be right back
The images in this article cause a certain amount of consternation. We can see various interiors, halls, brick buildings and we think that the artists did quite a good job, but they seem to have forgotten about something. After all, the canvases lack the main character – the human. And yet, the main character is definitely there and it can be many things, depending on our interpretation!
When we look at empty rooms without people in them, it is like carte blanche for our imagination: who was the family who lived in this house with their servants in the nineteenth century? What did the people living in this large space do for a living? And what matters did those waiting in the glass hall come to discuss? As stimulating as such images are for our imagination, they also help us describe the people who aren’t in the frame. The inside of a house or apartment is, to a certain extent, one’s intimate portrait, perhaps even more faithful, than the one in which they show their face or whole figure where reality is often distorted for the sake of appearances. The association that comes to mind in the context of these paintings is set design, like that in theater. Now that our ordinary heroes have left the stage, we can finally take a look at what lurks in the background and beyond.
But the protagonist of these paintings isn’t only the interior design with its furniture, knick-knacks and potted plants, but also something else that can’t be seen – emptiness. To understand it better, let us refer very quickly to the philosophy of the Far East – cultures such as Japan and China. While in the Western world life is based on action (we always have something to do and someplace to go!), in the East it all comes down to being in a more balanced, calm and contemplative way. Meditation, yoga and Zen philosophy are good examples of that mindset.
Emptiness, the way it is interpreted in the Far East, is very prevalent in Asian art and architecture. In painting, we often find Asian painters leave empty spaces on the canvas; the interiors of Asian homes are arranged in a truly minimalist fashion, as it is believed that emptiness creates a comfortable place to live for household members. Last but not least, gardens, instead of numerous flower beds with various plant species, prioritize single trees and a few rocks.
If given enough room, emptiness will create a space for us to be with ourselves – with our thoughts, emotions, reflections. Such paintings, similarly to meditation, can give us respite in a world that requires us to be constantly on the move. Here, we just look and take in blissful peace.
The starting point for this article was the paintings of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, who was able to portray interiors in an extremely sensible way. The intimate atmosphere and light make it possible to discover beauty in what is usually only the background of the composition. But not only Hammershøi deserves the title of the master of interior paintings. In the slide show you’ll find works by a few other artists as well, each with their own style and vision which affirm that, just like people, rooms can also have their unique personality.
transl. Jakub Majchrzak