Werner Popken on art and more

February 4, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 3:14 pm

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

No.  242 (private property, 100×146 cm, 39×57″)

Well, having spent so much time with all the different figures, I can’t get around it any more. Finally I must deal with the whole painting, but this is still no easy job for me after all that talk.

Take for example the title. Every once in a while I tried to invent titles for my pictures, and all the musings here have their own titles; shouldn’t this consideration deserve a proper title as well? But I couldn’t think of one appropriate for the whole picture, so I stuck with the works number. What could be expressed through the title anyway?

Let’s see, maybe I can find at least a title for today’s musing; I’m sure I will invent something along the way. It’s different for the picture, though — frankly, I have no hope. I admit I have given titles to some paintings (actually only since I published on the Internet), but unfortunatley none of them is really to be taken serious. But isn’t this true for titles of paintings in general?

Think of the painting » The Picnic (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) by Manet — in French and German it is called “breakfast”, although it doesn’t really relate to breakfast at all, but rather to art itself, namely with reflexion, as this painting is well known to be a paraphrase on a paraphrase which might itself be one such. In this relation, what could a title mean?

Did Picasso title his paintings? Not that I know of. They acquired titles through time, but as a rule not from him but rather through dealers. Max Beckmann, on the contrary, titled his paintings all the time and changed the titles quite often during the production process. But it looks to me that he rather wanted to call them by name.

A name doesn’t describe the content. The name of Peter is Peter because of the will of his parents and not because he owned something which could be described as “Peter”. Why am I called Werner? Definitely not because my parents wanted to describe my personality with this name. The German Wikipedia says:

Werner ist die neuere Schreibweise von Wernher. Wernher entstand aus der Zusammensetzung der althochdeutschen Wörter “weri” (wehren, vom germanischen Stammesnamen der Warnen “warin”, später “warjan”) und “heri” (Heer, germanisch “hari”).

Werner bedeutet damit soviel wie “sich im Heer Wehrender”, andere Deutungen sprechen vom “Krieger im Heer der Warnen” oder dem “wehrhaften Krieger”.

Werner is the newer spelling of Wernher. Wernher is composed of the old high German words “weri” (to weir, resist, from the Germanic clan Warnen “warin”, later “warjan”) and “heri” (army, host, Germanic “hari”).
Therefore Werner means something like “one who resists in the army”, other interpretations are “warrior in the army of the Warns” or the “well-fortified warrior”.
» Werner

None of that applies to me. The name Werner doesn’t describe me, it only denotes me. The titles of Beckmann very often describe the painting (for example » Künstler mit Gemüse — Artists with Vegetables) or describe a particular detail which relates more or less to the painting, but doesn’t exhaust but rather dominates it (for example » Actors, » Odysseus and Calypso).

It was a popular game among surrealists to invent a most absurd title for a most absurd painting (example: Magritte, » La condition humaine). Paul Klee, too, invited his friends and pupils to find titles for his works. By no means could I do this. I’m quite content with my numbering method.

The only drawback is that numbers are hard to remember. That’s why we all have names, and that’s why all the Internet sites have names in addition to abstract IP-numbers in contrast to the telephone system with numbers only.

I do acknowledge that names have their advantages, and I have christened a couple of paintings with real names like Joseph, Martin etc. and noted this on the stretcher, but this didn’t help at all because I couldn’t remember the names. How did the surrealists remember their titles? I can understand that Beckmann remembered his names, though.

But I can’t help to realize that I still try to get around. Actually I would like to say something to the painting by itself. Okay, I’ll give it a start with a formal consideration. As I stated earlier, we have three bigger heads of more or less the same size and seven smaller heads, each of them more or less the same size as well. They are arranged in a way that there is a rhythm of stripes. The best will be to illustrate this with a sketch.

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Initially I wanted to cut the painting into parallel stripes. But I couldn’t figure out which angle these stripes should have.

After both of the two experiments didn’t convince me, I concluded that indeed there is a pretty obvious structure of stripes, but these are not given by parallel cuts but rather with different angles each.

The line at right is nearly perpendicular, but tilted a bit to the right, maybe only one or two degrees, whereas the others are tilted more but equally to the right.

At first I couldn’t decide if there is a central figure at all, but in the meantime it should be clear that  longear must be considered to be the main figure for several reasons.

One of them is the fact that a figure at the margins can’t qualify; also this one is right in front, and third it is emphasized quite definitely by the two middle lines. This can be realized quite clearly by comparing the last construction with the first ones which don’t really seem to apply. These don’t enframe the head like the last one; this one fits perfectly.

The  indian-warrior steps back, he floats above the hero, seems to bless him, to protect him, whereas the former seems to be conscious of his central role without being smug about that fact.

These days I read something very interesting from » Raymond Smullyan discussing egocentricity (» Das Tao ist Stille, Original » The Tao Is Silent). In my edition (Frankfurt S. Fischer, gebunden, 2. Auflage) chapter 30 is called “Egozentrik und kosmisches Bewußtsein” (Seite 194-96, egocentricity and cosmic consciousness). In it he cites » Sonnet LXII by Shakespeare (hey, it’s numbered as well) which illustrates his thesis perfectly.

In the light of cosmic consciousness the hero is young, attractive, bright, immortal, bursting with good health, creative, unconquerable — incurably egocentric. Looked at with sober consciousness he is old, ugly, sick, despises himself — quite the contrary. The author acknowledges this contradiction with delight; obviously he knows this from his own experience, but cannot really explain it.

To this end he cites Richard Maurice Bucke: » Die Erfahrung des kosmischen Bewusstseins (Original: » Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind):

Das Selbst des kosmischen Bewußtseins erscheint unter Berücksichtigung aller Gesichtspunkte einzigartig und göttlich. Von seinem Standpunkt aus erscheinen der Körper und das ichbewußte Selbst als ebenso göttlich. Aber vom Standpunkt des gewöhnlichen Selbstbewußtseins aus scheinen das ichbewußte Selbst und der Körper – im Vergleich mit dem Selbst des kosmischen Bewußtseins – unwesentlich und sogar, wie wir im Falle Paulus sahen, verachtenswert zu sein.

Considering all standpoints, the self of the cosmic consciousness seems to be singular and divine. From the viewpoint of cosmic consciousness the body and the self-aware self seem to be equally divine. But from the point of view of ordinary consciousness the self-aware self and the body seemed to be — in contrast to the self of the cosmic consciousness — non-essential and even, as we saw in the case of Paulus, contemptible. (Translation by me)

For me, this turn was highly interesting. The term “hero” which I have just used quite casually is very familiar to me. Twenty years ago I have already talked about the hero because it was so obvious to me. Many main figures in my paintings look much more hero-like than this one, and a whole lot of associations occurred to me already; time and again I have talked about this in public speeches ((» The figure of the hero, 1985, » A hero´s myth, 1986).

The cleavage Smullyan talks about, the hero being totally egocentric, but not thinking a great deal of himself, seemed to be obvious, and for me, being the creator, it was clear, that I myself didn’t pride myself on that at all. Nevertheless I tried to arrange myself with the role of the hero, but I couldn’t substantiate nor dissolve the peculiar contradiction Bucke respectively Shakespeare have prepared so beautifully. Today, however, I think I can, and I would do it with different words than Smullyan.

But that would lead us too far for today; I try to pick it up the next time. Now, after this development, can I find a title which I didn’t expect and couldn’t have imagined? Should be possible. How about egocentricity?


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