The story of a love that lasted over time. Inspired by paintings from Anders Scrmn Meisner.
By Harald Kraemer
Four years ago – the world was weird – I had the pleasure to bring some thoughts on paper about the works of Anders Scrmn Meisner. I declared that ASM is “a brilliant narrator, a collector of rare species, a hunter of hidden treasures, a master of strange suspense and a jongleur of riddles.” And I closed with the following state- ment of René Magritte: “We see the world as being outside ourselves, although it is only a mental representation of it that we experience inside ourselves.” With this warning in mind, I would like to start this essay in the form of a story to prove the depth of ASM as a raconteur.
APHRODITE - The Vices of a Goddess
“The Nap” is at the beginning of our story. We see an interior framed by two orna- mental ribbons. A figure with dark ‘hair’ lies on a red sofa. The face (if this figure needs a face at all) is turned away from the viewer. On the left, there is a plant growing into the picture. All too often in the works of ASM plants seem to grow into the picture. Right in the background there is a window with a curtain. Again, this is a recurring theme of this series. This is as far as I objectively can describe the scene. The next element is already ambivalent. I am not sure, if it is a window with a blue curtain in the back or rather another painting in the painting. I am even more uncertain of the lower part of the painting. The white semicircle could well be a carpet on which the sofa rests. Of course, this would be a rather unusual carpet with cloud-like hills or hill-like clouds, a crescent moon and three running dogs, all of which simultaneously lift the left rear leg. If indeed it is a rug, what is the green field, the picture below, which contains a variation of the hills or clouds? The hills or clouds, the crescent moon and the dog are recurrent elements of this series. Who is this figure? Where are we? And what is it all about?
Let us add the work “Early Night / Night Shift”. Here, we have another sleeping person. This time with red ‘hair’. This time the figure is seen from above. The outline of the body lying under the ceiling is indicated. There is a second blanket. The other side of the double bed is empty. Pillows and sheets contain black dots and form an ornament with the blue frame. Somehow Provencal. Six pairs of cherries emerge. Perhaps it is also about equipment for training the pelvic floor muscles. I don’t mind -since cherries have always been sensual fruits and the training with these ‘Venus Balls’ brings joy, we should call the nameless sleeping figure Aphrodite. Whether she is lonely or alone, we cannot say.
In any case, Aphrodite might like flowers, indulge in the passion of smoking, and have a bird as it is portrayed in “Pet Bird / Passive Smoking” in a variety of blended shades of blue. In this work, ASM is not offering us a clear end of the story. Can the smoldering cigarette or even the patched leaves be assigned to the bird? Are the torn states of the leaves be a result of passive smoking too? It is also unclear whether the presence of an absent person is personified by the cigarette and the dog.
At some point – on one of these evenings as “The Men Were Watching Sports” – Aphrodite encounters a soul mate during a walk. Flanked on the right by a brick building and its empty, brightly lit windows and protected by the expansive branches of a huge tree to the left, the two like-minded people walk around under the stim- ulating light of three street lamps. As it turns out, it is a woman from the neighboring house. Her name is Sappho.
SAPPHO or Unfulfilled Passions
Aphrodite had been standing by the window for a long time, spotting the person in the house next door and watching her again and again. They seemed to have the same preferences, the same curtains, the same garment. Did this “Modern Sappho” probably have a dog and loved ornaments? Already this name – Sappho – was promising and alluring.
It was one of those classic “Scandinavian Date Nights” when the two finally came closer. With a view of the shimmering sea in the distance, the whole event takes place in the absence of the two ladies. Nevertheless, they are very present. There are two half-full glasses of red wine and a bottle holding a candle. Aphrodite’s dog is lying on the carpet – waiting. Two birds frame the event one to the left and one to the right. The whole composition is based on a wonderful symmetry, not strictly maintained yet eluded to. The red hills radiate harmony through their black mirrored counterparts. Parallel to the candle in the bottle, in the right half of the picture, a tree with a spreading foliage determines the field of view. To indicate the time the two lovers spend together, ASM gives us two crescent moons that seem to be wandering from top left to bottom right. Through these two moons, ASM not only visualizes the non-simultaneity of passing time, but also emphasizes the simultaneity of the two lover’s togetherness and thus the quality of experiencing this time together as an overall experience.
Nowhere is the unity of this shared experience made clearer than in the most exact repetition. Protected by the ornamental decor of the duvets, “Sappho and Aphro- dite” lie side by side and together. Even the identical head posture of the red-haired couple indicates the emotional closeness. This peaceful unity is also reflected in the greatest passion of the two “Window Lovers”, the hours-long view from the window. Leaning head to head, the two stand in front of the window and watch the nocturnal snowstorm. Emphasizing the symmetrical composition of the ornamental frame, only strengthened by the exception in the different growth of the two potted plants, it shows how harmonious this love is. Lots of cherries and love balls.
