Friday, November 12, 2010

Edvard Munch swallows himself

One looks at a reprint of Munch's most famous painting The Scream and then regards the subtler, more somber depressions of this painter's angst soaked paintings, such Girls On the Jetty, and wonder why he was such a glum Gus. The reason is more practical and less mysterious than some of our more mystical critics would insist.He was good at it. With all the impressionist swellings, swirling clouds, jaggedly mad crows, blurred lines and obscured faces moving about his canvases under the darkest, deepest shades and tones he could manage, what Munch saw in the world wasn't nice formations in pleasing shapes and arrangements, but rather as a thin film of appearance under which each and everyone of his dark moods and skewed perception pulsed, ached and persistently throbbed. Munch and his allies did a rather nice job of freeing the artist from having to make pretty pictures for dentist offices. Not that it was a bad mood alone that motivated his brush strokes.

The desire to depict reality in a different way, to find a truth that hadn't yet been brought forward, is a permanent impulse among artists who are the least bit figurative, and Munch's penchant for gloom and depressed spaces were a perfect inspiration, it that's the word, to take the image of the world apart, tweak the essential elements, and reassemble it, askew, fuzzy, angular. Munch's genius was also his pathology, and the crazed energy in his head which drove him to relentless distraction was additionally his ugly gift to the world. It still commands our attention generations later.


Writers tend to over state the depressive elements in Munch's paintings and speak of them as if every stroke he applied to a canvas produced works like the scream. Hardly the case, of course, and the slide show shows that he could manage pastorals, country scenes, bits and pieces of everyday life. What is obvious, though, is that his preoccupation with death, with mortality, finds it way into the scenes with his choice of deep hues, grave undertones, with no distinct lines but rather rushing, brush-textured dimensions that made his surfaces seem to tremble underneath the placid tableau. The particular painting, Girls on the Jetty, has them looking over the bridge, faces averted, staring over and into a flat lake or pond whose reflection is dark even on what seems to be a sunny day and finally gives itself over to blackness. However vital our daily lives are, however serene our present circumstances, death is always with us, informing our choices even the denial of death. Munch was a depressed man, no doubt, but aside from the constricted fury of The Scream, he had subtler ways of transmitting his unease with existence.
The depressive elements in Munch's paintings and speak of them as if every stroke he applied to a canvas produced works like The Scream. Hardly the case, of course, and the slide show shows that he could manage pastorals, country scenes, bits and pieces of everyday life. What is obvious, though, is that his preoccupation with death, with mortality, finds it way into the scenes with his choice of deep hues, grave undertones, with no distinct lines but rather rushing, brush-textured dimensions that made his surfaces seem to tremble underneath the placid tableau. The particular painting, Girls on the Jetty, has them looking over the bridge, faces averted, staring over and into a flat lake or pond whose reflection is dark even on what seems to be a sunny day and finally gives itself over to blackness. However vital our daily lives are, however serene our present circumstances, death is always with us, informing our choices even the denial of death. Munch was a depressed man, no doubt, but aside from the constricted fury of The Scream, he had subtler ways of transmitting his unease with existence.