Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Roll Over, Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Whoever doesn't recognize this painting, raise your hand. (I see one hand, but it's attached to the arm of the class clown, so I disregard that hand.)  

Whoever has never related to the feeling in this painting, raise your hand.  (I see no hands.)

A middle school art teacher in Santa Fe brought in a reproduction of Edvard Munch's powerful, iconic painting and assigned the students to render their own versions in watercolor.  They weren't necessarily to try to reproduce the composition but to reproduce the emotion, and to include a figure.  Here are a few of their paintings...

 The colors in this one are more beautiful in person.  Those rounded tan forms are actually gold metallic.  This young artist has a wonderful sense of color and made the surrounding landscape loom so large behind the figure, perfectly capturing that sense of panic that has made Munch's painting universally accessible.  The  facial features being rendered in stark white contribute to the effect.

 This one reduced the composition to the diagonal lines of the bridge and inserted the figure within those lines, even making the figure's head tilt, as though being pulled by the setting.  An intuitive sense of how diagonal lines can make the viewer feel unsteady seems to be at play.  Does that puff of blue mean the artist ran out of time, or simply knew when to quit?

 Another less-is-more esthetic.  The blue "river," pared down to a slice of color, seems to weigh on the figure's mind.  Just what Munch had in mind.  And what a remarkable capture of the screaming mouth--just like Munch's.

 Here the landscape seems to be transformed into a cartoonish monster, or perhaps a house on fire.  I enjoy the menacing ambiguity.  What do you see?

Another truly beautiful palette, with the addition of decorative starlike designs, and an extravagant use of purple. And still, the figure is anguished in the middle of it all.  Reminds me of how it feels to be sad on a lovely spring day.

 The teacher shared with me that this student asked if he could draw a vehicle.  The teacher said, "Yes, as long as you include a figure."  What an inventive, contemporary take on The Scream.  Isn't the shading on the side of the truck exciting?  My mind reels with interpretations.  Someone has just jumped off the bridge and the screamer is screaming for help, for example.

 I wonder if this artist has a family member who's a park ranger, or has witnessed a park ranger calling for help in an emergency, or simply has invented another very personal, original interpretation of The Scream.

 This artist paid a lot of attention to Munch's composition, with the addition of that big sun sinking behind the hills, just like we see here in northern New Mexico.  Such a perfect detail to conjure that sinking feeling we've all experienced at the end of a less than good day.

I am thoroughly impressed by the work of these students and equally impressed by the assignment of this resourceful teacher.  Middle school is a tough time.  The hormones are kicking into high gear and the peer groups can be menacing.  These paintings tell the story.