I want to astound Paris with an apple,” said French impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, born January 19, 1839. On the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of his birth, the luscious, fresh fruit in Still Life with Apples and Oranges (c. 1899) still lure us back for more. Yet it took Cézanne almost a lifetime to gain acceptance as a respectable artist, and just as long for this mystical artist to find hope in God and the church.

The Evil Demon

The young Cézanne shocked the art world with his violent, lustful, dark portraits of alienation. Although as a child he received traditional religious instruction, he did not latch on to much in the way of Christian hope and beauty. Instead, as his closest friend, Emile Zola, wrote concerning him, Cézanne was controlled by “the evil demon which beclouds his thought.”

As a youth, Cézanne delighted in sharing his own poems with Zola and another boyhood friend, Baptistin Bailie. Much of Cézanne’s poetry centered on the macabre, such as one poem that describes a family devouring a severed human head, which is served by the father. It is little wonder Cézanne’s early paintings depict scenes of sexuality, torture, and death.

Devoid of religion’s depth and understanding, Cézanne frequently used blasphemy as his instrument of white-hot expression: “If I didn’t hold myself back, I’d hurl some litanies of God’s Name, God’s Brothel, Holy Whore, etc., up to heaven.” As the years went on, he sank deeper into his neuroses. Nightmares haunted him and found their fruition in such paintings as The Rape, The Orgy, The Strangled Woman, The Courtesans, The Murder, and The Abduction. Such works earned for Cézanne the title of “the first wild man of modern art.”

Although preoccupied with sexuality, Cézanne could not find fulfillment with women. His alienation is expressed in A Modern Olympia (1872–73), which depicts a well-dressed gentleman (obviously Cézanne) gazing at a naked woman. For all its eroticism, there is no hint of a relationship between the two individuals.

Nevertheless, there was one woman, Hortense Figuet—initially Cézanne’s mistress, and when their son, Paul, was 14, his reluctant wife. She was anything but a beauty. Hortense was known as “The Ball,” referring to a prisoner’s ball and chain.

Afraid Of Death

Cézanne held that “outside potent and individual life there is only lie and folly.” He denied God and called the clergy deceivers who had relegated themselves to the periphery of society. He did not, however, hold a positive view of the Devil. “I saw the diabolic band of Satan,” he wrote at one point, “… there the hideous vampires, To get at me.”

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Although there were many who could not even locate “a beautiful temperament” in the man, it was fellow painter Gauguin who stated in a letter in 1885 that Cézanne’s nature was essentially mystical; unfortunately, Cézanne spent most of his life searching apart from God. From time to time, glancing in the direction of the church, Cézanne maintained his disgust. “I think that to be a good Catholic, one must be devoid of all sense of justice, but have a good eye for one’s interests.”

However, as his few friends began to disappear—either through death or the artist’s purposeful rejection—he came to rely on the companionship of his mother and his sister Marie, both of whom were devoutly religious. Because of their faithfulness to worship, Cézanne began to attend church services regularly.

Why so? It has been said that he feared death and concluded that if there was anything to religion that could help him cross safely to the “other side,” he would rather be on good terms with it. Consequently, as Cézanne moved into his later years, he confessed, “It’s that I’m feeble. And … only the Church can protect me.”

Cézanne disciplined himself to begin the day attending early Mass. It was so common for him to give money to beggars at the church door that Marie often had to restrict his generosity so that he did not give too much of his money away.


Bombay’s Throwaway Children

For most Westerners, the face of Third World poverty is embodied in photographs of emaciated, brown-skinned children gazing hopelessly into the camera. These faces appear on the envelopes of bulk-mail appeals into which we guiltily fold a couple of dollars before trotting off to Pizza Hut.

Although the generic face of poverty accurately captures the despair of children on the edge of starvation, it ignores their dignity as image bearers of the Creator. Everyone, after all, has a life. Everyone has a story. In Salaam Bombay!, Indian director Mira Nair shows us the human face of street kids as they struggle to beg, borrow, or steal their daily bread.

