Paul Klee – The Virgin in the Tree
I’ve been reading ‘Creation: Modern Art and Nature’, an exhibition catalogue for the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh from 1984. It includes an essay by Professor Robert Rosenblum, in which he considers why artists continue to be interested in taking nature as a springboard for their work, in spite of so many modern advances:
“And it is no surprise either that the origins of this urge to venerate in art what appears the ever more remote and magical domain of nature should coincide broadly with the modern era, that is, the period that began in the late eighteenth century and witnessed the acceleration of industry, of science, of urban life, of global warfare, of pollution, that is, of all things manmade and artificial that cut us off, sometimes triumphantly, sometimes devastatingly, from our earliest history on this planet.” (page 9)
I was struck by this because I am aware of my own sense of disconnect, from time to time, by which I mean an awareness of distance between me and my twenty first century life, and the physical world in which I live. I have recently taken to going out for a walk after a session of reading or writing, not just for the fresh air, but for a reminder that sea and wind and rock and sand still exist, and influence my life. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to walk down to the sea in a matter of minutes, and it’s a privilege I continue to value. I wonder if we have to work harder to feel a part of our living planet than people in the past? And whether we are in danger of losing our connectivity with a ‘wholeness’ in life because of being gradually taken away from direct interactions with it? Does the computer contribute to this, I wonder? Yet in the end it must come down to how the individual uses the computer, or any other technical device, and to the awareness that the individual has of a need to be part of the physical world. Robert Rosenblum would be in broad agreement with this I think.
Paul Klee – Girl in the Tree
“This urge to scrutinize, whether as a scientist or a mythmaker, the phenomena of nature and to see these marvels as in some way a therapeutic reminder of our own origins, has inevitably quickened as we become, in turn, still more remote from the natural world……
As so often happens, artists can help us to balance the stresses of our real lives by creating mythic realms that may console us.” (page 10)
The interesting thing here is that Rosenblum sees the artist as one who can contribute to a solution to , or a treatment for, our ever increasing isolation from the physical realities of living in this world. The artist as “mythmaker” is how he describes the role overall, somehow a liberating description unless of course you are a staunch postmodernist. In which case, you would not want to contribute to any kind of metanarrative in your own personal take on life. However, the artist’s role has always been connected to presenting the world from his own point of view, indeed of presenting alternative worlds and provocative world views. This is something that does not change in our constantly changing environment. To make work that may console – I must admit that I’ve never thought of it that way before, though it does bring to mind Matisse’s stated aim, to make work which would be perceived by the viewer as a comfortable armchair to rest and contemplate in. I’ve never had much rapport with that statement of Matisse’s, but in the light of Rosenblum’s comment, perhaps I need to see it from a better perspective.
Not surprisingly, this particular exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery included work about trees, so continuing on from the post before this one, I thought I would feature the trees that were included. Paul Klee features in this. As does Mondrian.
Piet Mondrian – The Grey Tree (1909)
Mondrian is usually associated with flat grid paintings in primary colours, but he paid a lot of attention to trees.
Graham Sutherland was also featured in the exhibition in Edinburgh. His trees in particular anthropomorphise his feelings about the second world war, and this is a good example.
Graham Sutherland – The Thorn Tree (1945)
I did not set out to draw trees. I intended to make a record of my awareness that our individual lives are spiritual journeys, possibly a series of spiritual journeys. What I ended up with was a series of tree-like drawings, not representing trees, but nonetheless speaking of trees. Curious. No doubt there will be more thinking about the importance of trees, both in the life of the planet and in the human psyche, yet to come. And I will want to ask the question, is this an aspect that we as a race share with the ancient peoples of prehistory? Wouldn’t it be exciting if archaeology could reveal the answer to that?