Tuesday, 1 July 2008

That Munch Essay

Drawing has always been a basic tool for artists. From a western point of view it has not been fully appreciated for its own qualities until now. By the time Edvard Munch was born in 1863, the camera was invented and photography filled the need for accurate depicted works. This left the artists with a greater freedom of expression and a different role to fill. Soon art changed dramatically from its traditional expressions in regards of why and how to paint. The Impressionists transformed the painting and the hard yards of getting acceptance for representing the Esquisse as a Fini. It took the general public years to accept the new expressions of the Esquisse, and such is still the case when artists represent their new inventions. Lotte Konow Lund is ground breaking young female contemporary drawer who has crossed the boundaries of the public idea of fine art. I will look at the journey of drawing starting with Munch’s scetches, and continue with his Fini’s in oil, that still resembles the qualities of drawing. Via works of less known artists I will arrive at Lotte’s drawings, which I admittedly hated ten years ago when first exposed to them.

Edvard Munch was born into a family of artists, and after his mums death at 5, his auntie took over the role as a tender of the house. She made drawings from natural materials which she sold and taught the kids how to draw. Munch was studying drawing from the age of 12, and at the age of 15 he was doing amazing little works of architecture with pencil and aquarelle. Being so skilled, and at the same time so vulnerable, made him decide to become an artist so he could be able to express himself. Stating all his works are based on memories, we can tell he had a dramatic childhood where death and disease is accompanied by anxiety.

Edvard Munch. “Karen Bjølstad After Bronchitis”. (1888) Ink, watercolour, 20x17 cm
Munch’s auntie in 1888, “Karen Bjølstad after bronchitis“, pen and aquarelle. Munch was 19 years when he made this and it shows how he had an eye for the inner state and expressions of humans. The rash mark making and the soft tones evoke a feeling of urgency but compassion, while Karen’s eyes clearly reflect anxiety.

Unlike his contemporary artist Toulouse Lautrec, Munch hardly used his skill ironically, but rather showed empathy and understanding. Dwelling in sincerity might be his key to unlock the viewer heart and the deeply felt works always seems to be contagious.
Munch was amazed that his new style of painting could evoke such reactions of hate in people. At the world exhibition in Berlin in 1896 Munch had unintentionally created a havoc by not obeying the rules of painting. The picture was called “Study“, later referred to as “The Sick Child”. Munch later said this is the work from which his whole career is built upon. Munch shows a talent in all mediums, but regardless of the twisted and deeply painfull human soul portrayed, his lines and strokes never hesitate. His rash little pencil lines in Sitting Pose creates a duality to the blushing red background in aquarelle.

Edvard Munch. The sick child. (1885-6) Oil on canvas.

Edvard Munch. Seated model. (1896) Pastel, watercolours, pencil, 62x47 cm Munch Museet, Oslo

A work that does show irony is the oil painting “With the sweet girls”. This is a work from the series ”The Green Room”, and the irony in it is expressed with a cartoon like style. The prostitute really does seem to have a sweet personality, and Munch lock out the possibility for us to view her judgementally or provocative. Rather he points out the sense of disgust through lust in the man.
Edvard Munch. With the sweet girls.
Munch played with the expression that was traditionally expected from a certain material. Looking at the two versions of “Comfort”, the light and oil painting has a lot of air in between the stripes of colour. It could easily be a drawing. The immediacy of the oil seems less instant in the charcoal and give an heavy impression. One can definitely say his works are not dependant on the medium to what atmosphere to create and by that convey the messages.

Edvard Munch. Comfort. (1907), Oil on canvas.

Edvard Munch. Comfort. (1894), Charcoal 47x63cm, Munch Museet, Oslo

Jan Groth is an older contemporary artist who has been active since the end of the 60s. Jan’s main focus has always been drawing. His main focus; the line, but now in other materials than the ones making marks by the hand. The woven “Double Signs” line look like inverted charcoal on paper. Jan feels his expression became lots clearer once he inverted it. He also does line sculpturally, but instead of looking like charcoal, they look like 3D version of ink. In the true spirit of Munch, Jan Groth takes the expression of the medium itself and transfers it to another medium. Jan has worked with the idea of the line itself for 40 + years, but never the less, he has an incredibly variation of expressions.

When Jan exhibits his woven wall pieces in Norway, he continues a tradition going back a thousand years to the Vikings. He was initially considered to work in a woman’s field of craft because of this material, and the truth is, his wife Benedicte is monitoring the weaving. The works resembles a drawn line, but can they be classified as such? Alphabet, drawing

Double Signs, 400x296cm, wool, 1995

Lotte Konow Lund is a traditional drawer as far as tools go. She mainly she uses pen, and work in black on white paper. Empathy and political statements are made through the subject matter, rather than through body language and facial expressions. The individual personality seems to have lost its place or even importance, replaced by a character or archetype. The cold or cynical feel makes her style unique in contemporary Norwegian art. Her pen marks are tight and space is only seen in stark contrast between figures and background. The series “Let it go” contains 30 drawings based on Dürer. She is questioning the Christian religious values which still has its place deep down in the Norwegian soul. I find her stiff, unapproachable and rather closed. She utilise art historical references to show political statements. The drawing 14 from the series “Let It Go” depict an absurd and displaced looking hermaphrodite posing on a background with reference to biblical artworks. In conjunction with the celebration of the writer Henrik Ibsen’s 150th birthday celebration, she did an illustration for a book intending to introduce Ibsen to the younger generation. It is obviously an ironic statement by portraying him as a skull, as he represents the values of the older generations and society. Ibsen and Lund both have a social consciousness and context in their works, and both are interested in womens’ liberation.

