Friday, October 8, 2010

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch (1863-1944).

As a person Edvard Munch was shy, withdrawn, obsessively religious, uncomfortable in social settings, and neurotic, many of which are reflected in his paintings.  It was thought that he may have had a split-personality disorder.

Edvard Munch’s work is nothing if not melancholy.  The colors and subject matter are somber, eerie, and, at times, difficult to look at--though his execution of them is still beautiful.  

It is interesting that the subject matter we encounter most from Munch are human figures, since one of his greatest discomforts was in communicating socially with other people.  He explores placing figures in various scenes, which could be considered to be awkward.  Many times this means that the figures (predominantly female) are nude and on display to the viewer.  Yet, though they are exposed, they hold onto their power in the scenes rather than submitting to the public eye.  In a sense, they relate to the femme fatale, since their expressions are subtle and therefore ominous.  Since we cannot read what they are thinking, it is unclear whether they are the victim or victors in these scenes.  Their expression of apathy only adds to the mystery.   

Contrarily, he also has pieces in which the painted figure boldly stares out at the viewer, as if imposing voyeuristicly on the viewer’s space rather than the viewer staring in at the painting.  Ironically, sometimes the exposed naked figure is also this staring figure (as seen in the piece “Puberty”).  Many times these starers are centered on the canvas.  This is a tactic often used in film.  Psychologically, it is discomforting to observe a centralized, staring figure.  Munch takes full advantage of this effect.  

Other things to take note of in his paintings are how many figures have their backs to the audience.  Or, they are being watched by other figures in their scene.

It is also interesting to look at Munch’s quick sketches and thumbnail drawings.  They serve as studies for perspective and locations that often recur in his work.  Sometimes, I find that seeing these pieces are more interesting than the completed pieces, since you get to observe part of the creative process in making them.

Here are a few examples of his work, from the book "Edvard Munch" by Alf Boe from the CalArts library.

There was an incredible exhibition of Edvard Munch's work that I saw at the MoMA entitled "The Modern Life of the Soul" in 2006.  Here is the old exhibition page: Munch @ MoMA.

 Old Aker Church, 1881, oil on board
 Rue de Rivoli, 1891, oil on canvas
 Despair, 1891, oil and gouache on paper
(gouache is opaque watercolor)
 Evening on Karl Johan Strasse, 1892, oil on canvas
 The Scream, 1893, tempera and pastel on board
 Vampire, 1893-4, oil on canvas
 Puberty, 1894, oil on canvas
 Madonna, 1894-5, oil on canvas
 Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm, 1895, lithograph
The Scream, 1895, lithograph
 The Sick Child, 1896, lithograph
Beneath the Yoke, 1896, engraving
Attraction, 1896, lithograph
The Lonely Ones, 1899, woodcut
The Painter Jacob Bratland, 1891-2, oil on canvas
 The Dance of Life, 1899-1900, oil on canvas
Outing at Gerfsenasen, 1921, color crayon on paper
The Murderess, 1906, oil on canvas
 The Broch, Eva Mudocci, 1903, etching
Workers on Their Way Home, 1913-15, oil on canvas

To view more work by Edvard Munch, please visit my Flikr page HERE.

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