Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Mati Klarwein's Nativity -1961

Recently on TV there was a programme on the Netherlands painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450- 1516) which gave specific attention to  his triptych altar-piece, 'The Garden of Delights'. The presenter explained convincingly that Bosch used Van Eyck's Ghent alter-piece 'The Adoration of the Lamb' as an inspirational benchmark to surpass in technical brilliance and imagination when painting 'The Garden of Delights'. The presenter argued that Bosch expanded the whole sphere of artistic dialogue on  the imagination and its contents with his triptych.

The more one studies the symbols  and motifs of the collective movement of Surrealist painters, the more one recognizes and identifies quite specific traits shared with medieval painters such as Bosch. Avian imagery for example frequently features in both Surrealist painters such as Max Ernst (1891- 1976) and the English born Leonora Carrington  (b. 1917 - 2011 ) as well as  in Bosch's paintings.The themes of transformation and metamorphosis  set in bizarre landscapes are also shared  with Bosch and often painted with a trompe l' oeile  brilliance by Surrealists, particularly Salvador Dali.

The paintings of Mati Klarwein (b. 1932 Hamburg, d. 2002 Majorca) seem to take the imaginative language of Dali one step further. Dali's artistic elitism held no interest in pop culture or psychedelia although in later life  he was fond  of associating with such movements often from financial incentive.

Mati Klarwein's paintings display a great interest in eastern spirituality, pop culture and the properties of the psychedelic ( from Gk. Psyche Soul/Mind, deloun to manifest). In his life-time Klarwein studied with the French painter Fernand Léger (1881- 1955) but it is the  visionary Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs b.1930 who's said to have the strongest influence upon his creativity. Klarwein visited Tibet, India, Bali, North Africa, Turkey, Europe and America before eventually settling in New York City during the early 1960's.

 Klarwein  shares with Salvador Dali (1904-89) a certain technical brilliance and exquisite attention to detail, along with a complete indifference  to the viewer's ability  to  easily comprehended his message. They both also seem to share a predilection for a large, sometimes disorientating perspective and landscape, a fondness for almost eye-watering, sharp and vivid tonal arrangements of colour, as well as an irrepressible urge to provoke and even shock the complacent viewer.

The most amazing aspect of Klarwein's 'Nativity'  is its early date, displaying many motifs and paraphernalia associated with pop culture and full-blown psychedelia when in fact it originates from the very cusp of that era, 1961;  Klarwein's 'Nativity' anticipates many of  the hall-marks and common-places associated with psychedelia and pop-art, notably in the artistic excesses of that most ubiquitous of art-formats during the 1960's and  early '70's, the rock music album-cover.

The word 'iconic' is frequently over-used and abused by many uninspired writers and media journalists these days but the figure of Jackie Onassis, depicted in  'Nativity' wearing sun-glasses upon a fan  is a deserving contender for the status  of  1960's iconic figure.

I confess to having lived with a large poster reproduction of  Klarwein's 'Nativity'  much to my visitors fascination and perplexity, during the  heady, heat-wave summers of  '76 and '77.

           A detail from the centre panel of Bosch's 'The Garden of Delights'.
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