A couple is standing in front of me, blocking the view to the painting. They are holding hands, their ears are covered with the guided tour headphones, and their heads are tilted to the left. A few seconds later, they simultaneously straighten up and move to the next painting, stare at it, and listen to the voice that gives them information on what is hung in front of them.
I am in the Edvard Munch exhibition in Tate Modern. Each painting seems to be a piece of a puzzle; the final picture is the artist himself. The writing on the wall tells me that Munch was a troubled man, who drew from his spiritual unrest and personal anxieties to define his own subjective vision.
It seems as if the canvas is a temporary release of his obsessions, a way to figure out events, things, life. He seems to come back to certain events (the death of his young sister from tuberculosis at The Sick Child when he was thirteen) and themes (The Weeping Woman is depicted in various forms, each more unsettling than the other). For some reason I had to catch my breath when I stumbled on the Uninvited Guests series, where Munch recreates a fight that troubled him. It was not the realism in the picture; it was the clear intention to find the truth by recreating a subjective memory, an attempt that no matter how much effort he would put into it would always be unsuccessful.
I also really linked his exploration of vision. In 1930, he suffered a haemorrhage in his right eye. Munch did not see this as a disaster; he saw it as an opportunity. This injury allowed him to experience the word in a new way, and instead of fearing it, he explored it. In addition to that, he explored the shifting boundaries between visible and invisible, material and immaterial, through double exposures in his photography and drawing apparitions in his paintings.
Indeed, I found his use of photography fascinating: he doesn’t depict; he documents. He uses it to scrutinise himself, his life, his world. He is taking pictures of his exhibition,but it is not to record the paintings-in fact, the paintings are not props-they are individuals (when he takes a picture of himself with them it often resembles a group portrait instead of an artist’s shot).
He also seems to delve on his experience of ageing, emotional turmoil, sickness and bodily decay. In fact, in the last rooms, a series of self portraits (including the last one he ever drew) shows a heartbreakingly humane vulnerability that is touched me to my core.
His paintings are not defined from the external world; the are shaped from the internal state, the filter that dictates how the world is perceived. He is not drawing the world; he is drawing his world.
A canvas as a reflection, a painting as a mirror, a depiction of reality instead of realism. Baring your heart on paper, on brush strokes, on film, on the light of the day and the darkness of the night. The artist becoming art, becoming one with the work in the frame.
The couple moved to the next room; I wonder what the voice is telling them. I wonder what they see.