Monday, 19 April 2010

The Pen of Hermann Hesse

One day I discovered an entirely new joy. Suddenly, at the age of forty, I began to paint. Not that I considered myself a painter or intended to become one. But painting is marvelous; it makes you happier and more patient. Afterwards you do not have black fingers as with writing, but red and blue ones.
 Herman Hesse

I'm interested in the process where the writing instrument is transformed into an art tool. How the writer who thinks in words is drawn into thinking in images. I think it was Freud who said that thinking in images being closer to the unconscious processes, it is rare that a way with words coexists with a gift for illustrations. But there are notable examples of writers who also drew.

Thakeray illustrated his Vanity Fair, indeed intended his illustrations to be an integral part of his novel. Rudyard Kipling used India ink both for editing his work and creating the images that illustrate his stories. Victor Hugo was an accomplished artist using ink in imaginative ways. Herman Hesse too drew from nature using watercolours and India ink.

Schneider writes that Hesse started painting around 1917 probably under the influence of his psychotherapy sessions with C.G. Lang who encouraged him to take up this form of self-expression. Hesse commented on the comforting impact of painting on his life. The author of Sindartha and Steppenwolf delighted in watercolours and painted a series of landscapes, trees, flowers and houses in abstract and realistic styles. But in his later years he abandoned colourfulness and turned to India ink.

Herman Hesse and his pen. Photo from Trash Kulture

Hesse learnt how to incorporate his writing into his drawings "with the ease of a graphic artist, as in the illustration of his poem Ein Traum (A Dream). His rhythmical yet always readable lettering corresponds to the very motif of twilight expressed in dreamy blue shades", writes Schneider. 

"As a poet I would not have made so much progress without painting." Painting had enabled him, as he points out, to take "a detached view of literature".

What do you think about drawing/painting as a means to detach from or attach oneself to literature?

 Hermann Hesse, "Life story, briefly told", trans. Denver Lindley in Egon Schwarz (ed.), Herman Hesse, Sindartha, Demian and Other Writings, Continuum Publishing Co. 1992; Christian Immo Schneider, "Herman Hesse as a Poet and Painter", Central Washington University 5/22/98. See here a Herman Hesse online gallery.

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