Werner Popken on art and more

January 30, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 10:51 am

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

Walking through the picture clockwise, I meet a figure looking totally different from all the others we saw so far. It is situated right below the  Blue Head whose chin can be identified on this cutout; at left a part of the  Fish can be identified.

The red line and the two red blotches below the fish again represent something like a flower/bloom; however, this is not really clear from this clipping. The center is formed by the head, but likewise the colored structure resembling to a uniform in my eyes stands out. Hence the title of the musing of today.

Well, I’m totally ignorant about uniforms, therefore I did a little research on the Internet. It’s absolutely amazing what you find there about any given subject. And indeed, this combination of colors is quite common with uniforms (see for example » Knötel-Tafel 03/30).

I would read the yellow circles as knobs; not only did they play a vital role at uniforms, they developed as objects of collections and genuine fields of knowledge as such. The site » http://www.knopfsammler.de offers a » bibliography of 151 titles on knobs only!

The red flower · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

The red flower

The wheel · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

The wheel

Nevertheless this isn’t a real uniform. If you get rid of the limits of this clipping, it turns out that the association to uniforms is due in part to the clipping itself.

The yellow form which has been cut off here is in fact part of a separate structure which doesn’t look like a uniform at all.

Of course, I knew this when I defined the clipping. I was interested in the association to uniforms, and I guess I managed to produce that association pretty well. In fact, it is present and superposed by something else which could be masked easily by the clipping.

What is this something else? Tentatively, I titled the whole structure “The Wheel”, although this doesn’t meet the whole meaning either. Accordingly, the yellow forms should be spokes — but four spokes for a wheel are extremely rare; normally, a wheel has many more spokes. Also, amid the spokes, there is another form looking more like a leaf, although a leaf should be green as a rule, while this one is yellow. Hence it should be a petal.

Read as a wheel, the circular blue structure should be the rim, while the red color could denote the iron tire equipment which was a standard part of wheels up to 100 years from now — the first rubber tire filled with air has been developed by » John Boyd Dunlop in 1888, the first rubber only tire stemming from 1867. According to this interpretation, the knobs become golden nails — the tire equipment would be more of a fitting with straight plates which hold the tire.

Having looked at such an old wheel, it is clear that the tire has been attached to the rim with a totally different method. It was rather like a ring which has been widened by heat and pressed to the rim so that the fixation would result automatically from cooling. The tire equipment definitely would not stretch to the rim, there were no straight plates.

I knew all this from childhood when every farmer had wagons with these wheels, being replaced by time through modern wagons with rubber tires. There is another reason against this interpretation as a wheel: The structure is quite uneven; it would be no fun to move such a wheel or ride on a wagon using wheels like this. But if it’s not a wheel, what is it then?

Since I was introduced to the thinking of C.G. Jung I couldn’t forget about number symbolism. For example, the red flower has three leaves which signals incompleteness according to Jung, whereas four leaves would denote completeness. In this sense, the Trinity of Christian dogmatic was incomplete for him. That’s why he pleaded for adding the Virgin Mary, thereby integrating a female element in the first place and finally achieving completeness.

Of course, the Catholic dogmatists didn’t follow him, didn’t even think about discussing his proposal, but this didn’t bother him at all, because to him people had established this logical and mentally necessity by their devoutness for a long time already. In this sense, the wheel would be complete, because although only two of the four “spokes” can be seen, there seems to be no doubt about the fourness. By the way, there are four golden nails or knobs, whereas there are three straight plates without nail and most probably three with nails — but the wheel being round, this must be left to speculation here.

The painting procedure · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

The painting procedure

I have dwelled quite some time with the proposed uniform, but the face interests me much more. This face looks pretty modern, and the person seems to be outright depressive.

As a soldier, the person should have an impressive, large headgear — but she is bareheaded, this fact contributing to the modern impression. Headgears have been driven out of fashion for some time.

Rembrandt painted himself with a house cap; the term “sleepyhead” is used only in the figurative sense. Nobody sleeps with a cap anymore. The headdresses of soldiers are either gone or extremely unimpressive (see wikipedia: » Uniform). Nowadays, it is hardly imaginable what stuff soldiers of former days wore on their heads (see » Uniformenkunde). Back then, a soldier without a huge headgear was unthinkable. How could they even fight?

