Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Anxiety in Color

The Scream by Edvard Munch, perhaps his most recognized painting

“A work of art can only come from the interior of man.
 Art is the form of the image formed 
 upon the nerves, heart, brain and eye of man.” (Edvard Munch)

Edvard Munch was born in Oslo, Norway in 1863 and, with the notable exception of the two decades from 1889 to 1909 spent traveling, studying, working and exhibiting in France and Germany, he lived there until his death in 1944. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five and his beloved sister also died of TB when he was fifteen.  

He was active as a painter from the 1880s until shortly before his death, though the greater part of his oeuvre, and certainly the better known part, was produced before the early 1920s.  Although his art was bohemian, he appeared like a proper business man in most of his photographs.
Photo of Edvard Munch

 During his lifetime of work, he made one of the most significant and enduring contributions to the development of Modernism in the twentieth century. In his themes and subject matter, in the manner in which he gave voice to these, and in his handling of paint and the graphic media (especially woodcut and lithography), Munch was profoundly original and radical. He is one of the handful of artists who have shaped our understanding of human experience and transformed the ways in which it might be visually expressed. 

Melancholy by Edvard Munch

Munch's nomadic and self-imposed exile's life in Europe, from his mid-twenties to mid-forties - especially in the cosmopolitan, creatively fertile centers of Paris and Berlin - was undoubtedly vital to the shape of his art. It established the necessary detachment from the 'untroubled communal myths' of his homeland and the troubled passage of his young manhood. On the one hand he was freed from the constraints of his past, and the real and perceived limitations of provincial life. On the other hand he was closely associated with the largely Nordic avant-garde writers and artists of his day who shared and promoted his belief in the necessity of using private, subjective experience to create 'universal' statements and imagery. This was where Munch's originality and personal convictions flourished. His was the beginning of an age which celebrated the life of the individual rather than of community or society.

 Death of Edvard's mother when he was 5 years old

Perhaps more than any other artist, Munch has given pictorial shape to the inner life and psyche of modern man, and is thus a precursor in the development of modern psychology. His images of existential dread, anxiety, loneliness and the complex emotions of human sexuality have become icons of our era. Munch developed the great themes of Angst, Love and Death during the 1890s - a project he called The frieze of life - and repeatedly returned to them until the end of his life. 
Isolation by Edvard Munch

Munch's' quest for a distilled, elementary form and images that could speak for all of human experience is best understood within the framework of late nineteenth-century art. For, while we rightly celebrate Munch as a Modernist, radical and singular in his contribution to the modern world, it is important to recognize how deeply imbedded and formed he was by the echoes and modes of the fin de siecle - nowhere more so than in his representation of women and sexuality. 
Vampire by Edvard Munch

As a young art student he associated with the rebellious, 'Bohemian' artists and writers of Oslo and was quick to respond to the intellectual and aesthetic revolutions brewing around him. Many artists had been persuaded to return to Norway from France by a growing nationalistic spirit and wish to rebuild the Norse identity, fueled in part by the continuing political Swedish domination of their ancient land. They brought with them an impetus to change. The literary and artistic communities, joined forces with the radical politicians of the time who were working to achieve women's liberation, an eight-hour working day, and universal suffrage. 
One of strongest influences on Munch's development was the older artist and critic, Christian Krogh, whose adoption of the Realism of old masters such as Leonardo da VinciTitianDiegoVelazquezCaravaggio, and El Greco, formed a distinctive alternative to the romantic naturalism which dominated Norwegian art for much of the century. (I must admit this information surprised me. However, training in how to paint like the Masters gives an artist wonderful skills for any type of personal art---BBL)

Berlin was crucial to Munch's evolution. It was here in the early 1890s that his art found its first widespread reception and recognition. Munch received numerous commissions for both portraiture and mural decorations which enabled him to earn his living as an artist. In Berlin in the early 1890s, amongst his peers, the cosmopolitan and largely Nordic circle of writers, critics and philosophers, Munch found also the intellectual stimulus and philosophical attitudes that validated the underpinnings of his art, whose beginnings were formulated in the fervent intellectual and sexual radicalism of the Oslo-Boheme.

Combined with the recently encountered intensity and anguish of erotic love, this rich brew of emotional, intellectual and physical experience formed the substance which nurtured Munch's art and which would endure for the emotional intensity in his works.

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