How I First Met Brâncuşi

excerpts "We want to see Brâncuşi. Do you know him?" asked Florica."We're old friends. But he is ill, it's not easy to get an appointment. Anyway, let's try."On the same day, October the 13th, 1956, we met Colomba again at 'Les deux magots', among the red tables and couches. We didn't stay long. We took a taxicab – and there we are, at Impasse Ronsin, number 11.I read again the notes I took on that day:'A squalid dead-end alley. So, this is Brâncuşi's lodging and studio: a sort of big storehouse about to collapse. We go past a dumpster behind which I drop Florica's drawing block. (We were advised not to appear before Brâncuşi either with a drawing block or a camera – just one of the Old Man's many oddities; thus, the other day he quickly drove out a young man who – he thought – was practicing magic: the young guest had been as careless as to rub his hands…) Brâncuşi's atelier is surrounded by sundry vestiges. A pickaxe blow would turn it too into dust and ashes… But it is spared out of respect for its famous occupant.Colomba enters again. We sit waiting. While waiting, we wonder what he looks like – a man who left his country more than half a century ago, with no belongings, and set out to conquer the world through a sea of hardships. He was a dishwasher and a sexton at the Romanian chapel on rue Jean de Beauvais, he chopped wood and he starved – but he won.(…) An unforgettable scene: a room, or rather a storeroom, an alchemist's workshop crossbred with a flea market. (…) The wall on the right is adorned with a lot of saws of all kinds and sizes; they grin, showing their teeth, next to grates, wire clews, boxes filled with spikes, hammers, files, tin boxes and many more. Across the right wall, in the penumbra of another room, some of the maestro's works can be discerned, alongside forms that may be huge cauldrons, buckets for Cyclopes – paraphernalia from another realm. Also on the left, near the plain door, a large, white hearth that harbors a smoldering fire. In the middle of the storeroom – an enormous millstone crowded with tall, oval, and miniature bottles… A few dusty magazines. Scattered around the atelier – a few logs serving as chairs. On the left, in the background – but very close to the hearth – is a narrow bench, across which a sort of Santa Claus is seated, his back to the wall, motionless, his arms hanging along his body, his heavy legs dangling. Brâncuşi… He wears a large, unpretentious shirt. Over the shirt, a kind of vest. The baggy trousers are made of the same fabric as the shirt. His belly and feet are swollen. His slippers, powdered with lime, are hanging to the tips of his toes. Brâncuşi is sitting still. His eyes are still lively, jeering, intelligent. His face is rosy, and his beard twitching up, russet reflections coloring its white. He is wearing a sort of bonnet resembling Phrygian caps. On his left hand – a wedding ring, although he has never been married. Is he indifferent? He may seem so, yet… He sits still, but his inquisitive eyes are watching round…Although he is seriously ill, he did not become an abstraction, he did not detach himself from life: on the contrary, his shifting eyes do not watch, but touch. (…) We are looking at this man who triumphed – with such tremendous effort! – over life. When are we going to see him again? But are we?…Brâncuşi leans against the wall, his cheeks blushing, his little cap on, which gives him an air both prankish and sad. He is a real man, in all his miraculous, masculine, and subtle oeuvre. He is also a philosopher. But perhaps above all he is a big child – The Child, the Innocence of the World. He is old, very sick, but is still smiling, joking, and – of course – he believes in the eternal miracle of Art. He will believe until the end.'"I believe," Rodin said once, "that artists are the most useful of all people."Indeed: they ask for next to nothing, and give all they have.

by Eugen Jebeleanu