With this face, I can show pretty good how painting was realized. In the beginning, there was a brush drawing with very thin color. The spontaneous brush strokes have been overpainted later for amplification, in part in a way that the original strokes can still be seen. Hence the painting has been created without hesitation from scratch. Unbelievable!

Here the Picasso combination of two views is not stressed that much. The back of the head is clearly present and reasonably proportioned, however the top of the skull is missing. Instead, to the right and left, the hair arches upward in a way that it looks like horns. I associated horns with » Moses by » Michelangelo, but with the help of wikipedia I could convince myself pretty fast that the horns of Moses rather look like fir cones. How about the “devil” on the small wood cut? Didn’t he have these swellings at the head which gave him his title?

That one was created on the occasion of the museum exhibition in Düren and the subject of my oration » On the meaning of the woodcut. Unfortunately, the reproduction is very bad; back then, I either had a bad scanner or I couldn’t do any better (most probably the latter). But that’s enough to answer my question — the “horns” of the figure at left look very differently again. In a certain way, I feel relaxed now, because this young man doesn’t really have anything martial or devilish. He rather looks seriously and innocent.

Apart from the depressive expression, the insane color of the face stands out. This young man doesn’t represent the abundance of life, rather the suffering from life.


January 28, 2007

Gallery open

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 12:11 pm


The  gallery is created! Enjoy yourself!

In the gallery, we present the whole paintings. One of these days, the gallery should show all of joe’s work, some 700 numbers until today. Right now, we basically show the paintings we talked about since mid January.

Cutout from the original scan of No. › 292 (see › Male or Female) · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from the original scan of No.  292 (see  Male or Female)

You can get them in chronological or reversed order in two sizes (500 & 800 pixel) and individually each in three sizes (500, 800 pixel und original scan) with easy to use navigational links.

January 27, 2007

Blue Head

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 10:11 am

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

The next of the smaller heads sits right next to the  indian warrior and  the fish at his head. The eye of the fish can be seen on this cutout.

Potentially, the yellow shape on top might be the dorsal fin of the fish, but the notch points to the wrong direction; it is easier to think that this form means a shock of hair. From this cutout, it is hard to tell which view is correct.

The figure definitely has a blue face, more decidedly blue than the  no brainer is green. The blue seems to be the same pigment all over, attached more or less thick, maybe mixed with more or less white — it is hard to decide from the picture given here, but from the original scan I can judge that there are some smaller green areas within the blue. After having identified that, I can tell from the small representation as well; green spots can be identfied for example beneath the eye at left.

Like the others, this face can be read as profile and three-quarter face as well. The figure looks distressed and a bit callous, being very little interested in the environment, too.

The red eye and the black hole beneath the other are most noticeable. This head as well is peculiarly flat, doesn’t seem to possess a cranium, which becomes most obvious if the profile is isolated.

This separation may not be that easy to achieve, therefore I did myself a favor and cropped the figure itself and the profile next. In this mode the figure seems to be even more lonesome and lost, withdrawn to itself. The profile seems to be more extroverted.

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

The cap or the hair corresponds in some way to the green-yellow shades at the other side, which I didn’t notice before. The sentiment of shivering is backed up by the black coat, whose collar seems to be turned up. The whole face is characterized by the missing cranium, but looking at the profile, it is amazing that a lively face seems to be given, a personality indeed, although it can at most denote a mask.

Quite generally, a mask looks totally dead, which cannot be said at all from this figure. Somehow I associate with it the king Frederick the Great, a kind of old age portray. Isn’t he always given a little bit embittered and resigned, this first servant of his state?

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Quite noticeable are both the attachments which could denote flowers, but equally well a kind of pit lamp. In this interpretation, four lights per lamp can be identified; however, the black crosses could be emphasized just as well, consisting of four blades with a central shaft, therefore denoting a revolvable construction. Actually it is quite obvious that the right cross is aligned with respect to the horizontal and vertical lines, the left cross being rotated in contrast.

I have used the word “cross”, therefore I think it is necessary to emphasize that no association with the Christian symbol is intended and cannot be evidenced in any way. Of course, C.G. Jung would stress the number four immediately and read this attribute together with the circle form as a symbol of completeness, as a concentrating Mandala — and I’m sure he would be able to interpret the duality of the symbol as well. I remember quite vividly that Erich Engelbrecht started to count the leaves of a plant and the stamina according to the symbolic of numbers as set forth by Jung on one of my very rare still lifes some 30 years ago. Quite naturally, I was very much impressed by the sovereignty of the senior, but nowadays I just shrug my shoulders in view of intellectual exercises of this kind.

