The Musée d’art modern de la ville de Paris is a small museum about a mile or so from the Eiffel Tower, most notably known for the “La Fée Électricité” (the Electric Fairy) by Raoul Dufy. Over the course of a year Dufy marked 250 panels with oil paint and pen scratches, slowing inscribing in color humanity’s electrical victories. The finished work stretches 200 feet long and 33 feet high, and as I stand barely 5 feet tall at its base, my thoughts revise and start to gain perspective.
The painting reads like a poem, blooming from the center with the gods of Olympus and spreading outward, intertwining mythology andhistory. Cool currents intersect warm waves, landscapes shift and slant, the entire canvas in motion as it shuffles through a hundred and ten individuals, from Aristotle to Edison, who aided in the development of electricity. Dufy’s style is whimsical yet evocative, carrying the imagination of infancy into the scientific world, a reminder of science’s dependency on dreamers.
I sit in the middle of the room and dissect the painting panel by panel, wanting to note every detail, every change of brushstroke. I want to scream how beautifully he has transitioned images in this spot, how I have never seen a yellow like that one before, how it must have been tiring and exhilarating to work on this painting for a year straight and how some days he must have wanted to kick his foot through the panels, but I’m so thankful he didn’t. All of the energy he poured into the painting still radiates there, whispering of a celebration and I want to fill empty air with music and bright light. I wish I could memorize every angle so I could recite them later on. I want to do something other than nod my head silently in the dimly lit room and walk away guiltily, knowing that I can never fully give it the time and attention it deserves.
Art and time have an unusual relationship; art borrows from time in an attempt to cheat it. Those lucky enough, blessed by talent and circumstances, succeed in immortality. Raoul Dufy, a man who lived and died in France 37 years before my birth, generated a thought and projected it into the world where it lingered, hovering like a hummingbird, allowing me to find it. His ideas have impressed themselves into me, discovering and explaining parts of my psyche I never realized existed. What, other than art, demonstrates the universality of existence?