Painter Matthias Grünewald fascinates me because, looked at a certain way, he never existed. First, there was no such a person as Matthias Grünewald. The name is a bastardization of Mathis Gothardt Nithardt, the artist's real name. Second, Mathis Gothardt Nithardt the man existed more as a gateway between two worlds than an artist with a particular style. Really, we know precious little about him. What we do know is that he lived at a cusp point between the late Gothic and Renaissance periods in art history. While Albrecht Dürer, his brilliant contemporary, embraced the Renaissance and all that it represented intellectually, Grünewald (I'll call him that for convenience's sake, since that is how he is referred to on every art website) remained lost in the hallucinatory ecstasy of a full-fledged belief in the gospels. Yes, Dürer and other Renaissance artists possessed faith in the Church, yet only Grünewald of all the artists who came under the technical influence of the Renaissance, retained a Gothic or medieval sensibility. It was this combination of Renaissance technique and Gothic/medieval passion that made him not only unique, but also magical. The Renaissance spelled the dawn of the modern age in Western society. However, there was a tremendous price to be paid: a loss of ecstatic experiences wherein an artist's imagination was bond to a paradigm that lent structure to even the fiercest hallucinations. Of course, it all came down to faith, which, understandably, poses problems today. Religious fanaticism has replaced communism as America and Western Europe's great bugaboo. We fear fanaticism both internally (the so-called religious right) and externally (Islamic Jihad). I cannot emphasize enough how different it was for an artist like Grünewald, who could not conceive of existence without faith, without belief, and, perhaps most of al, without giving his imagination free rein to envelop what he believed with every fibber of his being were the palpable truths of the bible.
The root image in Demon Sketch, the above animation, was sampled from a detail in The Temptation of St. Anthony panel in the Isenheim Altarpiece, Grünewald's masterpiece. The detail is of demons tormenting St. Anthony. Although I have never seen demons in a waking state, I have glimpsed them in dreams - mere glimpses I quickly forgot upon awakening. Alas, my soul is bond by my mind, my mind by my soul, and so I read the bible with an analytical frame of reference. For me learning to read was part of an elaborate induction into what the Western world deemed logistical thinking. Until I became introduced to computers and their fluid cross-referencing of images and text, writing seemed unnatural. It was as if fixing my mind on words shut a door on mental processes that might free me from a way of living entirely dependent on subordinating emotional states instead of transforming them, as Grünewald did through painting. Demon Sketch is meant to suggest those glimpses I caught of demons in my dreams, for the Illuminated Sketchpad section of Illumination Gallery is the perfect place to flesh out inner realms previously denied me not so much from a lack of belief in their existence, but because I had lost faith in their potency. With every day that goes by, my demons become more and more precious...more and more a temptation to me.
© 2004 Peter Schmideg