Do these entities belong to the blue figure or do they rather appear isolated somewhere in the background? That’s equally hard to decide like with the green figure at left where we don’t know if the flower belongs to the headdress or just appears behind it. Anyway, the background to the left and right of this figure is red, but black and blue above it. The right flower/lamp is backed by a black “glow” separating black from red. Perceived representational, the situation remains unclear and incomprehensible. The emotional impact of this figure, however, is equally intense compared to the others looked at so far.

Do I like this figure? I didn’t even ask the question with respect to the other figures, did I? Here, I noticed first that the person seems to be uncanny, unappealing, a little bit frightening, but in the meantime I have learned to rather like it due to this contemplation. Basically, I made this transition with the other figures pretty much the same way. All of them are more or less strange to me.

January 26, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 3:50 pm

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

It has been a couple of days now since my last entry. The reason for the delay is that I changed plans. Writing in either English or German most probably won’t please anybody.

That’s why I will continue to write in both languages and then translate the text into the other language immediately. In the meantime, I built the mechanism for switching between languages (© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg).

Until then, you may help yourself with a machine translation (Google / Systran). Well, strictly speaking it is not correct to call this a translation; the results are rather funny as a rule, but it may help because you don’t have to look up the words one by one. Personally, I found that even that doesn’t work because the machines frequently choose the wrong words. Rather, I use » Leo. That works like a breeze with an appropriate macro.

The reflection of today is entitled “cactus” as this figure reminds me of some plant creature, the plant being a » succulent. This figure emerges from the  mask looked at the last time in most same way than the  Indian warrior relates to the  Longear. It is situated right next to the  green head I began this series with and to the left of the “Indian warrior”. One eye of the green head is given at left.

Concentrating on this section, it is obvious how the green and yellow color of the big head to the left is used as well as the yellow of the hat of the mask — the red color relates these two figures to the feather decoration of the “Buddha” – this observation is made after the fact, I’m sure to not having been conscious of this during the act of painting.

Again, the figure is mostly head; the herbal parts could be read as rudimentary arms and breasts giving the figure a female character. Indeed, the person seems to be rather female than male, showing a very determined and energy charged expression nevertheless, in no way distressed – rather plagued by angst.

The tuft seems to hang down to the forehead, having the character of a feather cluster. The proportions of the herbal parts seem to be correct, taking it as a plant, but mutilated with respect to the person, as if it were a munchkin, somehow malformed. By this and the energy the person emanates, the figure looks in some way elfish. Not only that the body looks like a plant but gives the notion of a body as well, the head is not all head but plant, too, as it doesn’t feature ears. The wisp may denote a flower, and in English, this word associates “will-o-wisp”, but we don’t have that in German.

It also pockets so as to embrace the observer to the events, to take him along to this peculiar party. The person seems to be aware of the other figures, in particular of the green head, and to feel well in their presence. In contrast to the rather contemplative mood of the “Buddha”, this figure looks dynamic and sweeping, targeted to the outside, busy, even impatient, so as if something should happen urgently or somebody should act, move, accomplish something.

January 25, 2007

Mask in a Flower

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 9:15 am

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

Yesterday, I had a look at the third of the three large heads on painting 242, that is the last one of those having the same size, but being significantly larger than the other seven heads to be found on that piece.

Next to the left of this head to which I associated “Buddha” in some way is one of those smaller heads, all of them having approximately the same size as well. This one is different in another aspthect but size, namely credibility or level of realism.

As we have seen so far, none of the heads are realistic in the sense of conforming with eye sensations from living people. The last one was the least distorted one among the three, but nevertheless it could not really be called realistic. Eyes, ear, nose, mouth, chin, neck, shoulders are pretty close to realistic proportions, but the forehead and cranium is not.

Still, the figure to the left is different. As is quite comprehensible, there is a head, given both as profile from the left and straight sight, most notably to be recognized by the mouth and eyes, but the face is divided at the forehead, giving the notion of having another profile looking from the right, supported in particular by the right eye.

