The win­so­me, the mys­te­rious, the spec­tral

no­tes on the fairy­ta­le ele­ments in the work of So­fie Arf­wid­son by Dr. Ger­not L. Thie­le, Ge­mäl­de­ga­le­rie Ber­lin

To at­tri­bu­te the cha­rac­ter of fairy­ta­le to so­me­thing is a kind of chal­len­ge. Fairy­ta­len­ess, mys­te­ry, spec­tra­li­ty – the­se are cha­rac­te­ristics that re­si­de in the emo­tio­nal sphe­re. One na­tu­ral­ly as­so­cia­tes So­fie Arf­wid­son ́s work with Sur­rea­lism but I pre­fer to com­pa­re it di­rect­ly to Fe­lix La­bis­se ́s pain­ting style and to call on him as the ar­tistic aut­ho­ri­ty. But what can I do to re­al­ly do justi­ce to the gre­at sen­se of free­dom in So­fie Arf­wid­son ́s pain­tings? Try to ac­tual­ly gi­ve a na­me to the mys­te­ry?

An­dré Bre­ton on­ce said that the va­lue of the re­al has to un­der­go a fun­da­men­tal in­quiry and the­re­fo­re ”an ar­tistic work must re­fer or hear­ken back to a pu­re­ly in­ter­nal mo­del or it will even­tual­ly cea­se to exist.”

At­tempting to gi­ve so­me kind of na­me to the in­ter­nal mo­del runs the risk of re­mo­ving an ar­tistic work from its tra­di­tio­nal func­tio­nal in­ter­re­la­ti­ons­hips. This as­ser­ti­on must then be im­me­dia­te­ly wi­th­drawn or at least fun­da­men­tal­ly re­vi­sed be­cau­se such func­tio­nal in­ter­re­la­ti­on-​ ships ha­ve al­ways be­en somewhat contri­ved th­roug­hout the histo­ry of art; thus a si­tua­ti­on is crea­ted in which, from to­day’s point of view, they must be both ac­cep­ta­ble and un­ac­cep­ta­ble to us si­mul­ta­neo­us­ly – an au­da­cious, if not un­ten­able, the­sis. When So­fie Arf­wid­son at­tempts to in­cor­po­ra­te the ma­gi­cal­ly mys­te­rious in­to her work she is, to be­gin with, ad­he­ring to an ar­tistic tra­di­ti­on of no­nac­cep­tan­ce of func­tion which holds that the mys­te­rious its­elf is the ac­tu­al ex­pres­si­on of the ar­tistic, the in­te­ri­or dia­lo­gue, the achie­ve­ment of pic­to­ri­al rea­li­ty – pain­tings, in this ca­se, that are enig­ma­tic and that are ab­le to evo­ke mys­ti­ca­li­ty on their own.

Erotic mo­ments are found in So­fie Arf­wid­son ́s work that are so pro­found­ly ren­de­red that they trans­cend the realm of so-​cal­led (os­ten­si­ble) con­ven­tio­nal love and can ac­tual­ly lead in­to a con­di­ti­on whe­re fe­ar ta­kes hold. But then they ha­ve ano­ther si­mul­ta­neo­us ef­fect, one of pro­vi­ding us with a stun­ning be­au­ty, an un­mistaka­ble ten­der­ness ema­na­ting from the fi­gu­ra­ti­ve re­p­re­sen­ta­ti­on. The lu­re of the se­duc­tive is al­most tan­gi­ble and I can al­most smell the bou­quet of the bloss­oms as they sway bet­ween the fi­gu­ra­ti­ons. The de­li­ca­cy, the pain­ting, the bright­ness of the paint its­elf and the ex­pres­siv­en­ess that gi­ves the im­pres­si­on of being sweet: the­se all co­me up against the dark si­de, coexis­ting with the haun­ted, the vi­vid­ly ren­de­red. It is all do­ne by de­sign. When con­s­ide­ring the eroti­cism ema­na­ting from the pain­tings, two si­des of this com­plex dri­ve are re­p­re­sen­ted, both the dark and the bright. An eroti­cism, a se­xua­li­ty, that seeks to be just as thril­ling as it is over­powering be­cau­se it tri­es to ser­ve as a trans­for­ma­ti­ve bridge – a ”yes” af­fir­ma­ti­on but al­so a ”not yet” or a ”not now”! I think that So­fie Arf­wid­son ́s pain­tings re­ach out and touch an ex­ci­ta­bi­li­ty in us view­ers that is me­ant to be a kind of per­mis­si­on gran­ted.

