Werner Popken on art and more

February 24, 2007

Reading aloud

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 8:37 am

Originally published in 1998 as  Daily Drawing Nr. 17

Daily Drawing Nr. 17: 47, reading aloud · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Daily Drawing Nr. 17: 47, reading aloud

47 is a low number. As a rule, a low number indicates that the artist is on his way, but doesn’t know where he is going and what the right direction is. Art is a funny thing. If you knew what it is you could go along and do it right away. So just about everybody could get the Nobel prize or make big money.

To me, it was essential that I let loose. It was hard to accept that my intellect would not produce any piece of art worth mentioning. This is a good example to see that I was successful in letting the picture come. Imagine sitting in front of a piece of paper, all blank, using brush and oil colors. Whatever you do, you can’t correct a thing. You could smear more paint over a bad spot, but that would just kill the painting.

So it’s like you are doing the art of archery of maybe you compare it to war or the internet: You got just one shot. Remember the  first lesson of the Creative Journal?

You can see very good that all strokes are done with power: Look at the front line of the man’s face. Oh, I realize that you might have trouble reading the painting at all, so I better tell you:

I studied Picasso very much these days back early in the seventies. Like anybody else, I knew little of him, liked the blue period first, then the pink, then some more. I don’t like the cubist paintings to this day and think that cubism is tremendously overrated (yes, John Berger, I esteem most of your writings very high, but here I disagree).

Finally I got to know Picasso’s work of age, being very fresh then (he still lived). You can see the influence of the late Picasso very clearly here. That’s all right with me. I take Picasso as an example: He was influenced all his life by … let me see .. at least Steinlen, Toulouse-Lautrec, Greco, Goya, Ingres, Rousseau, Matisse, the Surrealists, the pre classic Greeks, the classic Greeks, stone age painting, Photography … you’ll certainly find some more.

Now there is a man sitting at left, looking to the right, reading aloud from a book. In the center, there is a lamp hanging from the wall. At right a naked woman listening to the man. There is a lot of intense expression in this scene, all done through very simple means. You could not invent and then try to realize it – your hand would be hampered and spoil it all. Here a painting realizes itself on paper like a dream realizes itself through dreaming. When you’re dreaming, you don’t produce the dream. It’s yours all right, but it just happens to you, you can’t dream at will (Most probably – Castañeda’s Don Juan claims this can be done and even learnt).

Now just as with a dream, I can ask myself: What does this dream tell me? What does this painting tell me? I am no more an expert to this painting than you are. In fact, with dreams, you often ask somebody else to help you understand the dream. Most of my customers did not want to know what their painting means to me. After all, they are not interested in me. They don’t even talk much about what it means to them. Maybe they don’t think about it, just let the painting do its work. You know, don’t have to interpret a dream … If you cannot dream, you will become crazy, so dreaming is essential to living healthy. But you don’t have to think about your dreams at all.

If you are interested what I experienced when I tried to find out in a kind of scientific mock up what happens when I paint, read the speech entitled “On observing the creative process” (after all, as a modern creature, I was entirely skeptical to this creative thing). The painting used in that speech is a perfect example for the personal use owners make of a painting (I did not translate that part yet, give me a note if you are interested). In my memoirs, I tell about the long way they took to appreciate my art at all in the first place and what this very painting means to them and did with them. In short: They use it as a means to daily enjoyment and personal growth. This single painting with all its figures has a very profound meaning to their lives. Maybe it means even more to them than to me. Maybe I have done it for them and did not know. I certainly did not know them when I did it.

If you read this, I confront you with this painting. If it does something with you, that’s your thing. If it does not, go on, it’s all right. If you can’t get it out of your head and want to see it more often, maybe you’ll print it out. If that’s not enough, maybe you’ll acquire a poster or even the original. I bought quite some posters of my favorites. I own a lot of books, too. And my head is filled with even more works of art. I love it.