Furthermore, this head doesn’t have a body. Instead, there are two forms resembling big leaves. The leaves are not green, though, but reddish. The interpretation of these forms as leaves is supported by something which could be interpreted as a stalk. Additionally, stemming from the same place as the leaves, there are two yellow forms sitting on a stalk each which could be read as flowers.

These flowers point downwards, not upwards, which is the rule; the place where a big flower like a rose would be is occupied by this peculiar head. If the body of this head is a plant, the head should be the bloom.

As this bloomer is composed from different parts, it looks like something fabricated, like an artificial decorative bibelot, maybe to be used in conjunction with costumes. This way, the face could serve as a mask like in the Venetian carnival. Admittedly, there is nobody using this gimmick, nobody holding the stalk, but instead the head possesses quite a lively expression, signaling self-sufficiency.

Again, this head seems to rather look inside than participate actively in the outside world, but actually things are a little bit more complicated. The right eye of the person, the eye to the left for the spectator, is looking inside, whereas the other eye is looking rather intensely to the other part of the face. Looking at both eyes at once, the impression is again more of not really seeing the adverse party. This head does not look worried, it rather observes and is amused, and this amusement seems to stems from knowledge, knowledge about the processes that it is witnessing.

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

The left part of the head, looked at in isolation, seems to speak or shout. This part is topped by a hat which is tied to the chin, giving it the notion of a rural worker in southern countries.

In turn, the right part, looked at in isolation, is as female as the left part is male. The female part seems to wear a scarf, and surprisingly, a mustache, while the male part is clean-shaven.

This female part, focused on the male counterpart, looks rather worried, but this worry is not grievance, in particular a totally different kind of expression the other three big heads show. This emotion seems to be very personal, superficial, based on the relation to the other part, whereas the big ones seem to worry about something much more basic to life as such.

The interpretation of the red leaves as a big bandanna would be a very convincing reading, the body of this figure being deep blue, blending with the background, so that it would not be easy to identify. But this doesn’t seem to be vindicable. The left of the big red leaves is surrounded by red strokes which would not fit well into this picture.

Furthermore, the red forms behind the left leaf seem to indicate something detached from this figure, maybe flames. Also, the connection of head and plant is not well defined. Actually, it looks like the bare canvas is shining through.

We could have seen from all the other parts of this painting that everything has been put down the without hesitation and virtually no corrections. This is the kind of “thin painting” that Max Beckmann considered as indication of quality.

I don’t know why he came to this conclusion; maybe because he used to paint thick in his early days and didn’t like that later, because the color may become dull very easily; but then it is known that he didn’t succeed in putting it right at first stroke. Instead, like Henri Matisse, he used to take everything off if he didn’t like it and repaint as often as necessary until he was content. That process might take him through long sessions of painting and repainting, and this can be seen at the final stage, because the maiden state of the canvas cannot be restored once it is worked upon.

This being so, it is very easy to see, at least with the naked eye in front of the original, that there is no part in this painting which has been reworked.

January 24, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 10:21 am

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

This is the third of the big heads in painting 242. It is situated right below the second big head, and both denote the middle axis of the picture.

This figure is placed quite exactly in the middle of the lower border; due to the gradient of the head, there is a slight skewness which is emphasized by the fact that the head above is placed to the right and given in a three-quarter profile looking to the left.

We have seen the orange-red feathers forming his headdress two days ago already ( Indian Warrior). Both the headdress and the red face painting as well as the drawn out earlobe suggest an exotic origin. A red pearl necklet decorates the neck; due to the intensive red color the face appears particularly pale.

Apart from the attributes this face does not look particularly exotic, it might rather be considered as WASP = white anglo saxon protestant. The sex of the first large head ( No Brainer) is somewhat indefinite, but could definitely be male, whereas the second is just as clearly male as the third, at least in my view.

The attribution of the sexes is in general achieved easily. Of course, there are female looking men and male looking women, but nevertheless even at far distance, in most cases there is abslutely no doubt about the sex of a person, the entire figure and the movement giving additional clues. It might be more difficult with a photo or a section of a photo, but still it’s an easy exercise normally.

Most often the persons in my paintings have a clear and definite sex for me, with a clear tendency to female looking men and male looking women. Therefore, I was very much surprised at times that other people perceive things totally differently. That was very interesting to me. What are the characteristics that we need to attribute sex? How do we recognize sex at all?

It seems to be clear that the feelings and associations produced by the painting are determined by the person looking at it. The question of perception and insight seems to be extremely complicated anyway. We recognize our environment through our senses, but these senses work differently in every individual.