“Ibsen paa frifot”. Lotte Konow Lund. 2006, photo, pen, illustraion; front cover on book by same name by Siri Meyer.

Lotte Konow Lund. Let It Go, 14 of 29. (2005)
Lotte Konow Lund. Let It Go, 1 of 29 (2005)
Lotte also works in photography, but true to the medium they seem a lot looser. Her works look lighter and simpler and her messages comes through in a more subtle sense. Her photo from the “Illiona Series” has references to Yoko Ono’s undressing performance Cut Piece and the debate on women’s role in society. It also puts focus on the 2D plane of the photo, which is enhanced by the drawn spot. It seems like a comment on what drawing can do and how it seems more immediate than the remote space one enters in a photo.

Lotte Konow Lund. Illiona Series.
Theodor Kittelsen has been said to be Norway’s best drawer, probably because he depicts our national inheritance. Kittelsen did illustrations for the famous collection of fairytales by Asjørnsen and Moe as well as single works. He was born in 1857 and worked without any economic success til his death in 1914. Kittelsen use a sense of realism depicting Norwegian nature, but then the subject matters surprise you by being fantasy like. Either it is a very romantic feel to his pictures like, in “The Princess” where the girl is a personification of the nature spirit, or a slightly dark humours intensity. He fills the page to the edge, like a photography. It works very well and make us believe in what we see. The viewer is invited rather than forced to join the parallel world of Kittelsen, and it is almost as if it exists regardless of us acknowledging it or not. The lines Kittelsen use is almost hidden, as if the subjective expression is not a part of what he seeks to show. That too makes an impact like if it was a photography. His figure Nøkken is based on a mythical Norwegian figure or water spirit who lives underwater in lakes. He rapes and kidnaps women. “Pesta Departs”, is a picture from a whole series of 13 illustrating the plague black death. This one is quiet and peaceful compared to the ugliness and drama suggested in other drawings in that series. This one shows where the storm has passed, and the disease gives in. One third of the European population died during the 3 years it lasted, and it plays both a historical and mythical landscape for Kittelsen to work in.

Theodor Kittelsen. Nøkken. (1895) Pen on paper.
Theodor Kittelsen. Pesta Departs. (1896) Pencil.
Theodor Kittelsen. The Princess Gathering Cotton Grass. (1904) From the book; Norway, the home of the trolls.
A third old-timer is Erik Werenskiold (1855-1938). He is most famous for his drawings, but he was a great painter too. Still, his portraits are the most remarkable. These two charcoal drawing is portraying one of the greatest poet ever in Norway, Henrik Ibsen.
Erik Werenskiold. Henrik Ibsen. Charcoal.
Erik Werenskiold. Henrik Ibsen. Charcoal.
Erik Werenskiold. Henrik Ibsen. Oil on canvas.
“Edvard Grieg”. Erik Werenskiold. 1932, pen, 34x45 cm, Wendelboe Art Auction, Oslo
Not surprisingly, drawing has changed a lot in 150 years in Norway. Maybe not everything about drawing has changed, but the conceptuality of it has. Works like Groth’s line investigation and Lund’s very one-dimetional figures without personality simply did not happen in the first part of 20th Century. The warmth in the works has definitely had to give in to conceptual part that is given priority.
Photography has taken the place of the need for a good old portrait, now it is more focus on putting an attitude into them. There is a sense of life or vitality that lacks in works of the 2 contemporary artists I’ve looked at, as if to say we’ve turned the image of our self into commercial goods. As if anyone / any-body can be replaced. Yet, the lines of Groth has a definite energy and expression when experienced live, as I did at Samtidskunstmuseet in Oslo in 2001.
This picture of Munch and his sister as kids in their home on east-end Kristiania has ended up as one of my favourites.

Edvard Munch. Any further information n/a but it looks like pencil and water based paint.
The colours and the composition gives an impact of joy and harmony at first glance, but then one sees the facial expression and colour of the girl and the picture has to be read all over. One start to look for other signs of supporting and give reason for the unsettled feeling. The weird duality craves time and space within the viewer to come to its right and makes it both attractive and repulsive. I will definitely keep studying Munch as I see his expression of immortal traits amazing. I am no longer that intrigued by any of the others, as I find art to be more interesting the closer to the soul one gets, and equally less important the further apart from it the works go. In that sense Lund will never be a favourite of mine, though I admire her cleverness. Hopefully I one day will understand how to evoke the spirit in my works too.

All links used at latest date 27th of June 2008

http://www.gonorway.no/norway/sidevisning.php?id=52 http://www2.skolenettet.no/kunstweb/bilde/kunstnere/werenskiold.html http://www.konsten.net/arkivet/groth_amer.html

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