Boyd Tonkin column: Forget pure art: Munch shows how drama and story can enrich a creative career

The week in books

Unless you have a special interest in Norwegian theatrical and artistic history, it's most unlikely that you will have heard of Kalle Løchen. Until a couple of weeks ago, I never had. However, you will almost certainly know just what his legacy looks like.

In November 1893, aged only 28, the multitalented toast of Norway's bohemian circles – immensely promising both as a painter and an actor – shot himself on a wooded hillside overlooking the harbour of Kristiania (as Oslo was then called). Not coincidentally, maybe, Løchen had made his name in the theatre playing Hamlet to sensational effect.

The dead prodigy had a best friend, also a young painter. A couple of weeks later, this bereft artist exhibited the first version of a work set in exactly the neighbourhood of Løchen's suicide. He wrote that, at the scene, on a day of lurid scarlet skies, he felt "an infinite scream running through nature". Does Edvard Munch's The Scream – since the auction sale last year of one of his four versions for $119.9m, the priciest agony in art history – mourn the burn-out of this beloved shooting star? The evidence looks pretty compelling to me.

To mark the 150th anniversary of Munch's birth, you can until October see 270 of his major works gathered into two Oslo museums for a landmark commemoration of a unique journey. I have reviewed the Munch 150 shows for this newspaper's arts pages; but so much else in his and in his contemporaries' stories demands to burst out of the frame. Quite literally so, in the case of the great "Frieze of Life" sequences, of which The Scream forms part. In Oslo, the paintings have been brought together, liberated from their heavy frames and re-composed into the epic emotional odyssey – the visual novel of a life and of an age – that Munch had originally planned .

Seeing Munch in this deep and rich context made me realise how far, for the avant-garde creators of his generation, visual art, literature, theatre and even philosophy fused into the passionate pursuit of hitherto unrevealed truths about themselves, their society and the natural world around them. But high-stakes artistic revolutions always exact a toll of casualties, and Kalle Løchen was numbered among them. Munch himself passed through a long and alcohol-steeped convulsion. It might very well have sunk his story mid-stream as abruptly as the (often comparable) Vincent Van Gogh's. But he came through, to develop and experiment right up to 1944.

In an ancillary exhibition, west of Oslo near the roaring Haugfoss waterfall (where Munch and his bohemian chums set up their easels), Løchen's own work shows how quickly he evolved. Munch himself called Løchen "indisputably the most gifted painter we had". For both, the theatre, with its staging of the soul and of society, nourished their ideal of painting as a narrative of human struggle.

Literary, dramatic, ferociously psychological, Munch's art so often feels akin to the intellectual world of Ibsen, Strindberg, Nietzsche and the other titans of his time and his milieu. Ibsen fed Munch's imagination from first to last, with craggy late masterpieces such as John Gabriel Borkman and When We Dead Awaken his particular inspirations. The Oslo shows not only display Munch's Ibsen portraits but the remarkable set designs he made in 1906 for a Berlin production of Ghosts at the request of the leading director-impresario, Max Reinhardt. In September, the Rose Theatre in Kingston, Surrey, will again – and for only the second time ever – stage Munch's vision for Ghosts.

Profoundly and gloriously "impure", Munch's paintings – singly and in series – so often resemble novels, plays, poems; even case studies. No wonder devotees of formalist abstraction find this messy, all-too-human Expressionism so hard to take. Leave them to their chilly perfection. For avid readers in the book of life, this story never ends.

'Munch 150': National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo, until 13 October (munch150.no). 'Ghosts': Rose Theatre, Kingston, Surrey, from 19 September to 12 October (rosetheatrekingston.org).

Clinton: the funk that never ends

The new Clinton memoir will cause a publishing sensation. Lowly origins in the American heartland, burning ambitions, a barnstorming path to power, triumphs on the national and world stage; but also sudden swerves of policy, dodgy career moves, betrayal from within, thorny tax and legal tussles, and a matrimonial showdown. No, forget that smug duo in DC. We're talking the Clinton who counts: George, funk pioneer with bands Parliament and Funkadelic, outlandishly coiffured science-fiction showman and captain of the still-moving mothership that teleports from soul to hip hop, James Brown to Snoop Dogg. Next spring, at the age of 72, George Clinton will publish his autobiography with Little, Brown. The great man has remarked, on the record, that "They can take what they can take, but they can't take my story. Cause, DAT'S da SHIT!" You tell 'em, George.

Day breaks, and Brown's hell freezes over

In the wake of Fifty Shades, once-genteel novelists clad themselves in sexy pseudonyms to cash in on the mania for female-friendly erotica. You might think Sylvia Day (pictured), whose third Crossfire romp Entwined With You has just knocked Dan Brown's Inferno off the No 1 slot, would be among them. But no: the "Pisces and first-generation Japanese-American" assures her fans that she has always been Sylvia Day. Unlike her second Crossfire book, Reflected in You, which began life (I kid you not) as… Deeper in You.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future