Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"Passing Through"

"The Asiatic Company Buildings", 1902, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Oil on Canvas, 158 x 166 cm, Private Collection, On Loan at the Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen

Ship's mast gently swaying through the empty space. Greyish and low sky, almost ominous. Empty. Emptiness, all around. Uncompromising loneliness before the picture, yet I do not feel sad or threatened. The line from the water reaches the one from the clouds, as if hiding what lies beyond. What should lie beyond. The open sea, the light, the movement, the freedom. Leaving dry land for good. Instead, the perfect symmetry of the Asiatic Company Buildings, from Strandgade 30 in Copenhagen, viewed not from Hammershøi's apartment – his flat was situated directly opposite the company buildings – but from the road facing them.

Hammershøi used a photograph of the building, as a reference for his painting. There is no pavement or cobbled stones on the foreground, and the wings of the building on both sides of the picture increase the feeling of abstraction. Alienation? Geometry and stillness. I cannot but believe that this was deliberate. Hammershøi gave his painting a bare-looking appearance, in order to embark us on the real journey. Nothing is really what it seems. The ship's mast is as far as I will get. The sea never really within reach, because something will happen to me, long before I even reach the jetty. Everything is possible. Straight ahead through the gatehouse? To the left? Perhaps.To the right? Through, through, through.

My eyes, my mind mesmerized by the magical quietness of this cityscape. The sense of melancholic introspection, the muted tones, the invitation, irresistible. "People hardly ever come here!". The Asiatic Company Buildings come alive, grow inside my mind, passing through layers of blindness and distraction. I needed to come here to really see them. See the picture. What's inside. From within. And beyond. Sailing away, when there is so much to see, here and now? Look at the sky, the air, already opening all the doors and the windows of the world, real or imaginary. Look at all the beauty scattered in every grain of the picture, throughout the texture of the painting. Hammershøi followed his obsession to the end. Passing through the loneliness and precariousness of life, his, mine and yours, from painting to painting. There I was, passing through as well. All the world at the stroke of a brush. Just right there, you see? 

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