Munch’s ‘The Scream’, Art, Depression and Bombed Out!
ABove Photo: Detail from Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.
“October 26 1980 – Watched a programme on Edvard Munch’s painting, ‘The Scream’. I feel my life is closing in. My routinised days merge into one long, continuous boring day, relieved only by brief, intermittent bouts of optimism.”
When I was writing my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out! and selecting diary extracts, in my desire not to stuff the book with going-nowhere crap, sometimes I overlooked extremely important events which, looking back, I’m furious with myself for not having included.
One such event was the Edvard Much exhibition I’d gone to at Liverpool’s Walker Art gallery, which was held from 6 October – 16 November 1980. I’d watched a TV programme about his painting ‘The Scream’ which focused on the painter’s inner turmoil at the time he’d conceived it, and how that state of mind could be seen in the end result.
Munch said about The Scream:
“I was walking along the road with two of my friends. Then the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy. I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature.”
I’d never heard of Munch before that programme and I had no time for Art either, to be honest. I had more important, real-life shit to be dealing with. Also, not having an artistic bone in my body, paintings and their meaning seemed totally irrelevant to my life of high-pressured, penniless and relentless studying while I was on the dole.
But, as mentioned in Bombed Out!, I was going through some serious psychological issues of my own back then, and this programme about The Scream really made an impact.
In a remarkable coincidence, I then discovered there was a Munch exhibition on at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery that same week, and I resolved to go and look at this painting and his others on display.
I found incredible tranquility in the art gallery that day, admiring Munch’s masterpieces. The in the other galleries, looking at paintings from different periods of British and European history, I was staggered by the beauty of the paintings. It was the first time I’d ever been ‘moved’ by Art, and it had happened by accident.
From that day on, my girlfriend Liz and I used to go into the gallery regularly to look at paintings, making up our own minds about what was good, what was bad, what we liked and what we didn’t. Art had suddenly and unexpectedly entered our lives.
Realising the power of paintings, and especially the emotional solace that Art could provide was a very powerful feeling and one that gave me considerable psychological support at a very difficult time in my life. I was only eighteen years old, so I was still growing up, but it was fucking tough and depressing back then, and I’ve never, ever forgotten it.
I can’t believe I left all this out of the book, although, as readers will know, one passage in particular in Bombed Out! is a graphic and literal personal representation of the deep anguish depicted in Munch’s painting.
I have added a couple of diary extracts below to indicate my state of mind and my life back then.
October 26, 1980: I’m in a funny situation – generally secure yet insecure, confident yet filled with doubt and insecurity about my present and future. October is always very depressing, especially around the time the clocks going back. Inside and outside the house there is an atmosphere of depressing, oppressive stagnant dullness. It’s the same in my mind. It HAS to be a phase. I need a job to relieve the routine of day to day living on the dole and studying.
29 October Went to the job centre again – nothing. I was quite depressed. I just aspire to being happy and content inside myself. Went to the Munch exhibition in the Walker Art Gallery. l liked ‘The Sun’ and ‘Women on a Bridge’. I loved walking around the art gallery – a marvellous experience, wholly absorbing. Some paintings were beautiful and captivating…
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