Artist Andy Warhol rarely went to a party without a Polaroid camera, he continuously filmed intimate friends and recorded conversations with them. Always distance between him and the world.
British writer and art critic Olivia Laing mentions him in her book Lonely in the City the most famous lone artist. All artists are lonely, she claims, and their work is the link between them and the environment. Feelings wrapped in art, and when the viewer recognizes those feelings, a “magic transaction” occurs.
Loneliness was the subject of the third episode of Looking at feeling (NTR), in which art historian Wieteke van Zeil takes the viewer on an emotional safari to works of art that express anger, desire, disgust, joy and despair. In this episode she walks cheerfully – in a different colored jumpsuit – past works of art in museums and in the wild that depict or evoke loneliness, and past works that are lonely themselves, or of which the maker was lonely.
When is a work of art lonely? If it’s there, but not noticed. take The Sawyer in the Leidsebosje, one of the busiest points in Amsterdam. A little iron man in a tree, cutting a branch. Nobody knows who made it and hardly anyone knows that Het Zagertje is there.
Van Zeil also calls one work of art from long ago and far from home lonely. A headdress of a tribal leader in New Guinea, which was used at dances, but has now been locked in a glass display case for a century.
Self-chosen isolation finds Wieteke van Zeil in the single chapel Shelter by Maria Roosen, who stands in the garden of the Agatha Monastery near Nijmegen. A hollowed-out tree trunk in the shape of a matryoshka doll that fits a complete human being. “Intimate, to be so embraced by a tree trunk,” says Van Zeil as she crawls into it. Meanwhile, the artist takes pictures and thinks the tree looks great on her.
“Lonely men abound in art,” says the art historian firmly. Rembrandt must not have just painted his son Titus so introverted? Or what about video artist Guido van der Werven walking alone across a frozen sea, ahead of a gigantic icebreaker. And black, the big nothing, which absorbs all the light and returns nothing, does well in the solitude genre. The black hall and the black water of Armando, the black hole of Anish Kapoor, the walls painted with the blackest pigment. No one sees relief or depth, nor any perspective.
fear of squares
The Prinsegracht by Jan Weissenbruch seems painted in the first months of the corona time: the stillness, the distance between people, the unity of the individuals. The painting is from 1887, and you look differently when you know that the painter suffered from agoraphobia. He would have left his house for the first time in ages to paint the canal. It was his last work and he died shortly afterwards.
With art programs on television you sometimes get the same feeling as in a large museum: how long will this take and do we really have to go through all those rooms and read all the signs? You need a push, I mean to say. Preferably from someone like Wieteke van Zeil. Someone without an urge to be complete, who goes a bit further and tells you something you didn’t know you wanted to know.