This is pretty obvious for people who suffer from color deficiencies. But even in other cases it is questionable if the red that I perceive will be perceived in exactly the same way by any other person. The answer must be, of course, no! The more you think about this, the more you wonder that we can communicate at all.

That’s why I leave this discussion now and just continue to describe my perception; the reader will have his own observations and experiences anyway. Having settled that the other big faces and even the fish look worried, the expression of the lower figure is pretty clear. This person doesn’t look to the outside at all, it is totally engaged with itself.

Upper and lower lip join to a regularly swung line which has the clear tendency downwards. As a rule, this expresses resentment, but in this case I would rather interpret a certain weariness, mourning and pain.

While the second head looks saliently male, this person is clearly shown as pretty soft. It seems to be a young man of maybe 25 years with unusually regular traits. Its sharp nose stands in contrast to the evenly round chin. In total, a certain contradiction results. Being very gentle, there is no easy answer to its peculiar state of mind.

It isn’t clear where the feather decoration should point to. Definitely, it isn’t an Indian headdress. Somehow I can’t help to associate “Buddha”. Buddha, as is well known, was a well protected,

The feather/spring decoration is not to be arranged. A indianischer decoration is it anyhow not. Somehow itself the association “Buddha” wants with me; not to drive out leave. Buddha was, as is well known, a protected, blessed Indian prince, who nevertheless found his life intolerable and therefore stepped out of it one day.

Buddha statue, lower Rhine River · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Buddha statue, lower Rhine River

To be sure, I called the appropriate page of the German Wikipedia and was pretty much surprised that the figure given their has long ears indeed (» Buddha). I didn’t know that at all, but of course I have seen quite a number of these statues and must have realized subconsciously that the Buddha is given this way by tradition.

I was even more surprised by the long narrow nose of this figure and the fine design, having something female about it. The Buddha keeps the eyes closed or puts them down, which isn’t easy to tell from this picture; in any case, it looks inwardly as well. Therefore, the association with Buddha doesn’t seem to be that strange. However, being perfected, Buddha is not worried at all but rather evenminded, sometimes cheerful. Our longear isn’t that far developed yet.

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.

January 20, 2007

Indian Warrior

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 3:43 pm

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

Yesterday, I broke my newly established habit of presenting a snippet of a new painting every day and decided to rather concentrate on one painting for a longer time instead.

The reason was that the painting I chose wasn’t as simple as the other ones chosen before. The sheer number of faces alone made it difficult to decide which one should serve as representative for the whole picture.

In another respect this painting is different. The other examples I chose so far feature kind of real persons, with a body, with clear relationships in space.

It was the second painting being not specific about spatial relations, as far as I can see; No. 241 seems to be the first example, and much later many more should follow, which, of course, I didn’t know then. The next 25 paintings were much more conventional in this respect, and most probably I developed a certain fear to look more in the direction opened up by these two paintings. Basically, I consider myself a rational person. I like to understand what I’m doing, so painting really is a challenge for me, especially if I have no idea what the hell I am discovering.

If I paint a male person, for example, it is easy to assume that this person represents me, that this painting is kind of a self-portrait. If it is a female person, according to C.G. Jung, this must be my anima, which is just another aspect of the numerous divisions or archetypes of my self. In case of a couple, this would represent the ego and the anima and their complicated relationship.

This sounds pretty interesting at first, but after a while it is just boring because it doesn’t seem to bear much truth. Likewise, having a whole party on a picture, it doesn’t make more sense if you try to identify each and every personality with an archetype.

Very often I use the analogy to dreaming. You may dream of lots of persons populating your dream, but does it really help to project the lively happenings of your dream to predefined roles presented by one of the numerous psychological schools? In my experience, it does not.

That’s why I never got into interpretation of my own pictures. I’d rather prefer to just look and feel and enjoy. But this attitude affords a certain boldness and self-assurance which I most probably didn’t have at that time. In other words: I was painting something my conscious person wasn’t really up to.

Looking at that picture nearly 30 years later, I’m amazed about the mastership. I didn’t know that the picture is that good. Most probably I was blessed that I didn’t know. I just produced painting after painting back then, many of them in a very short time, and most of them turned out to be real masterpieces.

