'Melancholy', Edvard Munch, 1895
At the end of what had a been an increasingly tiring week in our cramped cabin, especially for Isaac, I finally found myself in the Munch Museum in Oslo. We had been to Oslo a few days previously to visit the Viking Museum where one has to travel by boat out to the islands around the Oslofjord to visit the museums where many of them are located. Seeing the impressive longboats close-up was inspiring, where you could see each individually hand-crafted nail punched in the hull and almost feel the hands that made them.
'Moonlight On The Sea'
'Summer Night At The Beach'
Arriving in the Munch Museum though was a total revelation. I was greeted by a striking life size portrait of a woman with a dead yellow baby on her lap, her piercing eyes looking right through me (sadly I can’t find an image of this). The power of it stopped me dead in my tracks. Working my way around the other paintings struck such an emotional chord inside me. My head was reeling as I encountered one stunning painting after another. Many of the rooms were very sparcely hung, with just one or two paintings the focus, such as ‘Puberty’. Other rooms were less so, but seeing these paintings after my experiences of the Norwegian landscape during the last few days, in quite difficult circumstances at times, I felt they just were Norway. They just seemed to capture the essence of the landscape, but also the psyche of the place in a way that made perfect sense to me. It was really uplifting and made a deep connection with me as a painter in a way that I’ve not felt from another artist in a long time.
'The Yellow Log'
The images were full of poetry and atmosphere, but the way they were painted seemed so fresh and contemporary with an urgency and fluency that was revelatory.(if contemporary painting was only this fresh and urgent! I've just seen who won the John Moores Painting Prize today. You have to think, 'Of all the entrants this is the best?'). I loved the scale of so many of them, which was often about 5 feet across, and the treatment of space and the forms, but especially the colour (this would make it’s way into things later…) to depict the unique atmosphere and light. I came away thinking he was my new favourite artist! Weirdly Munch was one of the first artists I was directed to as a student on my foundation course after making my first paintings. I did also see a stunning Munch show at MoMA, New York about seven years ago where I was quite shocked by their large scale, but I was in a very different place with my own work. These connections you make are often about the timing.
I have yet to visit the Tate Modern’s current Munch exhibition, but this is on the cards in the next week or so….oh, and yes a version of 'The Scream' was on display in Oslo. Despite it's familiarity, it is a disturbing and original painting that still seems to resonate.