February 17, 2007

Joe’s Daily Drawing

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 12:07 pm

Daily Drawing Nr. 1: 703 has the blues · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Daily Drawing Nr. 1: 703 has the blues

Daily Drawing Nr. 3: 265 wears gold · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Daily Drawing Nr. 3: 265 wears gold

Daily Drawing Nr. 8: 264a, in a blue mood · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Daily Drawing Nr. 8: 264a, in a blue mood

Daily Drawing Nr. 9: 594, all black · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Daily Drawing Nr. 9: 594, all black

The path of the hero — which is everybody’s path — is an adventure. It applies to man and women alike and isn’t necessarily a lonely path — helpers and combatants, adversaries and villains may be companions.

Today I found old texts which may tell us what I thought about the subject eight years ago. It seems to be wise to waken them from their long sleep and republish them here.

In 1998, I opened a virtual art fair for the American market under the title  Art Quarter.

I presented several galleries there each of which was devoted to a special segment showing a number of artists (some of them withdrew in the meantime, having been more than 10):

Parallel to these galleries I produced five newsletters which I called journals with more than one hundred editions:

”Daily Drawing” was supposed to publish a drawing every day for everybody to use for their homepage. This seemed to be a better idea to me than any old clip art.

For the first three editions, I manipulated drawings, but then I changed my mind and published original reproductions.

Simultaneously, I wrote about  Rembrandt in my Art Journal, and people really read these essays. Beginning from No. 17, I commented the drawings as well or rather wrote something in addition — the subtitle reads “Art and Anecdotes”. The reason is that a reader complained about the images being very interesting but incomprehensible, feeling like seeing a movie without sound. Hence I had to write something to my own work as well.

My pictures don’t have any title, but for this endeavor I felt constrained to invent titles. It wasn’t very convincing, I dropped this habit later in consequence.

Finally, I changed the name of the series in “Weekly Work” as I couldn’t keep the rhythm in the long run: a drawing a day and a full journal simply was too much work. Also, I didn’t present drawings only but paintings as well, which is why the title “Drawing” didn’t fit anymore.

From this time, I presented a work of mine and one of the other journals in turn. By the end of ‘98, I left it at that and turned to other things. 47 works had been presented under the heading “Daily Drawing / Weekly Work”.

February 10, 2007

Hero – puzzled

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 8:19 pm

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  669, 24×18cm, Oil / Paper, 11.08.1995

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  679, 24×18cm, Oil / Paper, 18.08. bis 19.08.1995

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  689, 24×18cm, Oil / Paper, 24.10. bis 29.10.1995

Some time ago I tried to interpret of painting  242, using the title  egocentricity. That’s how the term hero came into play.

Hero meant as an inner figure, bright, young, unique, numinous, in contrast to the real person, who could be commonplace, old, sick or ugly. This conception seems to be inherent to man and has been connected to “cosmic conscience” — whatever that may mean.

I didn’t have any idea of all that when I began to paint. In only occurred to me that very often, if not always a central figure, male or female, appeared around which everything else happened, to which all other figures in the painting were connected.

In rare cases there is nothing else but the hero. Quite often there is a companion, which can be an animal as well, like in  669.

Three examples, each apart by 10 numbers, made in the autumn of 1995, should make the point clear and also show the bandwidth.

The hero in 669 is it really young and bright, instead he looks rather middle ages-like an ugly, whereas the one in  679 has something like a Siegfried and reminds of the way Max Beckmann used to cope with the subject, maybe do to the buckler. The companion seems to be rather old and experienced, but in no way physically attractive.

In  689, the whole thing turns demonic — the companion in the background seems to belong to a totally different reality, although he is painted much the same way as the hero, a sphere adequate for ghosts, bad demons or good angels.

In many cases the hero of appears in the right part of the bigger, but this isn’t a rule. In larger paintings, the hero is placed more or less in the middle. In this respect, painting 242 is no exception. It only shows very many additional figures. Looking at all paintings chronologically, it is obvious that complexity increases in the long run. Although there are simple paintings without much fuss every now and then, these were much more frequent in the beginning, appearing only rarely later (compare in this respect the paintings in musing  return).

Quite similar observations apply to the background. Backgrounds were uniform and indetermined, only suggested space, if ever. Later, the background would be segmented more and more, associations to the horizon were induced, flying birds or swimming whales would emphasize the dimensions of space (see also  return).