The title of this musing should indicate that I associate American Indians with this face, the second of the three big ones in this painting. Well, it isn’t really an Indian face, but there is some allusion to it. Other aspects of this face seem to be rather European. Of course, there are aspects of my own face as well, which in turn has some Indian aspects sometimes — it might seem to bear a resemblance to a gypsy face at other times, certainly something not really typically “German”.

Again, this face, like the other one, is not very realistic, it could just as well be a mask, but it doesn’t appear to be one such but rather a feeling and very lively modern middle-aged person. Technically speaking, it combines the en face and profile views elaborated by Picasso, but not invented by him as commonly reported — at least in early baroque times this observation has been made, as I remember from a drawing in one of the wonderful books that I learned from. The three-quarter view of any face gives you exactly this kind of combination if you provide the proper lighting.

We all know that the bold interpretation of this view by Picasso has alienated a generation of viewers, but nowadays this trick belongs to the every-day visual vocabulary. Many cartoonists, for example, work with these means. That’s why the application of this principle here doesn’t really surprise. We all know now how to read such an image, and the reminiscence to Picasso isn’t overwhelming. This particular view has become part of our cultural heritage.

The second big face, too, looks worried, looks more to the inside rather than at the scene around it. You can’t deduce from this cutout anything about the rest of this person, and we will see more of it soon. The red forms at the bottom and to the left of the face don’t belong to this figure but to the third face of approximately the same size, appearing right beneath our Indian warrior.

January 19, 2007

No Brainer

Filed under: Art,Blogroll,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 3:57 pm

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

The head to the left is one figure out of quite a number of them on a canvas measuring 100 by 146 cm (39 x 57 inch). I remember that I was pretty much puzzled by this painting.

The point was, I didn’t know what to think about it. But I didn’t have much time to relate to it, I don’t think it ever hung on any of my walls. It has been private property long ago and I nearly forgot about it.

When I scanned the slide tonight, I was curious about my reaction. Still, I didn’t know if I would like or at least appreciate it.

Looking at the scan, I wondered what kind of cutout to take for tonight’s rambling. So far, I just took the central figure. But that wasn’t an easy question here, because I didn’t know which figure was central in the first place. Trying to make up my mind, it occurred to me that I should rather not pick one area like before but several of them instead, and I started with the head in the upper left corner.

This is one of three heads of approximately the same size. There are seven others, all of them significantly smaller, but approximately the same size as well. Being situated at the upper left corner, this head doesn’t really qualify for a central role, but it seemed to be a good start to investigate the picture. And that’s what I did, and the more cutouts I produced the more fascinated I became.

One of the things that occurred to me was that the quality of the picture is pretty much homogeneous. Each and every part seems to be of the same quality, and this is not at all common. This insight wasn’t new to me at all, but I forgot that as well.

You see this uneven distribution of painterly quality very often with Picasso, for example, and you might guess that this is something which is correlated with modern art, the latter being very informal, often unfinished, showing strikes of genius, not interested in overall finish which looks like tedious work pertinent to smaller talents. Even in the classical periods, Picasso left parts of the painting unfinished which actually gives rise to very strong effects.

But this is not so. It rather seems to be peculiar to the artist himself. One of the greatest masters we know of, Rembrandt, very often shows this unevenness. Not only that several parts of the painting are much more brilliant than others, there are parts that are quite bad and seem to have been outright neglected. I never tried to copy a Rembrandt, but I copied a large painting of Picasso and in doing so, I couldn’t help but realize the unevenness in this very painting. The face of that woman had been really worked upon, the body decidedly less, and the extremities and the bed and the room were just sloppy, disappointing sketches, no more.

It is not that I have to discipline myself to put uniform quality to every square inch of the picture, it just turns out that way. I seem to be a painter producing that kind of quality by nature. And I bet you can see this. I certainly did when I took my clippings, and I enjoyed all these inventions very much. The head of today is quite greenish, seems to wear a red scarf, maybe topped by a big yellow flower with four petals, three of them visible.

It is quite funny that this head is recognized as such quite unmistakably, although it is drawn with utmost freedom. For example, there is almost no skull, but all mask. Nevertheless this head emanates an extreme presence of the person it depicts. Lots of bold inventions denote particulars like eyes, lips, nose, cheeks. This person is very much centered in itself, it rather looks inside and doesn’t seem to be really interested in the whole scene, which is clear from this section altbeit we don’t even see anything of it yet. Also, this person seems to know a lot, in particular it seems to know what is really important in life. And it seems to be worried.

