Marc Chagall, Circus With Red Horse, 1968
Marc Chagall, Circus With Red Horse, 1968

My Friend Chagall

I know Chagall and Rembrandt love me. It is my only boast.
I endorse freedom in all its forms. I admire all skills in pursuit of the human purpose.

Rembrandt and Chagall joined these truths in their works.

Chagall's Rabbi with the little Rabbi on his head could have been done by Rembrandt. They draw the same broad nose suggested by a line.

In Chagall's paintings are the drab brown cold earth and the stolid folk plodding through their lives.

Then there is a rainbow dispersed everywhere in the lover's face, the portrait of a bride, the creatures of the field gazing out of the painting with the single eye of God.

I look at one or two etchings and withdraw from the crowd, so unmindful somehow of themselves and each other. Chagall found a way to love with his instrument. The viewers take a safe skeptical approach. They will not be overcome for nothing, even by love.

In the remembrance paintings of Vitebsk, the world is spinning and everything is happening. The people are rushing like a sea after the Rabbi and the Torah, swirling into a dance. And nearby is the goatman pulling his friend along to the butcher. The ugly dark buildings are slightly askew going up a hill, tipped one way and another. Lovers sail high above the tumult and the monotony. Above them the angels form from light and course downward in sublime curves to manifest in color and presence, to bless and to sing. The fiddler, like Chagall's grandfather, sits on the roof to play. He cannot join the angels; he is too much bound to the buildings and the people. But he can climb up to meet the higher music. The people will only say he is crazy.

In the simplest sketch, of himself embracing his mother's gravestone, --in that grieving illustration, his raw heart spread on the cold stone far from his pen, the black tears may weep, but they are not shocking. He tells everything. We understand. He says, "Look for me here." He has flown over the world like an airy flame and he will not leave.

I loved the crowds, but they did not see me. The city-rules kept everyone at a lonely distance. No one was to touch or look long or deeply. I turned when leaving and looked again. People stood scattered in large and small bunches, or singly, concentrating. I would have been happy if they had smiled on me and one another.

Chagall could run through a museum hall as fast as I, in fact probably even faster. His prayers are melodies I can hear.

"I decided to learn a trade of some kind that would give me the right to a permit to live in the capital. So I became apprenticed to a sign painter in order to get a certificate from a professional school.

"I dreaded the examination. I might be able to draw fruit or a Turk smoking, but I was sure to fail on the lettering. However, I took a passionate interest in signs and I did a whole series of them.

"It was good to see my first signs swinging in the market outside a butcher's or a greengrocer's, with a pig or a hen fondly scratching itself nearby, while the wind and the rain heedlessly spattered them with mud."

One other time I felt close to an absent friend. I went to the Miro exhibit on W. 57th Street in the 1980's.

Miro had just left off tinkering. His block of wood with its own squat rectangular shape looked like a professor at a party. The monocle made of a washer at the end of a buoyant wire kept an eye on things.

Just now the luminous cloudy sky waits above the branches for the next motion of wind. There is light beyond the grey-blue line, off West over the sea.

Lights come on across the valley. People wearily draw inward. An indefatiguable peacock keeps it up. What a miniscule skull.

Real revolution shifts the earth in the heart's depths.

Chagall and Bella, August 1934
Chagall and Bella, August 1934

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