CHIAROSCURO: Beauty epitomized

Man´s fascination with the contrast between light and darkness, the enigmatic dynamic relation between the two adversaries, which at a certain point, seem to trigger off a sense of the methaphysical, the enigma of existence and death, the limbo between knowing and being clueless, of being happy or miserable, old age and youth, an unfamiliar territory of possibilities or an exhausting battle of dimmed contures and sharp contrasts:

What is hidden in what we see? When do the visual inner images start to blend and become symbiotic with the biophysological stimuli of our eyesight?

What truths or myths do we fail to precise and why are we filled with emotions of vulnerability, curiosity, hope or despair in the flicker of a single candle or a sunset? Why are we so deeply affected by these untold stories taking form in our inner mind whether in music, painting, photography, literature or the elusive dusk or dawn of a landscape? Do we nurse a desire that Life and Death become the same and that our fears may subside by the mysterious, the timelessness, the ultimate peace?

All arts seem obsessed by this mystery, be it an evasive poem or a haunting Mahler Symphony. We seem to be globally spellbound by the phenomenon in this intriguing combat between sense and irrationality, the obvious and the obscure...

Maybe we don´t want to know it all... Maybe eating the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge would rob us of all reason to live. Why live a story we already know?

One of the most lovely poems in Swedish literature deals with growing old and the visual order gradually changes and becomes dim. The poet, Pär Lagerqvist, is not only referring to what we can see but the decay of all our senses and, yet, he insists: ” Det är vackrast när det skymmer”( It is Never as Beautiful As when Fade Sets In). He declares that the starlight becomes stronger, a hidden promise of something we do not know and yet feel a strong urge to pursue..

The chiarosucro of the painters: Carvaggio, George La Tour et altri beautify the objects, be it a stilleben with a bowl of apples or an ageing prostitue modelling as the dying Saint Anne.

Photography quickly made an artform of chiaroscuro or maybe in the infanthood, photography had no other option.

The stars of the cinema such as Garbo, Dietrich or Theda Bara moved around in a constant shadowland beautifully arranged by skilled cameralightening and covered lenses to enhance their faces. Their promotion portraits became all cheekbones, spectacular jawlines and eyes to set a fashion which is lasting and an artform by way of the techniques of retouching and photoshopping which create modernday icons to divine beings which has nothing to do with reality unless we insist to meet the world in a dark room with a candlelight and at a distance...

When I made a shortlived career in the model business, models had either to be picture perfect, that is with stunning and genuine facial beauty, the ”photo models” and the catwalkers who had to have an elegant physique and know how to display a garment. Today it is different. With photoshopping anyone can look breathtaking and for the rest of us we may be fully occupied or not, by a futile battle to try too look like the glamorized images of eight packed manly adbomens with pecs boarding on looking like a woman´s bossom or tall statesque women with milehigh legs displaying melons where their breasts used to be. Filmstars have ursurped the stern rule of supermodels of the eighties and nineties and, like the cinema itself, become grotesque cinemascopic Belgian Blues, expressionless with implants and Botox. The chiaroscuro is gone and so is the enigma.

The manipulation of our bodily features is as old as painting or sculpting. In order to please the patrons upon whom they dependend, the artists were compelled to portray Catherine the Great looking thirty when she was sixty. The Greek and Roman gods and godesses were flawless. The famous or infamous mathematical model of facial beauty, once calculated by the Greek Proclus, is still being regarded as an ideal in the Occident. We forget that the marble white statues once were brightly colored and most of us shudder at the thought. They are often paced in museums with walls painted in Pompei dark red or green colors or placed in shady arcades to divide the bright from the the obscure.The Danish pioneer film director, Theodor Dreyer, inspired by the artistry of Vermeer and Rembrandt was a master in his cinematic settings to enhance his dramas of good and evil, the satanic and the Godly.

Yes, I do believe there is a strong connection between the subconscious, the hidden desires or repressed failures and the merciless reality that attract us to the chiaroscuro. It is not a question of aesthetics solely. We crouch in front of a fire in a dark room casting mysterious shadows on the walls and the roof and yet, we feel that we are but part of something bigger than ourselves and discover thoughts and reflections of our inner self we otherwise are too stressed out to enjoy or dare facing. The fragile subtleness of letting go may be one of the strongest healing powers in a fragmentized and shattered world.

Det är vackrast när det skymmer.
All den kärlek himlen rymmer
ligger samlad i ett dunkelt ljus
över jorden,
över markens hus.


It is the most beautiful at dusk
All the love of the heavens
lies collected in a dark light
over the earth, over the houses on the ground .

All is tenderness, all is caressed by hands.
The Lord himself erases far away shores.
All is close, all is far away.
All is given man as a loan.

All is mine, and all shall be taken from me,
soon all shall be taken from me,
The trees, the clouds, the ground where I’m walking
I shall wander alone, without a trace.

Douglas 2012