In “Waiting at the Cherry House” – some time has passed by now – we face a sad situation. Aphrodite stands alone in front of the nocturnal window. The plants sprout in silence and, although there are plenty of cherries to see, on the windowsill is a skull and it looks at us - eyeless. We do not know exactly what happened, but the loneliness of Aphrodite is palpable. Her grief is timeless – so is her love. Aph- rodite and the skull of Sappho are connected by the flower pot between them. We remember the Decamarone, Keats’s poem, and the different versions of the story in the paintings of Holman Hunt, Waterhouse, and the grand Millais. All this is about love that goes beyond death. It is about Lisabetta or Isabella, as she was called by Keats, who kept the skull of her beloved Lorenzo in a pot of basil. She watered it – close to insanity – with her tears. In “Waiting at the Cherry House”, the left image field already anticipates what will come next. The restless souls. The double skull in the common grave. The lonely dog. The never ending memory of the past. ASM skillfully combines the principle of the billboards of bench singers (Bänkelsang), who serve as predecessors of serial pictorial narratives, with the effect of an epitaph. The simultaneity of non-simultaneity becomes tangible.
Somehow, the story ends as it started – with a woman lying on a couch. Much has happened from “The Nap” to the “Mid-life Therapy Room”. Aphrodite lies on a canapee placed under the magnificently red-flowering branches of two plants crowning the upper image and beneath a full moon that shines over the three blood- red hills in the background. Her hair is no longer red, but black. Although the trio of hills resemble past, present and future, the arrangement nevertheless seems timeless and placeless. What is true of love also applies to the loneliness of this goddess, for the love of the divine and for an earthly one that inevitably ends tragically.
A sad ending. Nevertheless, there is consolation. Although the “Unopened Lovel- etter” sounds like an echo of “Pet Bird / Passive Smoking”, it still has major differ- ences despite all the compositional and color similarities. The central plant grows much more lush out of its pot. A second plant with a pot (Sappho’s skull?) stands next to it. A dog replaces the bird. And instead of the ashtray with the smoldering cigarette, we find the “Unopened Loveletter”. This red letter contains ‘Sappho’s Ode to Aphrodite’. This is the beginning and end of this appeal to the goddess of love.
“Aphrodite, subtle of soul and deathless,
Daughter of God, weaver of wiles, I pray thee Neither with care, dread Mistress, nor with anguish, Slay thou my spirit!
Come to me now thus, Goddess, and release me From distress and pain; and all my distracted
Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling, Still be my ally!”
In her ode to Aphrodite, Sappho, the gifted lyric poet often quoted by Catullah, was venerated by Horace and called by Plato the tenth muse, asking the goddess to help her with her problems of unrequited love for a girl. Whether Sappho’s con- fession of love may have been a more recent reason for her sudden demise in this story, or whether it had other reasons, remains open. We will never know what hap- pened to the goddess herself. ASM gives us just a glimpse of the time they shared. Finally, all that remains for us is a lonely “Dog on Comfort Blanket,” reminiscent of the wonderful and the romantic and tragic, the two-seeded and lonely moments of this story. Time is running out. The ornament remains as well as the faithful and waiting dog.
From the MYTH (of Men)
Men are nonexistent and completely absent from these paintings. They are only present in their non-presence in the title “The Men Were Watching Sports”. The drawings titled “Hidden from the Ghouls”, “Save from the Ghouls” or “Sleeping with the Spirits” are striking that they deal with ghosts and demons. Since the same female characters are present in these motifs, one could well assume that the originally corps-eating ‘ghūls’, which have become quite popular as zombies in our days, could be male beings. Some of the figures appearing in the drawings, depicted in “Modern Cemetery” or in “Sleeping with the Spirits”, are certainly from H.P. Lovecraft’s Ctulhu Myth. Women feared these ghouls and fled from them. In these stories of ASM men find no place.
In each individual work ASM presents us only with a snapshot of a story. It has no beginning and no end and therefore seems to be open to develop in different directions. Nevertheless, it is possible to put these chapters together into a mean- ingful whole. The way ASM shapes and composes his images reminds of Matisse, sometimes of De Chirico and sometimes of Magritte. The stories leave versatile possibilities for interpretation open. The color acts as a connecting element. Despite a strong coloration, the color selection is limited. In addition to black and white, there is blue, red, and finally orange and green tones. These are perfectly matched. Strikingly different, however, is the partly bright color of the drawings, which have stronger contrasts. The picture stories contain much more than they suggest. With the integration of the image into a framed ornament – similar to a Thangka – and the frequent repeated details of dogs, cherries, clouds or hills, curtains, windows, plants, crescent moon and female figures, ASM manages to connect the different parts of the story.
What does Sappho and Aphrodite ultimately stand for? They stand for the finite in the face of the infinite. For the human passions and the divinely unapproachable. For the return of the eternally equal in a new form. Ever and ever. We look forward to seeing ASM surprise us in the future.
by Harald Kraemer
Collecteur & Raconteur, Hong Kong/Basel
I would like to thank my partner Janine Stoll for her energetic support and foresighted planning to show for the first time a selection of these pictures in our offspace lotsremark Projects during Art Basel 2018, as well as to Anders Scrnm Meisner for his supportive collaboration. I also would like to thank Anne-Marie Picco and Bernd Krämer and I am happy with them that they have acquired a wonderful painting with their great instinct for art. And I have to thank my friend Tobias Klein for his indispensable proofreading.