At the same time it is obvious that the spaces are not real. Segmented backgrounds which don’t seem to have any connections whatsoever with horizons on different levels make this point clear (see for example  509). Looking through my online gallery, I noticed that for example  223 has a diffuse background whereas  227 already shows the vertical segmentation of the background, although the horizontal segmentation is still missing.

The gallery being a fragment at the time, it is not possible to draw conclusions; in addition, it may be only of academic interest to show these kinds of developments. Actually I only wanted to shed some light on painting 242 as a whole. The central figure of  longear, as has been seen, allows the association to “Buddha”. He is characterized by Wikipedia as follows:

In Buddhism, a buddha (Sanskrit) is any being who has become fully awakened (enlightened), has permanently overcome desire or craving (lobha), aversion (dosa), and delusion (moha) or ignorance, and has achieved complete liberation from suffering. However, such a negative definition should be augmented with its positive aspect, for a Buddha is also “one who has achieved a state of perfect enlightenment,”[1] which is a state of perfect mental tranquillity and non-fading bliss: “is the highest bliss” and “the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment.”[2]

In the Pali Canon, the term ‘buddha’ refers to anyone who has become enlightened (i.e., awakened to the truth, or Dharma) on their own, without a teacher to point out the Dharma, in a time when the teachings on the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path do not exist in the world.

Generally, Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha Gautama to have been the only buddha. The Pali Canon refers to Gautama Buddha at least once as the 28th Buddha (see List of the 28 Buddhas). A common Buddhist belief is that the next Buddha will be one named Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya).

Buddhism teaches that everyone has the innate potential to become awakened and experience nirvana. Theravada Buddhism teaches that one doesn’t need to become a Buddha to become awakened and experience nirvana, since an Arahant (Sanskrit: Arhat) also has those qualities, while some Mahayana Buddhist texts (e.g., the Lotus Sutra) imply that all beings will become a Buddha at some future point in time.

» Buddha

Buddha as enlightened on his own — this doesn’t really fit to the wealth of figures populating 242. Apart from that, the association doesn’t seem to be really wrong. Obviously the hero has to travel the path that is spiritual in nature and bears lots of defiances. That may be the reason for the reluctance, faint signs of fear, seldom anguish which is present everywhere, mostly accompanied by definite signs of inevitability and the necessity to walk this path.

In general, the accompanying figures are the ones that show confidence, who seem to know the goal of the journey, who empower and encourage the hero, although it isn’t clear in most cases, that he knows about them. The “personnel” in 242 looks pretty exotic. The whole scene appears to be menacing, and in particular the  cactus-figure points to associations nurtured by the fantastic “Don Juan”-series written by » Carlos Castaneda which interested me for some years at the end of the ’70s, beginning of ’80s. Indian rituals do indeed have something threatening sometimes.

But even there — even if everything is fictitious which seems to be pretty obvious nowadays — the spiritual development of the hero is the central topic, even if he is a gawk in reality. The spiritual / mental / religious ideas of Castaneda seem to be pretty half-baked, however. So the question is, how does the hero find his path? A Buddha doesn’t need a teacher. Are helpers teachers in this sense? Rather not. Is the hero doomed to find his path on his own? Seems to be the case.

February 9, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 7:35 am

to be translated

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  223, 100×80cm, Öl / Leinwand, 16.10.1975 bis 31.05.1976, Privatbesitz

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  703, 30×24 cm, Blei-, Farbstift, Aquarell, Kreide / Papier, 13.11.1997

Zu  Zeichnungen: Tage später fällt mir auf, daß es diese Art von Köpfen schon längst gab. Ein Beispiel hatte ich schon angeführt:  Blaue Periode.

Eigenartig, daß ich das erst jetzt bemerke. Es ist Jahre her, daß ich die Zeichnung gemacht habe, und Tage, daß ich wieder auf sie gestoßen bin, und nie habe ich die Ähnlichkeit wahrgenommen. Auch die schwarze Hintergrundfarbe, die ich durchaus als ungewöhnlich registriert habe, paßt zu den damals üblichen, zwar malerisch bewegten, aber gleichmäßigen Hintergründen, die später vollständig verschwanden und mit allerlei Figuren bevölkert wurden.

