16.10.2008

Michael Weigel - Icons of the Sea. Art-scientific observation by Prof. Dr. Axel von Criegern

Prof. dr Axel von Criegern (artist and art historian, chairman of the Tübingen Artists' Association) about Michael Weigel:

The sea means much more to Michael Weigel than it does to most of us. You could think: living by the sea, sea from early in the morning until late at night - that's all. But he not only loves to look at the sea, he also prefers to move on it - his exhibition trips have taken him over all the world's oceans - and in it. Who doesn't think maliciously: does he already have gills and webbed feet?
For now, let's call that an intense bond with the sea. But if you know that Michael Weigel (born 1973) comes from Hesse and actually only came into contact with the sea during his civil service, then it looks more like an obsession. One then learns that he has been dealing with the aesthetics of (sea) landscapes not only in painting practice but also in theory for years, and then after a doctorate in natural aesthetics (!), teaching and research work, finally on image interpretation, his Quit university job to devote himself full time to sea painting, then this seems obvious.
That's the finding. Now you can argue that we are dealing with an artist and therefore an obsession is not too far-fetched. However, we are subject to a modern, all too cheap image of the artist.
It is worth placing the relationship between artists and the sea in a larger historical framework.
It starts with the fact that the sea, as we take it for granted, is young in human history. The oldest conceptions of the sea were those of a gigantic body of water, at the edges of which the crash threatened and in the middle of which our earth disk floats or stands. Navigating the ocean meant facing unimaginable dangers. Only with difficulty and very gradually did people embrace the seas. They were populated by monsters and mixed creatures, and everywhere there was a threat of destruction, if you got to the edge you were inevitably drawn into the abyss. Even around 1200 B.C. BC, the Odyssey still abounds with straits, sirens, and islands on which strange beings live. A thousand years later, Roman mosaics still show that the sea myths did not change so quickly, even if the voyages to the British colony had long been part of everyday life in power. The Middle Ages were not much more enlightened. It is true that seafaring, if we think of the trade lines and the crusaders, had become routine in the meantime, but that was only true for the Mediterranean area and coastal waters. Only the daring seafarers of the 15th/16th Century definitively defined the spherical shape of the earth, putting an end to the notion of the abyss at the end of the seas. But what remained is the sense of danger and threat in and through the sea. The 17th century established two sea options known to antiquity: the stormy sea devouring ships with man and mouse, and the heart- and soul-refreshing view of the seascape framed by palaces and temples. Incidentally, there was no talk of swimming in the sea, at most of desperately kicking for survival. Only eccentrics like Lord Byron had the audacity to voluntarily expose themselves to the dangerous element. It wasn't until the 19th century that bathing in the sea became a leisure activity. To a certain extent, leisure time and bathing culture, or sport, are dependent on each other. The lost view of the sea horizon that is so familiar to us, the feeling of infinity that neither reason nor science programs have eradicated, is an invention of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Pictures like C.D. Friedrich's "Monk by the Sea" are icons of this soul reflection in the sea. The sea as a natural phenomenon, as flowing water, as waves, as surf, spray has already fascinated a visionary like Leonardo da Vinci, but it also only appeared as an object of scientific interest in the 19th century. Now the sea water itself also becomes an art theme, if we think, for example, of realistic or impressionistic painters or of Debussy's "La mèr". Jules Verne can fantasize about living environments for people in the depths of the sea.
With the snatching of its secrets, the fascination of the sea was by no means lost. New phenomena such as giant waves, the Bermuda Triangle, seaquakes and typhoons were researched, and the connections between the sea and the weather and the global climate were recognized. Deep-sea expeditions open up new dimensions of the sea that you would never have thought possible; there is life in marine volcanoes and monster fish that far exceed medieval fantasies.
As was to be expected, this multidimensionality of the phenomenon of the sea and its perception is also reflected in modern art. Nolde still made the poetic wave the subject of the picture, today projected giant waves crash over us and the sea is material for land art. Reality also includes the empty fishing of the seas, pollution, oil spills and oil platforms, dykes, locks, tidal power plants, etc. They too are the subject of art.
And faced with this panopticon, a young artist keeps painting views of the sea and sky with obviously stoic calm. Apparently "pure nature" to say it fashionably. It can't be hiding and suppressing, because Weigel is a highly educated man. When he says himself that he experiences a deep calm in the activity of painting the sea, that draws attention. He also speaks of experiencing the repetitive motion of the waves and moving within that motion. He says that the sounds of the sea reach him more than the smells.
I've known Michael Weigel since the beginning of his student days and even then I was amazed at how, despite all his openness, he no longer presented these sea pictures for discussion in terms of their concept, but only in terms of painting technique. That gave these pictures something irrefutable that I only know from icon art. Since Michael Weigel then actually studied theology alongside art, one could speculate on natural religiosity or pantheism, but ends up on a wrong track. The situation is different with the knowledge of the revelation of God in his creation. There are statements about this by Weigel. In relation to the sea, this could mean that Weigel honors that part of creation that clearly received too little attention after the separation of earth and water. Great themes emerge: Noah, who saw the water calm down and recede on Mount Ararat, Moses, who was able to split the sea and let it crash over the enemy, and Jesus, who could walk on water. Does Michael Weigel paint icons of nature, icons of the sea?
An icon is first of all an image. But it was also the sacred image from the beginning. Significant is its minimal change over the centuries. The fundamental importance of the sacred images for Christians is shown by their refusal to recognize the pagan images of the gods and especially that of Caesar. The unbelievable power these images had is shown by the struggle of the iconoclasts against the iconodules, the opponents against the supporters of the sacred image, but also the iconoclasm of the Reformation; and turned to the non-Christian, the Taliban blast the hated large-scale depictions of Buddha. The feature of the icons as an art object is the missing or hardly perceptible development and change. Icons are neither old nor modern, they are timeless. To relate this to Weigel's pictures is daring. Still, there are connections. In their crystalline clarity, the sea pictures can be assigned to an objectivity that developed between Romanticism, New Objectivity, photorealism and Dali's hyper-realism, but that doesn't get us anywhere. Questions of style obviously fall short. The shape of the window picture, the always similar middle distance and the perspective are hardly changed. Even the changing formats cannot hide the fact that the objects sea and sky are of unconditional importance. Weigel avoids updating and everyday points of contact. You will look in vain for the buoy, the bird corpse, the shell, but also the beach chair. If the icons go too far for you, you can stick to Buddhist mantras, which are not about aesthetic creativity or reference to reality.
It would also be important to take a look at us, the viewers. The fact is that there is an inverse proportionality between calm images and restless viewers. The unrest of everyday life finds a footing in calm pictorial works. Where the feeling of escaping reality is strongest, the hour of Brancusi's sculptures and Mondrian's paintings strikes. The fact that these artists and their works were placed in a pseudo-holy state, or that they stylized themselves in this way, establishes the connection to the icon thesis.
With the concept of the icon, I have found a place for Weigel's pictures, which, unlike the majority of viewers, disturb me because of their calm, where I can expose myself to them in peace, far away from the nomenclature and the hectic wear and tear of the art world. If motif and perception then oscillate with each other, the question of the icon recedes and behind the simple motifs a space opens up for contemplating and thinking about creation and art.

 

Michael Weigel - Icons of the Sea. Art-scientific observation by Prof. Dr. Axel von Criegern

 
 
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