Although I’ve mentioned now a couple times that I much preferred the East Building of the National Gallery of Art over the West, there was one exhibit (among other things, like this little guy by Rodin) in the West Building that made walking through all those galleries full of paintings of fruit and landscapes and old furniture worth it. Although it was a tiny little exhibit, Edvard Munch: A 150th Anniversary Tribute was pretty great (Munch’s probably best known for this guy). I’ve seen a number of his works in person, but what made this exhibit unique was the collection of various Two Women on the Shore (1898) prints. They’re not my favorite works and I don’t know anyone who would argue that they’re his best works, but what’s fun about them and made me chuckle was Munch’s problem solving skills.
These are not the exact images that were included in the exhibit because I can’t find the exact images (and they wouldn’t let me take photos), but they will illustrate my point just fine. If you look at the shore just in front of the standing woman’s head, you can see that at some point during his woodcutting process, Munch lost an edge :-/ In the above print, he somehow got around it, perhaps but another wood block with only that shape or something of the sort. But in these two guys below, he seems to have decided that it was a bit too much work or that the piece was simply not worth it and instead he just took crayons that were sort of the same color and colored it in. On that third one below, he seems to be experimenting with a different background.
This makes me think about some of the decisions I make in my own work. While I don’t think I would go as far as putting crayon to a woodcut print, I love covering up mistakes in my work and think that having and keeping these little mistakes makes artwork unique, versus a computer generated image that you can just fix. (Disclaimer, I don’t think computer generated images are any less creative or less of an art, I just don’t like them as much.) It’s great to picture Munch working in his studio, breaking off that piece, maybe shouting out an expletive and then printing anyway and just filling it in with crayon.
While these woodcuts were great to see and I loved seeing those crayon marks, the rest of the exhibit was even more impressive, with a number of beautiful lithographs included, including my favorite piece by this artist, Munch’s Self Portrait with Skeleton Arm. I love that more than 50% of this piece is just plain black, with the arm almost as if it were an after thought… and yet, it makes sense. Also, I prefer dark art over fun art. In case I haven’t made that obvious yet :)