SPOTLIGHT: Stan Brakhage

Following from our post looking into the realm of the ‘Hyperreal’, we are continuing to explore avenues of painting we haven’t typically discussed within our online features. The world of moving image is something we don’t typically host at the gallery so this immediately presented itself as a phenomenon worth investigating. Through this research we came across Stan Brakhage, an artist working from 1952 – 2003, who experimented with both moving image and paint. Perfect! The piece below from 1987 is titled ‘The Dante Quartet’, and is simply astounding.

Divided into four parts, ‘The Dante Quartet’ explores the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, acting as a sort of visual representation (or interpretation, you be the judge) of the seminal literary wonder, Dante’s Divine Comedy. However what we found most intriguing about Brakhage’s piece is his personal affiliation with the words of Dante:

“Then comes a moment when suddenly I can’t handle the language anymore, like I can’t read one more translation of The Divine Comedy, and suddenly I realize it’s in my eyes all the time, that I have a vision of Hell, I have even more necessary kind of a way of getting out of Hell, kind of a springboard in my thinking, closing my eyes and thinking what I’m seeing […] and also purgation, that I can go through the stages of purging the self, of trying to become pure, free of these ghastly visions, and then there is something that’s as close to Heaven as I would hope to aspire to, which I call “existence is song”. And that all of that was in my eyes all the time, backfiring all these years. It’s lovely that I can have the language, but I also have a visual corollary of it, but that is a story.”
Stan Brakhage - 'The Dante Quartet' film still

Stan Brakhage – ‘The Dante Quartet’ film still

It would then appear that Brakhage is producing this experimental film to rid himself of these visions of Hell, creating a new form of poetry in itself. Taking six years to produce, this 8-minute piece involved Brakhage painting directly onto lengths film to create the incredible montage of still images we see fleeting before our eyes. The piece became a very personal journey for Brakhage, who went through a marital breakdown intertwined with a personal crisis, so realted to each stage of the film on a very deep level.

“I made Hell Itself during the breakup with Jane Brakhage and the collapse of my whole life, so I got to know quite well the streaming of the hypnagogic that’s hellish. Now the body can not only feed back its sense of being in hell but also its getting out of hell, and Hell Spit Flexion shows the way out – it’s there as crowbar to lift one out of hell toward the transformatory state – purgatory. And finally there’s a fourth state that’s fleeting. I’ve called the last part existence is song quoting Rilke, because I don’t want to presume upon the after-life and call it Heaven.”
Stan Brakhage

Stan Brakhage

As well as being aesthetically incredible, Brakhage has created a deeply poignant piece, and we here at The Strand cannot help but be mesmerised at this beautiful film and the message it delivers.

All images and film © Stan Brakhage

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