Gi­ving a na­me to the mys­ti­cal and the une­arth­ly can be do­ne in two ways, which ul­ti­mate­ly turns out to be one way when we are dea­ling with pain­tings. One con­s­iders the mys­ti­cal as sim­ply being a con­se­quence of the pic­to­ri­al­ness, the paint its­elf, the amor­phous­ness, all tho­se things that can­not be rea­li­zed by cle­ar, li­ne­al me­ans – we ha­ve found a term for this, which seeks in the histo­ry of art to de­scri­be this po­si­ti­on: Ex­pres­si­vi­ty. Ever­y­thing that is pic­to­ri­al ent­ails the op­ti­on of the mys­ti­cal. Ex­pres­si­vi­ty does not just me­an a for­mal sty­listic ap­proach; ex­pres­si­vi­ty wants to al­so be un­der­stood in a noe­tic sen­se. The mys­ti­cal in this claim of noe­ti­cal re­le­van­ce may not, howe­ver, be re­al­ly un­der­stood. What then? It must al­so be se­en that the­re is a claim to his­to­ri­cal mea­ning that al­so may be un­der­stood noe­ti­cal­ly. As in the ar­tistic re­p­re­sen­ta­ti­on of the Judg­ment of Mi­das in the con­text of the com­pe­ti­ti­on bet­ween Apol­lo and the sa­tyr Mar­syas: the love­li­ness of the pas­tel co­lours of the paint off­sets the se­rious­ness of the the­me es­pe­cial­ly con­s­ide­ring that Mar­syas, the lo­ser of the com­pe­ti­ti­on, will sub­se­quent­ly be flay­ed. Ac­tu­al gru­e­so­m­en­ess is not re­al­ly de­pic­ted in So­fie Arf­wid­son ́s pain­tings but are the­re al­lu­si­ons to it?

The sty­listic de­man­ds sum­mon the aut­ho­ri­ty of a for­mal pro­po­si­ti­on: Ex­pres­si­vi­ty and ex­pres­si­ve de­pic­tions that le­an in the di­rec­tion of ca­ri­ca­ture. The­re is al­so the noe­tic ele­ment in the area of re­fe­ren­ces that must be re­co­gnized, de­si­gned li­ke an ex­posé of pre­dic­tions from phan­tasms. The fairy­ta­len­ess, the enchan­ted­ness, the ma­gic can be de­scri­bed in the words of Hein­rich Hei­ne alt­hough, in the ex­amp­le, he is ac­tual­ly re­fer­ring to a re­ver­sal of mood – his words no­nethe­less re­tain their re­le­van­ce to our sub­ject: ”… it was no lon­ger just the power­ful spell cast by the in­iti­al sur­pri­se, the fairy­ta­len­ess, the com­ple­te­ly un­can­ny emer­gence.”

When So­fie Arf­wid­son ́s pain­tings pro­du­ce a sen­se of fright as well as a sen­se of the ghost­ly this mo­men­ta­ry re­ac­tion of shock is coun­ter­bal­an­ced by the be­au­ti­ful pas­tel lu­mi­no­si­ty of the co­lou­ra­ti­on. And the use of li­ne in the com­po­si­ti­on – fie­ry, fe­mi­ni­nely open, will-​o ́-​the-​wisp, waf­ting and se­duc­tive. But then, why such fie­ry bright­ness?

Be­cau­se be­hind the love­li­ness ever­y­thing that we ima­gi­ne as being rea­li­ty can go up in smo­ke. And rea­li­ty its­elf? Or in this ca­se the rea­li­ty of the pain­ting its­elf? What, pray tell, can the rea­li­ty of the pain­ting be at all? An­dré Bre­ton re­fer­red to an ”in­ter­nal mo­del”. Does every fi­gu­ra­ti­ve con­cep­ti­on pre­da­te so­me­thing that we call me­mo­ry and so­me­thing that we con­nect of ne­ces­si­ty with ideas about trans­for­ma­ti­on – in the way that Ovid de­scri­bed in his ”Me­ta­mor­pho­sis”?

With So­fie Arf­wid­son we con­front a nar­ra­ti­ve mo­ment that appre­hends the exis­tence of me­ta­mor­pho­sis and trans­for­ma­ti­on as a tran­si­ti­on from fa­mi­lia­ri­ty with the world to a rea­liza­ti­on that tran­si­ti­on its­elf is an in­herent fea­ture of life. Words li­ke ”won­drous” and ”dis­quie­ting” and even ”cu­rio­si­ty” may be dis­trac­ting. Are not Eros and Tha­na­tos pos­si­ble in­ter­pre­ti­ve and con­st­ruing con­cepts as a me­ans to un­der­stand the pain­tings as re­gards their ex­pres­si­on and their worth? But then what kind of sen­se can I de­ri­ve if I ta­ke So­fie Ard­wid­son ́s pain­tings to be poe­tic codes? In the end, the mo­tif of trans­for­ma­ti­on and tran­si­ti­on is what is left. With this in mind, I feel it ap­pro­pria­te to add a few ver­ses from Rai­ner Ma­ria Ril­ke to my re­flec­tions.

”Kennst du das, daß durch das Laub­werk Schei­ne fal­len in den Schat­ten, und es weht … : wie dann in des frem­den Lich­tes Rei­ne, kaum ge­schau­kelt, blau und ein­zeln, ei­ne ho­he Glo­cken­blu­me steht: (…)”