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  702, 30×24cm, Blei-, Farbstift, Aquarell / Papier, 07.11.1997

Die anderen Zeichnungen aus 1997 entsprechen etwa diesem Muster, etwa die Zeichnung direkt davor,  702. Der Hintergrund zwischen den beiden Figuren ist seinerseits Spielfläche für Gestalten, die immer wieder auftauchen und Rätsel aufwerfen.

Diese Zeichnung hat starke Anklänge an Max Beckmann. Auch das war mir seinerzeit nicht aufgefallen, scheint mir jetzt aber offensichtlich, obwohl mir kein konkretes Beispiel einfällt.

Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs hat Beckmann eine Reihe von Zeichnungen gemacht, etwa zur Apokalypse, unter denen sich so etwas befinden könnte. Ich sollte einmal eine Gegenüberstellung machen, um die Vermutung zu überprüfen. Bestimmt bekomme ich dann umgehend Ärger mit der VG Bild-Kunst – das habe ich vor Jahren schon anläßlich meiner Aufsätze für die  Journals durchexerziert und schließlich klein beigegeben. Für einen Rechtsstreit, den ich sicher gewonnen hätte, war ich nicht gerüstet.

Damals war Picasso der Streitpunkt, aber vermutlich sind sie hinter Beckmann genauso her. Eine Recherche im Internet zeigt, daß meine Vermutung richtig ist. Keiner traut sich, etwas zu zeigen, außer Mark Harden (» www.artchive.com), dem sie in Texas nicht beikommen können; aber der gibt sich mit Zeichnungen nicht ab. Ich habe etwas im Kopf, vermutlich aus einem Beckmann-Buch, das ich besitze; ich muß mal suchen. Die gefundenen, meist winzigen Abbildungen sind nicht das, was mir vorschwebt. Es würde mich schon sehr interessieren, weshalb ich bei dieser Zeichnung an Max Beckmann denken muß.

Meine frühen Arbeiten, die etwas streng wirken, gefallen mir sehr gut, und ich habe sie seinerzeit mit Stolz in der Museumsausstellung präsentiert. Später habe ich mich dann zu mehr Virtuosität verleiten lassen. Vielleicht wird darin ebenfalls ein Einfluß Erich Engelbrechts sichtbar; zweimal ist dieser bereits aufgefallen, das erste Mal merkte ich es selbst sofort, das zweite Mal er, nachdem wir lange gerätselt hatten, denn beide Male steckte ich durch die Verstrickung in einer tiefen Krise. Es ist nicht gut, nicht man selbst zu sein.

Das kann man bezüglich der “virtuosen” Arbeiten nicht behaupten, insofern leuchtet es ein, daß ich nichts gemerkt habe. Die Entdeckung der Virtuosität hat mir ja selber gut gefallen. Ich habe mich eher getraut, diese Arbeiten öffentlich zu zeigen und mich mit ihnen mehr identifiziert. Führten sie mich trotzdem von mir weg? Interessant, diese Gedankengänge.

February 7, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 10:48 am

to be translated

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  509, 24×22 cm, Holzschnitt / Bütten, 1984

Da ich die  Galerie nun aufgefüllt hatte, empfand ich doch das dringende Bedürfnis, hier ein bißchen aufzuräumen und zu gliedern.

Natürlich ist es interessant, eine sehr kleine Radierung direkt neben einem sehr großen Gemälde zu sehen, aber irgendwie scheint es doch sinnvoller, zu gruppieren, zum Beispiel nach Techniken.

Daher habe ich jetzt eine Auswahl eingeführt, grob nach  Öl,  Papier und  Druckgrafik. So kann man sich etwas leichter eine Übersicht verschaffen. Es erscheinen 9 Objekte unter Druckgraphik, 35 unter Öl, 16 unter Papier und 57 insgesamt.

