greek story written by Longus in the second century. It recounts the ultimately happy tale of Daphnis, a goat-herder, and Chloe, a shepherdess, who were both abandoned as children, fell in love, and underwent the trials of separation before being happily reunited.

Two trips to Greece between 1952-4 inspired the prints’ luminosity. Mesmerized by the country’s intense colors, Chagall concentrated on the quality of the light reflected off the Mediteranean Sea. This influence stands out in the prints, which capture the essence of the classical young lovers in modern radiance.

The originals were created in Paris between 1957-60 by master printer Mourlot and released in 1961. The series is considered to be “the pinnacle of lithographic printing, due to the vivid colors,” Bianco said. Lithographs must be pressed separately for each color used; the vibrant “Daphnis and Chloe” prints took a particularly long time to create. The pieces on display were reprinted in 1977 in West Germany.

Bianco and Haun agree that “Daphnis and Chloe” is a good representation of Chagall’s work, despite his many different styles and media.

“It is definitely recognizable as Chagall, especially as a series of prints,” Haun said. The bright colors, minimalistic figures and uses of symbolism are also typical to his style.

To paraphrase Pablo Picasso, “I don’t know where he gets his ideas. He must have an angel inside his head.”

The exhibit will open on with an event from 1 to 6 p.m. March 1, and hold a closing event from 1 to 5 p.m. March 29. Regular gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 2 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday. The exhibit is free of charge.

The showing is sponsored by Springs Window Fashions. Lithography equipment provided by Hoyer’s Photo Supply.

(Ankleroot Art Gallery is located between The Williamsport Frame Shop and Vinnie’s Italian Eatery. Parking is available on the street or in the nearby parking deck on Third Street between Williams Street and Pine Street. For additional information, call Geoffrey Haun at 570-916-1704.)

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