Friday, September 30, 2011

The Tempest by Max Beckmann

This painting relies heavily on the theme of mystery to get its ideas across. The gaze in the image is strange because the two figures are not looking at each other nor are they looking at the viewer. They are looking into the distance. The audience is somewhat disconnected from the figures, but still intrigued and interested by it. The fact that the figures are not looking at each other or at the viewer suggests isolation and the disconnection that a mentally ill person may feel.

The viewer’s gaze is also peculiar in this piece. At first you are not sure how to approach the painting because the figures are painted sideways in opposite directions. However, this layout encourages the viewer to actively participate in the painting by tilting your head in order to understand it. Nothing is really hidden in the painting and there isn’t any background and foreground. Although the meaning behind the painting is confusing, you can literally see all parts of the figures clearly.

I think the artist’s attitude toward the piece is that of self-analysis, and that he is mirroring his own emotions in the painting. I don’t think there is anything lying outside of the frame for the artist, and maybe the way the two figures seem to be crammed into a small space may reflect how the artist feels in his own life. Beckmann may even feel repulsion towards the figures or the painting in general because of the frightening emotions it represents. This feeling of hatred possibly shows through in the harsh lines and violent shapes and bright colors he uses to represent it.

The style of the painting is abstract, although not as abstract as other abstract expressionists because the two figures are clearly recognizable as human forms. However, they are not meant to be realistic, specific, or complex. Instead, they represent emotions and themes that anyone could experience and relate to, mostly of confusion, anxiety, madness, and mystery. The tone of the painting is that of madness based on the sideways and upside down position of the figures, as well as the visually intense aspects such as color and shape. The subject of the painting, which I interpret to be mental illness, is depicted through the use of bright colors, jagged shapes, and harsh lines. The bright colors draw the viewer in even if they are unable to understand the full meaning. The figures themselves appear crazed not only because of their masked faces and the look in their eyes, but also because of the way Beckmann has painted the rest of their bodies, such as their long sharp painted toes and fingernails. There are visual brushstrokes as well as scratches in the paint, and if you get close enough, you can see where the artist has layered on paint in order to cover something else. In the description next to the painting, it described how Beckmann reworked the painting and even renamed it, and that is clear from the physical attributes if the paint itself. This fact also offers some insight into the intention behind the piece; Beckmann was not happy with his original idea and therefore wanted to completely cover it and make it into something new. This shows that he was feeling unsure and perhaps anxious, confused, and unstable, which are three themes heavily represented here. He also challenges the conventions of painting with the figures’ positions. Instead of hanging the canvas sideways so one figure is right side up and the other is upside down, he hangs it so they are both sideways, but upside down in relation to each other, furthering the feeling of instability and confusion.

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