August Strindberg

Purple Loosestrife, 1892
Oil on Canvas
Tate Modern, London 2005

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this exhibition, I found it both charming and melancholic and was interested to read that he was a Gemini and prone to mood swings. Strindberg was clearly influenced by Northern Romantic [1] landscapes, but had his own expressionist way of painting that relied more on the palette knife than the brush. There were many of Strindberg's dark brooding seascapes that shared a single man-made object at the mercy of the elements: a buoy in the midst of a stormy sea, or a startlingly white navigational mark against a tempestuous sky. Several paintings of lighthouses conveyed a similar mood reflecting his inner turmoil, but most interesting were his astonishing delicately painted pictures of wild flowers set against a very loosely knifed / brushed landscape. If these earlier solitary flowers are also to be read as symbolic self-portraits he chose very unappealing plants, thistles, toadstools, and "weeds".

Purple Loosestrife August Strindberg

Purple Loosestrife is typical of the genre, with the painting divided by a pronounced horizon and the plant a small element isolated in the landscape. The mark making is vigorous but the mood is serene and melancholic, he uses a buttery yellow thickly applied with a palette knife for the foreground gradually merging with a blue/white shoreline and then above the horizon line similar blues and whites for the sky but painted in a different style. He was clearly an acute observer of nature and the plant named in the title is painted with accurate botanical detail, causing it to stand out sharply against the loosely painted landscape.

These small flowers in the vast landscape reminded me of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich that also use the shoreline as a metaphor for the daunting vastness of the world. Whilst it isn’t as dark as Friedrich’s Der Mönch am Meer, for example, it shares some of that painting’s depiction of the sublime; a boundless, silent, solitude. These qualities were typical of all these paintings of solitary flowers that were painted on the shore south of Stockholm and even more pronounced in some e.g. in Lonely Poisoned Mushroom (also 1892) there is no clear division between the land, sea and sky. I found myself reacting to the emptiness in these calm paintings much more than the violent seascapes, as at least in those there was the storm to provide a narrative!

[1]Strindberg wanted Bocklin's painting “The Island of the Dead”, to serve as the final image of his 1907 play The Ghost Sonata

©blackdog 2019

Michael Raedecker

Tipping Point, 2007
Acrylic and Thread on Canvas, 198 x 336 cm (3 Parts)
Hauser and Wirth, London 2007

I always find the wood panelled rooms of this old bank building a strange space to exhibit large contemporary paintings. This show of a mixture of Michael Raedecker’s work was no exception. The subject matter covered the familiar modernist houses, flowers and ruins. The stand out piece for me though was the line of washing drying in the garden. An idea I had had for a painting, but beaten to once again.

I first saw his work in 2000 when he was nominated for the Turner Prize for his fresh approach to painting and his use of unusual materials, the same year as Glenn Brown. He combines thread and paint on the surface, using the stitching to give forms an outline and helps delineate the subject matter. Raedecker takes his images from such disparate sources as Dutch still life painting, photographs of modernist architecture, B-movie scenes and antiquated gardening catalogues creating images that look like film noir sets waiting for actors to come out of the shadows .

69 michael raedecker.jpg

Tipping Point is a very large three panel painting that is so sparsely covered with shades of near white that it is hard to make out the banal subject of washing hung on a line. Without the embroidered description this austere image would be taken for an indulgent modernist abstraction. Yet by defining the subject matter on such a bleak surface, it raises disturbing narrative possibilities that nag at our consciousness. The shirts and sheets are blowing in the breeze but this isn’t a washing powder advertisement, this is our dirty washing hung out to dry. It is very difficult to convey in the photograph, but the subtle changes in tone create strange halos of light which radiate from the image making the washing looks like it is dirty. It is this effect that gives the painting its latent power; we note the absence of any human figures, but conditioned by contemporary film and television drama we know something bad is going to happen. The tipping point has been reached.

©blackdog 2009