At the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts is a comprehensive exhibition that includes Edvard Munch’s earthbound paintings, spanning decades. The paintings are energetic, reading as an exploratory of the artist’s emotional life through his observation of the natural world. This important exhibition was carefully and mindfully curated by Jay A. Clarke from the Art Institute of Chicago; Trine Otte Bak Nielsen, curator from Munchmuseet, and Jill Lloyd, an independent curator, drawing upon knowledge of Munch’s early life of emotional upheaval, loss and confusion. The curators reveal that the immersion of the artist into the natural world magnetized him out of his own whirlpool of an emotional unconsciousness into one of self-realization. The artist was able to step outside the bondage of the miasma of his early life and join his emotional world with the workings of the pastoral life which appeared in front of him.
A considerable and rare attribute of experiencing the work of Edvard Munch is the commitment the viewer unwittingly makes upon absorbing his paintings. The viewer is not solely an observer but a participant. The work appeals to the intellect, the emotive and the spiritual. The viewer consciously or otherwise walks alongside the artist, sees through his eyes, feels with every bit of atomic structure of the body and mind the communion between painter and recipient.
Through the marvelously intelligent selection of work and curation of this exhibition, we are made aware of the fact that Munch’s persona went through repeating yet increasingly more acute cycles of healing, each stage bringing more contrast between exuberance and melancholy. The earlier woodcuts, from the late 1800s, depict a world of sorrow, separation and angst. There are aspects of these experiences even in the landscapes of parallel times in his life, such as in the “Moonlight” paintings of 1895, in which the atmospheric void points to an experience of either loneliness or solitude, the tender pendulum that arises from isolation.
As the viewer makes thier way through the years of paintings and prints, the difference in brushstrokes and color that emerges is evident. Painter Youngsheen Jhe remarked that “the color becomes more saturated and more optimistic” as Munch makes his way through his life. The remarkable nature of these advancing works is that although the bright colors are clearly more celebratory, there is still a searching, yearning, internal combat still evident.