A Plant-Saint Or, May Be, A Plant-Sorcerer


Emil Nolde, “Green Head Above Red Cloak”

The very idea of the sainthood (or, may be, sorcerer-hood) amidst plants is, softly speaking, bizarre, but not for Nolde, who is amongst those artists who have transcended the borders of bizarre and uncanny, without becoming fairytale tellers.

The archetypal semantic configuration of mother-nature is a reflection of (human) child’s primordial need for mother, her care and her warmth, and as such a concept which distorts the nature’s reality as otherness in relation to human existence. Until we will not recognize the otherness of nature we are doomed to psychologically stay like children who treat mother-breast as an inexhaustible and guaranteed generosity. Western civilization is marked by the psychological complex of innocent (not mediated by critical self-reflection) consumerism of mother-nature’s plenitude, which includes earth’s layers of natural resources for our satisfaction.

The concept of nature as a father figure, on the other hand, reminds us that nature has a right for its otherness, for its it-ness and its selfness, for its freedom, that we have to include into our position towards nature in the form of respect for its independence. We have to learn something like reasonable and rational moderation in our expectations from nature. We have to invent a commonsense compromise between our and nature’s needs as an alive, living creature, if we don’t want to become victims of its revenge (which is already starting to take place).

The Flora-Saint or Flora-Sorcerer’s head/face is, “naturally”, green, as he (and his wholeness) is supposed to be, but the artist, probably, in order to recognize and emphasize his supernatural while staying “natural” status (being part of nature) puts on him – on the plant – a red cloak. Nolde puts on a plant-Saint the metaphor of human blood! But the chlorophyll head is above (presides over), as if, the blood-body.

From the position of humans (unconsciously comparing the sorcerer’s plant-body with the human body as a model), the saint/sorcerer’s left hand is like being underdeveloped or even crippled. His hair is like his face – quite green, while his mouth can be taken as predatory, but it can be smiling. Also, may be, plant-sorcerer is expressing through his grimace the fact that he feels nearness of human beings to the painting which is his abode.

But, may be, he talks to his God of plants. May be, he doesn’t want blood instead of chlorophyll and is inclined to refuse the gesture of the good will on part of the painter in the name of human race. Anyway, we have to try again and again to restore our relations with nature, pressured by global warming and acts of human disrespect and predatory-ness. We have to follow the example of Emil Nolde. We have to find a way to negotiate with nature. Although achieving it is especially unlikely – considering that we cannot even talk with other humans – we prefer the language of commands, blackmail, bribes, missiles and drones. May be, Nolde’s father-nature saint or sorcerer can teach us humility and wisdom.


Emil Nolde (1909)