Vor einigen Jahren hatte ich mal nach allen möglichen Bildkriterien klassifiziert und mich anschließend gewundert, wie viele Kinder oder Schwangere auf meinen Bildern vorkamen, wie viele verschiedene Tierarten usw. Durch einen groben Programmierfehler eines teuren Datensicherungsgerätes, das ich eines Tages glaubte anschaffen zu müssen, sind diese Daten verlorengegangen. So viel Arbeit im Bruchteil einer Sekunde vernichtet!

Der DAT-Streamer mit einer Software von Seagate machte bei der Inbetriebnahme eine Schreibprobe und formatierte kurzerhand das Wechselmedium. Damals hatte ich ein 1 GB-Jazz-Laufwerk, das war hochmodern und bot sensationell viel Speicherplatz. Hätte ich die Kassette herausgenommen, wäre vielleicht nichts passiert. Aber selbstverständlich hätte die Seagate-Software mich warnen müssen. Natürlich sind die Leute von Seagate nicht haftbar. Man muß so etwas möglichst schnell vergessen.

Was soll’s, man kann es wieder nacharbeiten, wenn man möchte. Vielleicht ergibt sich so etwas ja als Nebenprodukt zu dieser Galerie. Bei der digitalen Bilderflut, die wir mittlerweile überall beobachten können, wird es allgemein notwendig, die Bilder zu verschlagworten. Das bedeutet wieder viel Arbeit, entspricht aber im Grunde genau dem, was ich damals gemacht habe. Wenn man das Ganze dann auch noch in eine Datenbank packt, kann man diese einfach danach befragen, wie viele Schwangere oder Kinder oder was auch immer vorhanden sind und sich die entsprechenden Bilder natürlich dann gleich vorlegen lassen.

Den Holzschnitt  509 hatte ich nach der Erstellung ganz vergessen. Ausnahmsweise gab es keinen Anlaß für die Produktion, jedenfalls kann ich mich nicht daran erinnern. Eines Tages, etwa zehn Jahre später, suchte ich nach einem geeigneten Druckobjekt und stieß zufällig auf die Platte. Damals habe ich dann die Auflage drucken lassen. Inzwischen gibt es einige kolorierte Exemplare, die mir auch ganz gut gefallen. Zunächst hatte ich, wie immer, keine Idee, worum es eigentlich ging. 1997 habe ich im amerikanischen Internet eine kleine Umfrage nach einem Titel gemacht, diese aber nie ausgewertet. Alle möglichen Vorschläge kamen herein, keiner leuchtete mir ein.

Inzwischen weiß ich ganz gut Bescheid über diesen Holzschnitt und könnte auch einiges dazu sagen. Dazu ist es aber im Moment noch zu früh. Die merkwürdige Beleuchtung kommt durch die Aufnahme mit der Digitalkamera – mein erster Versuch, ich war mir der Problematik nicht bewußt.

February 6, 2007


Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 8:01 am

to be translated

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  703, 30×24 cm, Blei-, Farbstift, Aquarell, Kreide / Papier, 13.11.1997

Es ist zwar schon wieder entsetzlich spät, aber ich möchte mich doch endlich wieder einmal ein bißchen mit Kunst beschäftigen. Bezüglich  242 muß ich aber mal eine kleine Pause einlegen.

In der letzten Woche bin ich über meine Radierungen, Holzschnitte und einen Stapel Zeichnungen gestolpert und habe dies zum Anlaß genommen, die  Galerie ein wenig aufzufüllen. Ich empfehle einen Besuch!

Nr. 703 fällt ein bißchen aus dem Rahmen, durch den schwarzen Hintergrund vor allem, aber auch durch die merkwürdigen Figuren, die ein bißchen an die beiden Burschen links unten in Nr.  242 erinnern.

Sie wirken ebenfalls ein bißchen karikaturenhaft, könnten auch in einem Cartoon vorkommen, aber ganz trifft es das nicht, denn für eine Karikatur oder einen Cartoon fehlt einerseits der Witz, andererseits sind diese Figuren zu individuell, zu sehr Charaktertypen.

Aber auch das stimmt nicht ganz; Witz haben die Figuren schon – wenn ich mir die Beiden eine Weile anschaue, merke ich, wie sich in meinem Zwerchfell die Spannung ansammelt. Das Problem ist nur, daß man nicht darauf kommt, worauf sich der Witz bezieht – und das muß bei einer Karikatur schon gegeben sein.

Ebenso wie in diesem anderen Fall muß man hier wohl von Kunst sprechen. Kunst, das heißt für mich, daß diese Figuren über sich hinausweisen, eine Bedeutung tragen, mehr sind als das, wofür sie zunächst als Zeichen stehen. Aber was könnte das sein?

Es gehört zu den Stereotypien über Kunst, von einem nicht auflösbaren Rest zu sprechen. Dem stimme ich wohl zu, einfach durch Erfahrung, weil zum Beispiel selbst für mich meine Werke im Laufe der Zeit deutlich an Tiefe zunehmen, je länger ich sie kenne. Andererseits bin ich zu sehr Rationalist, um mich damit einfach so zufriedengeben zu können. Irgendwie ärgert es mich schon, mich mit etwas konfrontiert zu sehen, das mir Rätsel aufgibt.

Es ist natürlich ein Leichtes, Geheimnisse zu produzieren; » Arno Schmidt hat sich einmal darüber lustig gemacht. Verschlüsseln ist immer leicht, Entschlüsseln im allgemeinen ziemlich schwierig. Wenn sich dann das Geheimnis auch noch als banal entpuppt, ist die Peinlichkeit nicht zu überbieten. Aber hier geht es nicht darum, Geheimnisse zu erfinden. Da würde ich mir ja selber in die Tasche lügen – dazu habe ich keine Lust. “Die Malerei” produziert diese Dinge, während ich mich bemühe, so präzise wie möglich zu arbeiten, und dann kommt so etwas heraus!

Auf der anderen Seite kann ich mich der Faszination des Bildes nicht entziehen. Es hat etwas, ganz zweifellos. Aber was ist es?

February 5, 2007

The Gallery grows

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 12:22 pm

Nr. & · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Nr.  231, 7×11 cm (3×4 “)

Lots of new entries in the  gallery. Enjoy!

See for example the etchings – tiny as they are, in the middle of huge paintings, they withstand and show monumentality as well.

Also, for the first time, woodcuts and drawings.

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?

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.

February 2, 2007

Red Hair

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Malerei,Painting,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 2:02 pm

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

Cutout from No.  242 (private property)

Between the  Longear and the  wheel we find another mask sitting like a flower on a stalk; in a certain way it is the counterpart to the  Mask in a Flower at left.

In contrast to that one this seems to be much simpler at first glance. Also, as an exception, it looks like a female figure.

The white color of the face and the reddening of the eyes are most conspicuous, although not as dramatic as in the  Blue Head. The red hair falls to the same side and meets the red flower that we talked about recently.

Quite similar to the yellow forms that we identified as knobs or nailheads, the cheek is emphasized by a red spot with a thick black framing which is given again beneath the other eye, there darkened and without frame.

The lips are very dark, nearly black, giving a strong contrast to the white face. Thinking of number symbolic according to Jung, the number four can be found in the leaves, but the number three as well, or even two against one.

This figure is looking definitely to the right, it does not localize the beholder. The expression is not so much melancholic but rather pensive and earnest, but definitely not depressive or fearful.

Undoubtedly there is no Picasso-like division on the face — if only one doesn’t concentrate on the line of the nose. If so, you will see the profile. To make that clear, I have isolated it and was really surprised that it seemed (for me) to be male. The cross check showed that the rest of the face is responsible for the female overall impression which is emphasized, of course, by the hairs.

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Surprise! I didn’t recognize the male half at all! It looks somehow roguish, whereas the female part seems to be more reserved and observant.

I don’t know how this association forms, but somehow I always thought of this figure as being something like a witch — the red hair and the white face color certainly contributed to this impression. Witch in this sense seems to be understood more as mysterious, enigmatic, powerful, not so much uncanny and definitely not evil.

© Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

This diminishment and even the original scan don’t give any clue if the face is given by the priming or painted — which I think it is. Sure enough, it is necessary to inspect the original in order to appreciate the details. The mouth will be given by a clear and obvious drawing, but it isn’t possible to work this out satisfactorily from the scan even with digital picture reprocessing.

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