02 June 2020

Emile Nolde: Terra Incognita

"The terra incognita of the not
proven that stretches between
the firm ground of the proved
and the void of the disproved"
 - from Pierce-Arrow by Susan Howe, New York, New Directions: 1999

"To a person who has no art in him, colors are colors, tones tones, ... and that is all. All their consequences for the human spirit, which range between heaven and hell, go unnoticed." - Emil Nolde

When I first looked at Mountain Slope Over the Sea I interpreted the blue orb as the earth, the yellow circle at left as the sun, suspended in a fiery, hostile atmosphere that is burning  the forests. If we follow this train of thought, the tiny boat at the right edge of the picture could be a vehicle attempting to escape from earthly catastrophe. Terra incognita, indeed.

"At the round earthe inagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpetts, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of soules, and to your scattred bodies goe,
All of whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never tast death's woe."
 - excerpt from "Holy Sonnet Number 4" by John Donne

There are two ways to paint with watercolor, wet paint on dry paint or wet paint on wet paint  The wet on wet method offers possibilities for diffusing colors and softening edges.  Characteristic is that the result is not known until the work is finished, a bit like a potter waiting to see how her work looks when it emerges from the kiln. In Emile Nolde's painting Mountain Slope Over the Sea   the water in the stroke flows downward (think: gravity) from where the brush was placed. As the watercolor flows it changes shape.  Not surprisingly, wet on wet watercolor is good for representing water.

The Danish-born Emile Nolde (1867-1956) was a master of the difficulties involved in the use of wet on wet technique,  raising it to a level it had not attained before. Nolde was known for his spectacular juxtapositions of blues and oranges. Blue, usually considered a calming color, here appears endangered by the orange vapors drifting over the fragile green buffer of trees. For Nolde color was the vehicle for the expression of emotion, in parallel with the general trend in modern art to privilege the artist's response to the real rather than its exact representation.

"Nolde is much more than tied to the ground, he is also a demon of these regions." - Paul Klee.

Suggestiion: try lookig at this picture while listening to Terra Incognita, a composition written by saxophonist Wayne Shorter for the Imani Winds and recorded by the group in 2011.

Image: Emil Nolde - Mountain Slope Over the Sea (Berghang über dem Meer ), circa 1905, watercolor


Tania said...

I like his boldness with the colors !

Jane said...

Tania, yes. And I appreciate how difficult it is to handle color with that much water.