Edvard Munch is best known for his iconic painting “The Scream”, but he was a prolific artist whose work was revolutionary for its time. He painted his emotions, or how an incident made him feel, rather than trying to recreate the external reality.
Artist and author Steffen Kverneland has created an unusual biography of Munch in his book Munch, part of the Art Masters Series. He explores Munch’s motivations behind his work, as he examines seminal moments and people in the artist’s life. The illustrations are masterfully drawn, in many different styles; Kverneland uses one style for the main storyline, for example, but another, more realistic type to delineate Munch’s own recollections. There are also drawings that include photos of the author and his collaborator, or photos of places where Munch found his inspiration. Many of Kverneland’s drawings in the book are done in the style of Munch’s own paintings and drawings, fully immersing the reader in the world of Munch that Kverneland wishes to recreate.
“People who passed by looked so foreign and strange and he felt they were staring intensely at him — staring at him — all these faces — pale in the evening light.”
Unfortunately, Kverneland feels the need to dwell on the most salacious aspects of Munch’s life, almost to the exclusion of anything else. He and his collaborator found a particular incident in the artist’s life that they felt was so central that they drew it again and again and again – their own interpretation of the event. The recreation of Munch’s paintings is interesting; the author’s prurient imaginings much less so; the book was much more autobiographical of the author than biographical of Munch. Important relationships were only barely touched on, such as with his aunt and siblings, and with his father. These obviously had enough of an impact on Munch’s life to be threaded throughout his writings, yet the author disregarded them for a fleeting liaison. The drawings are overwhelmingly lecherous and smutty, and give a skewed, one-dimensional vision of a complex man. It is an unfair biography of his subject, and an unbecoming use of the author’s talents.