Salaam Bombay! was shot entirely on location in Bombay, using shops, markets, and an infamous brothel as sets. The result is a visual spectacle so rich in texture as to be somewhat overwhelming. But the dirt and degradation are also over whelming. For North Americans, the thought of 600 million people crowded into a space half the size of Canada can be hard to grasp. Salaam Bombay! offers us a few weeks in the life of one of those millions.

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Salaam Bombay! is not a film to watch lightly. Yet it does offer an unblinking look at the plight of the world’s children. Even in North America, the majority of the poor are children. Salaam Bombay! reminds us that each of these children is a special human being, deserving of love and a decent life. It might serve as reality therapy for those of us whose main concern is to lose the extra weight gained over the annual holiday binge of food and gifts.

By Stefan Ulstein, English department chairman at Bellevue (Wash.) Christian School.

Salaam Bombay! contains offensive language and situations related to prostitution and the drug trade. Viewer discretion is advised.

A Growing Sense Of Life

Is there a correlation between this interest in the Christian hope and a growing sense of life in his paintings? As Cézanne grew older, his canvases became more spontaneous and exciting, particularly the lush landscapes of his beloved Aix-en-Provence. By the time he died on October 22, 1906, Cézanne’s work revealed a master painter.

Interestingly, however, he barely noticed the acclaim his name began to attract. Instead, he abandoned himself increasingly to excellence while living quietly in Aix.

“I have caught a glimpse of the Promised Land,” he wrote a friend. “Am I to be like the great leader of the Jews, or am I to be allowed to enter it?” One would pray that, as he drew on the hope he had so long denied, Cézanne was permitted to enter.

By J. Grant Swank, minister of the Church of the Nazarene in Walpole, Massachusetts.


Coping with Success

How does the “definitive adult-appeal” Christian musician feel about fame and success? Listen to The Fine Line (DaySpring/Word), Wayne Watson’s latest album of introspective easy rock and ballads. With 15 consecutive top-ten singles on contemporary Christian radio and a 1988 Dove Award (Contemporary Album of the Year), Watson sees himself, in the words of the title song, walking the fine line between “contentment and greed / Between the things that I want / And the things that I need.” Watson reads the papers, watches TV, hangs out in lonely cafés, and tells us what he thinks through a variety of instrumental and lyrical moods. The only song that does not seem at home on the album is the revivalistic “We Belong to Him.”

Although he has two sons and a 16-year marriage, Watson does not want to write primarily about family themes; The Fine Line deals with issues such as AIDS, homelessness, pornography, and the nagging temptation to live without God—a temptation common to his thirtysomethingish audience.

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The Crucifixion of the Homeless

Broken lives may best be described by broken poetry, such as the fragmented verse in Daniel Berrigan’s new volume, Stations: The Way of the Cross (Harper & Row). And the sufferings of Christ may be most clearly reflected in the broken lives of the urban homeless.

Jesuit priest, social activist, and award-winning poet, Berrigan portrays Jesus’ crucifixion mirrored in those who sleep under bridges and dig through garbage for food.

However, the backbone of Stations is formed by Margaret Parker’s 14 terra cotta reliefs of the stations of the cross.

“All the time in New York, you pass people who have fallen asleep on the street,” Parker told CT. “I realized I could show the shape of the city—the hard, sharp lines—and the people who have to find a soft place in it.”

The most striking rendering depicts scattered body parts hung on a chain-link fence. “To think of pulling a body apart and using it for a crucifix took a lot of nerve,” Parker said, “but I felt if you were actually dying on the street, the sheer disintegration—I feel I portrayed that in the piece.”

Parker, who was raised in the United Church of Christ, did not intend at first to create religious art. “My main point was to show the contemporary scene,” she said, “but when the religious aspect came together, it was startling.

“I hope the series picks up the spirit of redemption,” she said. “I, myself, have changed.”

By Daniel Coran.

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