The Magical World of Anita Paegle
By Nikita Skorodum (Никита Скородум)
Anita Paegle is an artist of European scale, a fact that should be emphasized. At the same time her work stands outside the direction of Contemporary Art (1), which mostly gravitates towards the avant-garde and destructive. But such is a feature of all truly original artists who create at the call of their own soul, drawing content for their creations from the depths of their subconscious. The surrounding world only has to respond to this inner voice and provide sustenance. All true artists have their own styles and direction, their art is timeless (eternal), and at the same time, being inimitable, it is rooted in its own time. Yet the art of Paegle is similar to miniature painting as well as continuing the tradition of Baltic metropolitan urban art. Riga is often referred to as the capital of Art Nouveau, and the art of Paegle is literally permeated with echoes of this movement, considering her work without referencing this modernist architectural movement is simply unthinkable. She admires the architectural masterpieces of Riga and fills them with her own heroes. Among similar artists stands German book illustrator Werner Klemke, who is considered the most outstanding graphic artist of the second half of the 20th century (2). Both artists are distinguished by their accented graphic quality, the love of the contour, a fine yet pervasive irony, and most importantly – a particular reverence towards the book. They see the book as one whole, and boldly intervene on her enigmatic body, not limiting their role to that of a passive illustrator, but shaping her entire look. According to Herder, a German philosopher well-remembered by Rigans, language - is the axis of national consciousness, without which people lose their identity. And the book – is its materialization, becoming visible language with all its accumulated treasures of knowledge and attitudes to life. Opening a book, we feel ourselves entering a magical world, which is best described by the following words, stated by the King of Romantics Ludwig Tieck:
Moonshine-lighted magic night
Holding every sense in thrall;
World, which wondrous tales recall,
Rise, in ancient splendors bright! (3)
Die den Sinn gefangen hält,
Steig auf in der alten Pracht!
Klemke’s visit to China greatly influenced him; archaic features began appearing in his works rising to the level of archetypes. Goethe once compared his poetic cycle “West-Eastern Divan” with the conquests of Alexander the Great; Alexander the Great conquered Persia, and Goethe with his divan accustomed his German audience to Persian poetry. Paegle had a similarly rewarding journey with her book “Ņau un Murr” (“Meow and Purr”). Images of Agra and great Mughal paintings spring to life on its pages. Flowers scattered on the white background of the book pages reminiscent of the marble ornaments of the Taj Mahal, it evokes the words in a hadith by Ibn Abbas: “If you want to draw a living creature – draw a flower.” (4) The book featured animals dressed in Persian robes behaving in the manner of viziers as if we were dealing with Kalila and Dimna.
Perhaps the presence of Oriental motifs and a direct resemblance to Mughal miniatures becomes most apparent when comparing one of Anita Paegle’s “Ņau un Murr” illustrations to the book “Akbarnama” (the history of the reign of Akbar – one of the most important representations of the Great Mughal dynasty.) Although the similarities in posture and treatment of the main characters (shown falling) strikes upon first glance, the most significant similarities only reveal themselves after thorough analysis, and perhaps they are no easier to find, than the famous intermaxillary bone, found by Goethe. This particular miniature is at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
When comparing the two images, attention immediately draws to not only the light background, but also the division of the sheet into two with a horizontal border (a cornice). This is not an insignificant detail, as the importance ancient Greeks gave to isocephaly is well known. The pupil and closest worker of C.G. Jung, Doctor of Psychology Jolande Jacobi calls the horizontal or vertical division - one of the fundamental features of the manifestations of the unconscious. The vertical division (5) indicates relational issues with the outside world (the left side – represents the soul world and the past, and the right – the objectified reality and future).
Top left: ill. 24 from Jolande Jacobi’s book “Masks of the soul”. Lower left: same, ill. 60
A characteristic feature of Mughal art in general, is a light background, through which images appear inlaid. And in most part, the inlays, as such, could be both marble niches as well as examples of jewellery art. It is interesting to note that generally this tendency is a trend contrasting to the common Islamic one (6), and most likely stemmed from an attempt to blend Indian and Islamic traditions.
In her fundamental research, Jolande Jacobi does not distinguish between professional and non-professional art.
Similarly to Academician Marr, who believed that gesture preceded
verbal speech, Jacobi develops Jung’s concept, according to which the unconscious, deprived of opportunities to communicate directly turns to detours and speaks in the language of images. This is done, for the most part, unconsciously, thus stemming from the nature of the unconscious. In this case, the messages of the unconscious are carried out, at times, with profound meaning. Especially if these messages emanate from the deeper layers where archetypal content (inherent in the collective unconscious) prevails over limited personal interests.
