Monday, October 3, 2011

MAX BECKMANN - 1884-1950

"THE TEMPEST" (1947-49)
Oil on paperboard mounted on plywood

From a distance, Max Beckmann's 'Tempest' was eye-catching and alluring; I was drawn in by the painting's contrasting colors. But once I stood in front of the painting, the "excitement" I felt for it turned into a bit of a confusion; I wondered where all the charm of the painting escaped to. The painting is earthy, spiritual, chaotic and suggests psychosis.

The picture is immediately disorienting because there is no clear gaze in the image. The "creatures," for lack of a better word, in the painting, have crazed eyes and are not looking at anything in the picture. Also, the objects in the painting are not organized in a way that you would see in real life. It forces the viewer to cock his head, this way and that, to get an idea of what he is looking at.

The painting leans towards abstraction and is a subjective piece. The "creatures" are simple in form. The tone of this piece screams insanity and unrest; even the brush strokes are a testament to this sentiment. Some of the strokes start strong and then squiggle off in an unfocused and fleeting manner. Even upon careful examination of the objects in this painting, the viewer fights to make out what the lower third of the panel is and tries to relate it to the other figures; as a result bringing about a frustration and a feeling of chaos. The description provided by the museum even says "this paintings exact subject remains something of a mystery."

Upon further investigation into the history of Max Beckmann, during the time period of the painting (1947-49), it turns out that Beckmann was suffering from anxiety and the depth of his condition was affected by the first World War. Author, Charles S. Kessler, writes in his book, "Max Beckmann's Triptychs":

He was a man made sleepless by the subconscious projection of his anxieties and fantasies. He told me he had been plagued by wakefulness for twenty-five years. Insomnia had left its mark; his was the face of a tired man, a man with a burden... there is no reason to suppose that he was any the less ridden by anxiety, especially because of the ominous political situation in Germany, which was having immediate repercussions on his career and personal welfare...He never developed any ease of life and rarely knew solid contentment. Ever since the traumatic experience of the first World War the element of anxiety in his nature continued to deepen. (Kessler)

Kessler's account of Max Beckmann confirms my perception of psychosis in this painting. As this painting was created in the modernistic time period, it is not a surprise that this painting is "self-conscious" and expresses the painter's emotion. The abstract nature is also a product of this era of painting. After inspecting this piece for about 5-7 minutes, I definitely imbibed a dose of psychosis and unrest and perhaps felt a little of what Max Beckmann was experiencing at the time.

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