Werner Popken on art and more

January 22, 2007

The Fish

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 9:39 pm

Cutout from No. › 242 (private property) · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

Today I choose to use the German language — although I restrict my audience, this is my mother tongue, and if I write English, my fellow countrymen have a harder time.

Apart from that, English isn’t everything — which Frenchman will talk English? In some way we are kind of trapped into our languages.

In contrast, pictures seem to be understood everywhere in the world, but this isn’t really true. Everybody must learn to read pictures, pictures can only be understood with respect to the cultural background, just like languages.h

For example, it is not at all given for granted in every culture that the third dimension is mimicked in the picture plane, and it is not understood that this transformation can be interpreted correctly either.

Considering photographs, it is often assumed falsely that they only represent the impression of the eye. Photos which can hardly be deciphered or not at all prove that they as well must be interpreted.

Cultural tradition cannot be chosen at random. We are born into a certain tradition and cannot get rid of it. It’s something like spectacles through which we perceive the world. Of course, it is possible to rebel against a tradition, but you can’t shake it off and you can’t step outside. It’s simply impossible.

A cultural tradition is incredibly multifaceted and has to be acquired. Therefore, there’s nobody who knows everything, least of all know everything equally good, but it is sufficient for the communication within the cultural community, that knowledge and attitudes overlap.

In the last contributions, I have mentioned Picasso and his role with respect to our visual experiences several times. There’s hardly anybody today who hasn’t seen at least a dozen pictures of Picasso. This way we produce the basics for cultural exchange.

It’s totally different with Max Beckmann, for example. For large parts of the cultural community, he is totally invisible, although time and again huge endeavors are undertaken to publicize his lifework in Germany, England and the USA.

Max Beckmann is nearly the same age than Picasso, but died much earlier. Though once he said: “If you don’t make it until 80, it’s of no use”, but I guess you don’t have to take this literally. He was very fond of himself even in his early days.

Considering Beckmann, it comes to mind that he works with oodles of junk, or expressed gentlemanly: symbols. In doing so he resorted to the cultural tradition, of course. Painting candles means contemplation of basic life questions. A burning candle is totally different from an extinct one. If it’s overturned as well, it’s safe to assume a bad end.

The candle, of course, symbolizes the light of life, or more precisely: It works as a sign. The sign does not point to something beyond itself, while a symbol cannot be grasped by a definition. A cross is a symbol in this sense, while a candle is a sign like a traffic sign.

As Beckmann used many signs of this kind and also some symbols, some art historians pretended to be able to develop simple keys for the meaning. Until then, a long time after his death, Beckmann seemed to be incomprehensible, enigmatic. The big oracle, portentous, but secretive and lastly inscrutable.

Beckmann himself held that understanding would grow intuitively; some would understand, others not, it would be necessary to sort of carry the key in your heart already beforehand.

Speaking of myself, I’m skeptical. I don’t understand the paintings myself, although I have created them. The head of the Indian warrior appreciated yesterday merges into a fish. It isn’t a fish like those in biology books, but it is clearly comprehensible as fish. Right now I discover for the first time that this fish even possesses gills.

Well, this fish is a sign, it stands for the element water, for Christianity, for life in the masses, for sexuality and even some more. In this sense, Beckmann has used the fish several times, sometimes extremely striking, almost pushy. Here, however, things are definitely more complicated. Why is the fish here in the first place and what does it mean?

I have no answer for these questions, and maybe I will get insight looking at the picture as a whole. Right now I just want to show that this fish appears in no arbitrary way, as foreign object, rather it is given as equally natural and integrated as all the other elements, for example the eye or the lips of the head next to it. This clipping concentrates on the fish, but the clipping of yesterday presented the yellow figure as hair of the Indian. Hence the yellow form is both, hair decoration and fish.

The fish, he too, looks austere, nearly distraught. It’s eye speaks, focuses the beholder, while the Indian rather looks into the distance and at the same time inside. The fish communicates, which is something you most probably can’t find with real fishes. This fish transcends the borders of the genus and puts itself into a relation to the beholder and most probably to the figures of the picture.

This painting is really quite remarkable. There are lots of peculiar characters, but they are depicted absolutely precise, although the painting style is very virtuous and loose. There is nothing vague about it like » Bernhard Heisig’s style, whose pictures are often likewise crammed. Each form is given in a way that seems to be imperative.

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