To archetypal messages of such a kind, some sort of frame construction made of two symbols ought to be presented, that does not have obvious direct relations to the content of the book “Ņau un Murr”: Paegle introduced the Nut on the book’s front page and the Jewel (regalia, issued by the German Kurfürst Electors) on the last. The Nut is an important Kabbalistic symbol (to chew a nut – means to join the universal wisdom, the secret knowledge) and in this context, refers to the noumenon or soul.
The jewel is a symbol of recognition and realization. This puzzle may well be regarded as a key visual translation of the intonation of the “edited conversations” (The nalects) by Confucius “Man does not know and he does not complain” (Analects, Xue Er: «人 不知而不慍»). To some, the comparison with Confucius might seem deliberate. However another parallel that is far beyond doubt, is the use of a uniform background light that eliminates perspective. And art in China, with certain restraints, largely applies perspective reduction. There is a known case of a Chinese emperor, who rejected the work of Western artists simply because they used perspective, and thus in his opinion, violated harmony.
Oriental motifs commonly emerge in the work of Paegle; for example, they can be seen in the image of a spirit flying between two chimera gables in the book “Kad karaliene bij Rīgā” (“When the Queen was in Riga”). It seems that we enter the atmosphere of “One Thousand and One Nights”. Perhaps, this statement might seem like a stretch to some. However, no one suspected the extent to which the works of Goethe, for example, are imbued with oriental motifs, before the works of Katharina Mommsen revealed it to the scholarly world. In particular, the fact that Goethe put the “One Thousand and One Nights” on par with the Bible, and he re-read it at a very old age. Speaking of a symbolic puzzle of the Nut and the Kleinod jewel, you can’t dismiss another analogue riddle, quite deliberately offered in the foreground of a famous painting by Carlo Crivelli, a knight, in the Annunciation, which was recently exhibited at the Hermitage. The foreground depicts a cucumber (a symbol of masculinity, insemination) and an apple (a symbol of femininity). The Artist thus indicates the Gnostic, deeper meaning of his creation. And the message goes beyond the linguistic sphere, and acquires immortality. And consequently it has a more profound effect on us than the words of the man standing on a podium. Everyone recognizes that all who are present, and not just the person standing nearby, hear the words of an orator.
Just like Klemke, Anita Paegle is also inclined towards the archaic, allowing it to rise to the level of the archetypal generalizations. With this perspective, her treatment of the children’s book is absolutely justified because regression to a child’s consciousness, according to psychoanalysis, is akin to regressing to a primitive man’s worldview. At the same time, paradoxically, she is close to such an innovator, as Pavel Filonov (Павел Филонов). And here the similarity extends to the art of execution, to the features of the artistic manner, and the work habit of using a thin brush. Or is this a property inherent to all artists of the Fantastic Realism school? The author of this text has had the pleasure of hearing a St. Petersbourg representative of this school Boris Chetkov’s (Борис Четков) talk on being a guest of the Viennese artist Ernst Fuchs, a student of Gütersloh. Chetkov was amazed that Fuchs, standing in front of a large canvas, worked a small watercolour brush. The canvas likens to jasper; the painter’s brush is a bone needle in the hands of a jeweller.
It is a known fact that Mughal art was the product of Persian and Indian
art fusing. The culture of Latvia also emerged as a synthesis of German and Russian influences. Latgale was even called the new Palestine, and in fact it was in Palestine that, uncondensed to one another, the synthesis between Egypt and Babylon originated. Accordingly the art of Paegle promotes closer relations among peoples. Goethe had said that he was given the gift of seeing the world through the eyes of the artist, whose paintings he had previously studied. So therefore all of us look at Riga somewhat through such glasses that were given to us by Anita Paegle. And we should be grateful to her.
(1) In this regard, it continues the Viennese Fantastic Realism, founded by Albert Paris Gütersloh (1887-1898) brilliantly developed in the work of Ernst Fuchs. Of course, fantastic realism didn’t come out of nowhere. There were many predecessors, it’s enough to name a few: Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Henry Fuseli (1744-1516), William Blake (1757-1827), Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810), Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), and yet fantastic realism still stands alone. To paraphrase Heinrich Heine, one can say that it is too deep for the journalistic era.
(2) Horst Kunze„Werner Klemke. Das buchkünstlerische Werk“. Burgart-Presse, Rudolstadt, 1999.
(3) Translation from German, “The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 4” Project Gutenberg 1913-14. Library of Alexandria.
(4) Louis Massignon. Les méthodes de réalisation artistique des peuples de l’Islam // Medieval Arab Culture and Literature. Collection of articles of foreign scholars («Арабская средневековая культура и литература. Сборник статей зарубежных ученых»)– Наука. Home Edition Oriental Literature, 1978. - P. 46-59. C. 50.
(5) Jolande Jacobi. Vom Bilderreich der Seele- Zürich und Düsseldorf, Walter Verlag. 1969, S. 61.
(6) Louis Massignon. Same, с. 51