Sunday, 30 September 2012

Edvard Munch: painter, director and tragic actor

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye at Tate Modern puts a very cinematic spin on Munch’s work. The show’s layout is focused on repetitions. One room solely has paintings of a woman weeping, the colourful, jerky brush marks providing each one with lively movement, reminding me of a noisy, flickering, 35mm camera, with each painting a frame from the celluloid strip.
Many of Munch's paintings such as Red Virginia Creeper are like scenes straight out of a horror movie. He paid close attention to viewpoints, perspective and used long diagonal distances to evoke horror and discomfort, just as Hitchcock did in Vertigo (1958) (it has been suggested that Hitchcock took inspiration from Munch's paintings). Munch formed strong characters captured in monumental story telling moments, with ethereal yet brisk brush strokes.
I love to think that Munch lived in a film like daydream, where he was both the lead character and the director of monumental dramas. Apparently his neurotically puritanical father would torment his children by telling them that their dead mother was constantly watching their bad behaviour. Munch’s subjects are intensely autobiographical and his life itself was akin to a tragic and romantic screenplay. The painting, Still Life (The Murderess) illustrates the moment when his lover, Tulla Larsen shot him in the hand. The painting is like a screen shot of the scene, with significant attention to the props, costumes and colour palette.

Edvard Munch, Brothel scene from the Green Room series

In Peter Watkin’s stunning biographical film, Edvard Munch (1974), Munch’s character stops and gazes out of the screen, right at the viewer, conscious of his existence in an obscure and false world. Munch was making paintings at the dawn of the photographic age and this is reiterated throughout the exhibition. There is a substantial display of candid self-portraits and abstract amateur video footage taken by Munch himself. Later on in life he collaborated with a friend who set up cinemas in Oslo by putting on painting exhibitions in the foyer of the cinema.

Edvard Munch (1974) directed by Peter Watkins

Edvard Munch’s work feels remarkably contemporary and also in keeping with one of Hans Jaeger’s bohemian commandments, ‘thou shalt write thy life’.

Kirsty Buchanan

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye, is at Tate Modern until 14 October 2012

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