Werner Popken on art and more

February 3, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 2:09 pm

Cutout from No. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

These are the last two figures on this picture, Nos. 6 and 7 — I have combined them as a unit. Somehow they belong together, that’s obvious, and it didn’t seem to be appropriate to cope with them one by one.

Whereas the  Red Hair looks to the right, these two rather look to the left. Both of them don’t look at the beholder, which is pretty clear concerning the left figure, the right one pretty closely misses the shoulder of the beholder.

As a type both of them are again pretty different from everything we saw so far, and not only the near distance gives them the appearance of being a pair — they have certain stylistic similarities.

Both heads are extremely strait and protracted, the skulls are nearly nonexistent, but nevertheless it would be hard to see them as brothers. If they were brothers, then of a kind where you don’t necessarily see the relationship.

Hermann Hesse features quite often two male figures symbolizing different characters, the blonde and the dark, the softer and the harder, the artist type and the sober, every-day type fit for life.

Such a programmatic confrontation can’t be found here, although both types are characterized pretty differently. One of them is indeed rather dark, the other seems to carry a blonde tuft, one of them seems to be softer, the other harder, one is also more of a Romanic type, the other rather Germanic or Nordic. But this isn’t literature, the characters don’t develop, they have no history, they’re not constructed, they don’t illustrate anything.

Typing of this kind is fatal indeed, but of course these characteristic impressions do exist. I don’t know how we achieve this — but somehow we identify with certainty and quickly if somebody is a Swede or a Brit, not to talk of a Spaniard or a Russian.

Within a nation you find an uncanny bandwidth of types, though, and the more individuals you know the less you are really capable to recognize the type as such — you can’t see the forest with all these trees, as we say in German. This way or another we identify artists as well. You would recognize a figure of Beckmann as his and would never confuse it with one of Picasso’s, to give an explicit example — any other pairing would be just as appropriate.

In this particular way all the figures on this painting are typical for me, although they differ extremely from one another, as we have already seen. Of course you should have a certain basic knowledge to be able to recognize a Swede as Swedish. Therefore nobody would be able to identify these figures as mine unless he would have dealt with my work to a certain degree. Instead, he would draw parallels to what he already knows and pretend in consequence that my figures look like those of Picasso — which is the most frequent association, just because people don’t know anything else.

Once somebody was reminded of Victor Brauner whom I didn’t know at all; and in all the years since I have had the opportunity of seeing only a handful of Brauner’s paintings. I don’t think that his work permits an associations to mine or the other way around, but this doesn’t mean anything. For this particular person this comparison was valid.

Of course, many artists have only a small bandwidth of expression, but considering the huge spectrum Picasso developed during his long life, it is amazing that you can identify a Picasso in any case, except if it’s one of these unspeakable cubistic experiments, although you can get an expert’s view of these as well — I rather have to step back here because I don’t know enough paintings of Georges Braque to really defend this proposition profoundly.

Basically, it’s all a question of experience. Of course, I recognize my pictures at once — it’s me who has painted them. Having an overview, it’s indeed remarkable which kind of bandwidth manifests itself here as well. This should become more obvious in this series in due time. Unity in diversity — this a fascinating topic. The typical and the exemplary in the individual, the interrelated in the view of the diversified. Among the paintings, it’s pretty much the same. The figures from one painting differ significantly from those of another and most probably cannot be interchanged.

That is a fascinating idea that I didn’t have had yet — I should trest that on occasion. It shouldn’t be a big deal with digital image processing. Would it be possible to compose new pictures in this way or would only intolerable constructions result which miss exactly what accounts for a painting, namely the making of sense? I suppose so, but I’m not really sure. Erich Engelbrecht seduced me one of those days to “advance” a figure of a painting because that was exactly his method. For me that turned out to be plain botch.

All these figures should not be present in this picture by chance, their position, their expression is precise and unambiguous and should have its function, whatever it may be. This hypothesis, too, could be tested experimentally, for example by switching positions of figures within the painting or their relation to each other.

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

For the time being I was content to crop to heads. I did it in this case again and was curious if a division could be produced just the same, if I would experience a surprise as I did with the Red Hair.

Well, the surprise was perfect, but different from what I thought. There wasn’t a chance with the right figure in spite of the line of the nose which seemed to permit a profile view, but nothing else than the front view would actually appear.

The left figure gives a profile view, but only in the upper quarter. The eye and the nose definitely look to the left, but the mouth doesn’t fit with this view, and the chin as well doesn’t give any clues to a profile setting, quite to the contrary, the chin leads to a frontal view and therefore produces a visual contradiction to the upper profile. This is interesting, because from a formal point of view, all these figures are painted with quite similar means.

What is it really that constitutes the feeling of togetherness of these two persons? Maybe this is induced by the bent of the heads, the position of the ears pointing towards each other or to the other head, maybe through the parallelism of the slim silhouettes. They seem to be positioned one next to the other, the left one more in front, in a way that they should have direct body contact.

So far, there were no hints with respect to erotic or sexual relations between the figures except those which could be understood as a pair (did this apply to one or already two of them?), but in this case it could be possible that those two individuals would be lovers. So far, I have silently assumed that these are male figures — see also the title of this musing. But maybe the sex can be interpreted differently, I’m not sure in this respect and was surprised a number of times that somebody else would associate sexes exactly the other way around.

Somehow I can’t help to think of these two having been invented by a caricaturist or a cartoonist, actually a well known artist, but I can’t find out who that could be and how these figures “really” look like. Maybe it’s only a feeling that I could develop comics or cartoons from these figures if only I would be a cartoonist or comic artist. I am not.

I paint these things, I can’t say how I do it, and it is clear that they are not comics or cartoons nor caricatures, no illustrations, and from all these negative affirmations a positive conclusion has to be drawn finally that this must be art, whatever that in turn maybe, and that I must be an artist, an artist in the proper sense. This way I am part of an illustrious company; which notable artist would have been able to define what art is and how he does it?

Having had a look at all the figures one by one, it’s time to approach the painting in its totality. The sum of the parts must be more, a major entity, must develop persuasiveness, must not be exhausted by the addition of the details. In other words: It should be an opus, an image, everything must fit, must be related to each other, and I am really curious what will result from these musings.

Right now I am without any clue. Looking at each of the figures, I have been surprised again and again and have really opened them up for my understanding. Only through these reflections they crept into my heart, I embosomed them, all of them. Therefore I am really happy that I started this work. I’m curious what this will lead me to.


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