Art Bathing Talk - Online Only · Every Other Thursday · One work
Art Bathing
Online Only    Every Other Thursday    One work
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, / There is a rapture on the lonely shore, / There is society, where none intrudes, / By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: / I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Lord Byron
The neologism Shinrin Yoku or Forest bathing was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries specifying the making of contact and taking in the atmosphere of the forest. This poetic coinage, describing an activity as old as humanity itself, was most probably introduced to increase the physical and psychological wellbeing of the city dwellers.
Immersing oneself with nature, taking in the all-surrounding being of the forest, breathing its crisp air and hearing nothing but the rustling of the leaves is proven to enhance the activity of natural killer cells and the expression of anti-cancer proteins (study 2007). Additionally, it is proven to lower the blood pressure, pulse rate and promote lower levels of cortisol (study 2010).
Forest bathing is the antonym of our 24/7 urban lifestyle. It is an embracive experience that activates all our senses allowing the mind to wander, liberating it from rigid patterns and thought loops. Inhaling the phytoncides (airborne chemicals that protect plants from rotting and insects) while walking past meandering streams, witnessing the play of light reconnects us with the soil, shadows and silence that have slowly disappeared from our ever-growing cities.

Originating from the ancient Greek the term Metropolis means “mother city” referring to the city that sends out settlers or the original city with whom the settlers retained cultic and political connections. Although various cities have flourished from the third millennium BC cities are still the most artificial habitat mankind has ever lived in as William F. Ogburn remarks. Due to this relatively short adaptation period we were not able to adapt satisfactorily to these “closed” environments. Resulting in a myriad of challenges like plummeting birth rates, growth in impersonal crimes, high densities of traffic, excessive illumination and more pollution. Attracted by the economic opportunities that are generated by the concentration of great wealth, the enchanting siren call of the city echoes into the most remote corners of the earth.
In the nineteenth century this attraction would create a new type on man, the Man of the Crowd as Edgar Allen Poe would call him in his eponymous story or the Flâneur as Baudelaire would name him. For this urban explorer, the street as a public space is his natural habitat.
Today 55% of the world’s total population live in urban centres. By the year 2030 60% of the world population will live in urban centres whereby the number of megacities, currently 33 worldwide, is projected to rise to 43 by that year.

Since the Middle Ages artists have created real and imaginary landscapes that depicted nature, urban centres or merged both worlds. Evolving from background scenes of religious subjects (Fra Angelico’s “Noli me tangere”), to more realistic depictions of landscapes (The Limbourg Brothers “Trés riches heures”), depiction of nature as the artist saw it (Tiziano Vecceli “Orpheus and Euridice”), detailed and dramatic landscapes of Peter Paul Rubens (“Landscape with the Ruins of Mount Palatine in Rome”) Arcadian landscapes (Nicolas Poussin “Landscape during a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe”) romantic landscapes that aroused the imagination of the beholder (William Turner “Lucerne by Moonlight”) Impressionistic landscapes that captured the tones and reflections of light (Claude Monet “Poppy Field near Vetheuil”), to the prismatic qualities of Paul Cézanne’s Mont Saint Victoire.
Intrinsically always interwoven with the Zeitgeist, its commissioners and the progressing industrialisation, the viewer is visually invited to look, see and gaze at the endless vastness of the landscape. Transcending consciousness while visually exploring these alternate windows on reality.
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“I am now mainly painting faces and landscapes; I am obsessed day and night by the vision of faces and colours. And the spiritual vision is my mystical world.”
Alexej von Jawlensky (c. 1917/18)
Born in 1864 near Torschok (Russian Empire), Alexej von Jawlensky lived and travelled extensively, most of the time voluntarily, to lively cities and to the quieter countryside. After his father died his family moved to Moscow where the young man discovered his interest in art. During his military service the aspiring artist asked to be transferred to Saint Petersburg so he could attend the Russian Art Academy in the evenings. It is Ilja Repin, the renown Realist painter, who refers him to his former student, the wealthy Baroness Marianne von Werefkin to take up oil painting classes. Von Werefkin quickly recognizes Jawlensky’s talent and gives up her own career in order to support her young protegee.
In 1896 Jawlensky traded his home country for Germany where he ran, together with Marianne von Werefkin and her servant Helene Nesnakomoff, who became in 1902 mother of his son, a lavish household in the Giselastrasse in Munich. Within no time their house became a gathering point for notable artists, authors, musicians and critics. It is here in Munich where Jawlensky developed his lifelong friendships with Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Franz Marc. Munich was also the starting point of many trips to the countryside like Murnau, Bretagne (F) and Bordighera (I) but also to electrifying metropoles like Paris. The city unfolded possibilities to show his works in group exhibitions at Galerie Thannhauser in Munich and Galerie der Sturm in Berlin as it enabled him his first solo exhibition at the Ruhmeshalle in Barmen (now Wuppertal).

Their mundane city life ended abruptly with the start of World War I when Jawlensky and his household were ordered to leave Munich within 48 hours. Furniture, artworks and their beloved cat had to be left behind as they could only take with them what they could carry by hand. After a humiliating deportation to Switzerland they were able, thanks to the mediation of the Geneva based family Chruschtschow, to rent a small house in the sleepy fisher’s town St. Prex. Within 48 hours their active social life had become non-existent, Jawlensky’s sales possibilities had shrunk to almost zero and the house was so small that none of the members of the household had their own private room. Forced by the isolation of this quiet place his choice of daily activities narrowed down to solely focusing on the creation of new images. No painting en plein-air but a steady creation of variations on variations of the landscape that he observed from his tiny window. Although the principle of repetition implied a serious limitation of his subjects, it strengthened his pictorial focus in unprecedented ways. Visually meditating on the same subject over and over again, like Claude Monet’s visual contemplations on the Cathedral of Rouen and Paul Cézanne’s pictorial ruminations on the Mont Sainte-Victoire ultimately resulted in the transformation of this narrow-cut window view into otherworldly mental landscapes bursting of form, colour and movement.

Clemens Weiler who wrote Jawlensky’s first autobiography gave a meticulous description of what the artist saw from this small window in St. Prex. He described that when the weather was good, the artist was able to see the shimmering surface of Lake Geneva with its towering mountains on other side. It was on one of those days in the year 1915 that the artist painted Genfer See mit Blauem Berg.
Isolation and the accompanying solitude had confronted the artist with his inner being. Void of any details that could interrupt the internalization of the landscape and without points of reference with regards to the geographical conditions except for the title, it becomes clear how far the artist had removed himself from the visual reality. Patches of colours liberated themselves from the subject matter assigning the viewer a dynamic and creative role in the perception of the work.
Having stopped differentiating between the exterior and interior reality the artist turned the landscape into a spiritual landscape. Embracing this outer and inner silence allowed Jawlensky to adjust and train his focus. Eventually leading to a more mindful perception of his surroundings creating a profound timeless visual experience that transcended the boundaries of time and space.

(Text by Drs. Quirine Verlinde)
Alexej von Jawlensky, Genfer See mit Blauem Berg 1915, Oil on linen-finish paper, laid down on cardboard, 10.2 × 14 inch (26 × 35,5 cm)
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Warm regards,

Laszlo von Vertes & Team
Bahnhofstrasse 16
8001 Zürich Switzerland