The more I looked at the snippet, the more I enjoyed the colors and forms. It is obvious that nothing is constructed. There’s no way you can construct a painting like this. I guess this is what people really mean with the word painting. Painting as product and exercise, as a production method, realized by work of hand, giving control to eye and feeling and hand, but rather blind out the intellect, reason and brain. This is not brain work, it is art work, a masteroiece indeed. I like it a lot.

January 18, 2007

Do the right thing

Filed under: Art,Blogroll,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 12:30 pm

Cutout from No. › 271a (private property) · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  271a (private property)

The last couple of days, I was writing in German about the questions “Who paints?”, “Blue Period” and “Become who you are”.

Most naturally, I hit upon Picasso, as he is one of the greatest masters of the past century and we know very much about him. Here I mentioned an article I wrote a couple of years ago about the famous painting » Guernica.

Today, somebody told me about an article on the question of screaming horses. Most everybody knows that horses cannot express pain, but then people pretend that horses do nevertheless, especially in the context of war.

I was reminded of my article about Picasso once more and finally read it in full length. Picasso used tormented horse heads and bodies to express extreme painfulness. I wrote that I have witnessed horses groan from pain twice in my life, once during the death struggle of my horse. But as I thought about it again, it was actually rather a scream than a groan. But this was absolutely secondary to the article as such.

The whole article is highly interesting, but unfortunately not translated yet. I don’t know of any essay about this picture featuring these thoughts. Also, I found that I have expressed many of the ideas that I wrote about the last days much better and much more elaborate in the context of Picasso’s works centering around that masterwork. It’s kind of easier to write about somebody else than about your own stuff.

The question is, of course: What is art? When does form and color become something meaningful, something important, something not just illustrating any cheap old idea? There are so many pictures in this world, and every day some millions more are produced. You might look at auctions, museums, galleries, magazines, the Internet — you will find plenty of stuff more or less exciting. Which of all that will still be meaningful in a year, in five, ten, a hundred years, in a thousand years from now?

Yesterday I happened to stumble upon an essay called » How to Build a High-Traffic Web Site (or Blog). The answer is: It’s easy. Do the right thing and everything will care for itself. Don’t ask for immediate rewards, ask yourself what future generations will think about your contribution.

Do you know » Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? This is a very interesting novel digging deep into philosophy. After discussing so many things, the author asks: “How to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect, then just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it.”

Well, easily said, but very hard to do, and in fact even the masters fail very often. Picasso for example failed most of the time in his later years, and he knew it, and that was the tragedy of his life. It is in this respect that the above-mentioned essay is revealing insight into the deep dimensions of great art.

The funny thing is that this picture doesn’t have anything to do with modern times, war, Spain, Guernica, and on top of that all the figures and symbols are utterly private to Picasso and have been used by him for years. But everybody understands, feels that this picture has something fundamentally to say that could not be said in any other way.

So that’s what art is about. A statement that could not possibly be made by any other means. Well, again, this sounds easy, but it isn’t. Take any big canvas, some buckets of color, some big brushes and put this color at random to the canvas. That’s a statement, correct? Couldn’t be done any other way. But it isn’t art, sorry. It doesn’t have any meaning. It could be more or less decorative, aesthetic and so on, but that wouldn’t make it any better in terms of future times. Any good designer has enough good sense to produce something nice or disturbing, whatever you expect from great art. It doesn’t make him an artist and it doesn’t make his product great art. If it would be that easy, everybody would do it all the time.

Don’t be fooled by all those guys telling you that this is really great art because it fills the museums and galleries and is private property at high prices at auctions. That’s all nothing in terms of the future. The higher you rise the thinner the air will become. The more you know the less you will appreciate, but what you do appreciate you will like more and more, beyond all means. And that’s great. You know and you enjoy. You don’t want to fool yourself. You don’t want to sell yourself something.

There is a nice story behind the picture that I took a cutout from as illustration to this contemplation. It was an eyecatcher in a gallery for many years, but nobody wanted to buy it. And one of these days when I thought I should have a look at it, the owner told me that it had been private property to a young couple who fell in love with it. Great! This picture is about something very substantial, and it is good for young people to have a look at it every day. It will remind you what life is about. Don’t waste your time.

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