The Hands

Artists grow bolder when drawing on the taboo areas of sexuality, disease and death. At the same time they are drawn to and unsettled by the transcendent. They polarise the body and spirit even though they deem them inseparable. They confront this fact as a personal dilemma and deal more often in their works with the relationship between the physical and the inner life, a theme they now reconceptualise in diverse ways. For example, they attribute to certain bodily organs the ability to testify as to personality or soul: we may learn many things from a hand or eye seen as a mechanism associated with creativity, or hair as emitting a “magic” fluid. The entire physical construction, including gesture, speaks to us.

In the narrative of the English pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti entitled Hand and Soul, the soul of the painter Chiaro appears to him in female form and invites him to acquire complete self-knowledge, the prerequisite of genuine creativity and a meaningful life: “I am an image, Chiaro, of thine own soul within thee. See me, and know me as I am.. […] take now thine Art unto thee, and paint me thus, as I am, to know me […]. Do this; so shall thy soul stand before thee always, and perplex thee no more.”

In the work of Maxmilián Pirner, best known for his pessimistic, mythologising paintings, the physical and spiritual world clash more often than they harmonise and unite, and their struggle confirms the eternal instability and dissatisfaction of human life. However, the way these paintings drift into allegory reveals that such qualities are not insurmountably separated, and that the body can bear witness to the inner life and become the expression thereof. Both exhibited sketches can thus be interpreted not merely as anatomical studies, but also as attempts to see through a simple physical manifestation to the spiritual cause thereof.


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