• John Diamond-Nigh

3 artists on #solitude

Interesting to see what journalists, confined from their usual beat, elect to write about. The nervy, streetish art critic #Holland Cotter took me by surprise. He wrote about #Thoreau and his own love of Walden Pond. Who could be farther from #Bansky than Henry David Thoreau?

Thoreau, I suppose, owns the leafy copyright to a host of familiar epithets on American solitude: I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. (Journal, 1853)

Lines that could be snipped from a letter by #Van Gogh to his brother, #Theo. Poor man. With all his heart he wanted his friend Gauguin to join him in Provence. Two rovers through the sunflower fields, painting together as normal pals. Clearly, Van Gogh’s isolation tormented him, an eruptive, misfitted man who, against his will, roughened and bombed others away. (#Gauguin ended badly.) The little bedroom was painted in Arles. That narrow bed, the #yearning of those humble accoutrements––confession––they make me cry. The great American architect Peter #Bohlin has said that his ultimate aesthetic value is #poignancy. I agree. Art that feels deeply and tenderly within itself emits that emotion, getting you, as #Leonard Cohen put it, on its wavelength with sometimes heartaching force.

The bed, chair, water basin, pictures and mirror denote how rudimentary #solitude is. Simple, sincere, essential. The #Jungian #storyteller #Michael Meade has observed that most civic frictions, fall-outs and lunacies arise from our failure to descend from our glossy public zones to the solitary room within ourselves where the natural dualisms of our being, dark and light, ask to be, over a lifetime, interknitted.

One could point to a thousand #rooms in art that betoken solitude––#David’s famous #Death of Marat, or #Tracy Emin’s #My Bed to cite two wildly disparate instances. But just as often artists head, for their solitude, to the hills. #Richard Long takes long, long solitary walks through the wildernesses of the world. Stopping from time to time, he gathers stones, and composes his primitive, usually circular works on the ground, not unlike the pile of stones that fans have stacked at the site of Thoreau’s cabin. News of this arrives in the form of photographs, texts and stone simulacra installed on gallery floors. For Long, as it was for Van Gogh, solitude is where we discover the old, old furniture of the #broken human soul. The #primordial. The #solar. The #circular.

A dear friend observed that yes, we all, in a way, are #survivalists right now. Which isn’t bad. Thoreau again: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

#Caspar David Friedrich was a German #Romantic. The painting above is his best known painting. It could be an Ansel Adams photograph, with figure patched in. Romanticism was all about those star-far outposts of feeling, from terror to death to ecstasy. The immemorial scripts of the heroic self face to face with nature at its most formidable and sublime––#Byron surviving boat-burying storms. #Jimi Hendrix playing the national anthem like a dawn howl, a demonic hallelujah. #Amelia Earhart. And recently, in a canny Friedrich redux, the Swiss artist #Julian Charrière blowtorching an iceberg in the Arctic.

The mountaineer, the spiritual ones, the equals of the earth.

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