Meet Ferdinand Hodler. He was a Swiss painter, and the eldest of six children born to a carpenter in Bern. Widely recognized by the European art community at large during his time, Hodler has since fallen into relative obscurity. He is nonetheless recognized as existing somewhere between Art Nouveau and Symbolism. He started a movement called Paralellism, in which many figures presented in repetitive gestures are shown as if in ritual. By the time Hodler was 14, both of his parents had died of tuberculosis, the same disease which would take the lives of all of his siblings. Of course, constant contact with death touched Hodler, and imbued his works with a strong sense of mortality.
You can sense the visceral fear that one might wake up in the middle of the night to confront death. And for all of Hodler’s legitimate fears of death, he is the one painter I turn to to find peace, serenity, and spirituality in a time of chaos.
You see, I am a senior. We spend so long living our lives on a track. Go to high school. Go to soccer practice. Go to college. and then…? Well, before I tackle the big questions let’s get back to Hodler…
His paintings hint at a forgotten realm, which shine somewhere between fantastic and deathly pale. It is always other-wordly, but somehow it seems to ground itself in this world on earth.
Despite the terror of confronting what might come, Hodler’s figures seem to find a sense of serenity. At some point they accept that they are caught between the forgotten world and the earthly world. There will always be a part of us that wants to float away, escape, find something new and different and entirely “other.” But there’s also a part of us that needs to be grounded in the familiar, that needs belonging.
Belonging seems to take place in some kind of unknown ritual. (What are these women doing?) Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it together. The color and life flow out of these paintings as if to show the power of these rituals. And now that I’m finally forced to face the idea of my life without ritual, without being grounded in some pre-approved plan, I feel the terror of facing the infinite…
No, I’m not facing death, but both are the fear of the unknown in the future. As far as Hodler was able to find a space (even if it only existed in imagined, forgotten, painted worlds) where people could find peace, serenity, togetherness, I think I can find something.
Between not having my thesis, having given up my pet squirrel for adoption (read: replacement-thesis-baby), and staring graduation in the face, I feel a bit adrift amidst the unknown. Seniors, don’t we all (secretly)??
Hodler’s mysterious inner worlds that offer security, belonging, and healing seem to hint to me that it’s out there…somewhere…
and that’s why you should meet Ferdinand Hodler: