My wife introduced me to Chagall’s art decades ago, when we were still living a bedsit life in London. Even though I was looking at prints, rather than the real thing, I was captured by Chagall’s anarchic exuberance.
It seemed to me that his paintings were about imagining freedom.
His images were based in a recognisable reality except shifted into a blue spectrum and populated by creatures so exuberant it took effort to anchor them to the ground.
His imagined freedom was the ability to float or fly and the choice of when to stay or leave.
Many years later, when we’d created a little more freedom of our own and had just moved to Switzerland, my wife took me to see Chagall’s stained-glass windows in the Fraumünster in Zürich and I felt as if I’d finally seen an example of numinosity.
The windows covered traditional themes but filled them with light and hope and an acknowledgement that true beauty is never perfect.
When I learned about Chagall’s life I realised his vision of freedom was hard won. Born into a small Hassidic community in rural Belarus, where his father was a fishmonger and his mother ran the village shop, he went on to study in St.Petersburg and build his career in Paris, living in trendy Montmartre.
He was unfortunate enough to visit Russia just in time to be trapped for the duration of World War I. Later, he lived in Berlin, Paris again, the Loire and Marseille, always pursuing his art.
A few days ago, I came across a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti called “Don’t Let The Horse” which I think gives a fantasy view of Chagall’s pursuit of freedom that I think matches the spirit of his painting.
Take a look below and see what you think.