Rainy Heritage, Work & Analysis


Rainy Heritage, Nikolas Basch
Rainy Heritage, Nikolas Basch
Click here to see fullsize image.

Hey everyone — just came back from the Museu d’Art in Bilbao and it was incredible. There was this one  work by Nikolas Basch (Scandinavian, I think Finnish?) that really caught my eye. So I did a little research and found a fascinating little excerpt by the art critic Ngutu Jenkins. Check it out!


(Excerpt from Ngutu Jenkins, “Symbols, Cymbals, and Senegal: The Influence of North African Music on the Art of the Third Millennium.” (Capetown Press: 2007), pp. 187-90.)

Rainy Heritage characterizes Nikolas Basch’s later movement, dubbed his “symbologist period” by some scholars. Basch himself wrote of his desire to “be blunt, heavy-handed, and to insult the ‘intel-allegiance’ of my audience.” Indeed, this work is saturated with crude symbols that “give themselves away like nickel-and-dime prostitutes.” Little wonder then that this transformative period in the artist’s career was initially received with disdain. To see the classically trained painter using such primitive methods was a source of discomfort for contemporary art critics.

Basch’s intention was, at least in part, “to be the Martin Luther of paint. To cut out the tongues of the critics, the art priests, and connect my art directly with my crowd. To produce something for which there are no words, only vibrations and intuitive understanding.” Yet in this aim he has most certainly failed, since even today critics still disagree about the meaning of Basch’s work & the significance of his symbols. Our tongues, it seems, remain safely intact.

In order to grasp the meaning of Rainy Heritage, we must first familiarize ourselves with the painting’s subject, seen at the bottom right. This man is believed to be Bernaldi G. R. Vâlençia, a Brazilian sculptor and friend of Basch. The evidence that this is Vâlençia extends beyond his clothing, which bears some similarity to the flag of Brazil. The colors of the rainbow are blue, green, red, and violet (BGRV), spelling out Vâlençia’s initials. This revelation is absolutely critical, and sheds more light on significance of the work’s title.

For it is heritage that is the real subject of the painting. The rainbow, like the flag, is an emblem of inherited existence. Vâlençia is wrapped up in the cloth of his country, but he also stands under the noumenon of his name. & Basch leaves little doubt as to how these influences impact his artist friend. Rain pours down on Vâlençia, whose helpless little palms are extended skyward. His body bloated with poison rain, we can almost see Vâlençia’s sticklike legs trembling under all that dead weight. The sight of him fills us with a mix of pity and disgust. Rainy Heritage is thus a lamentation of everything inherited, everything we are given at birth. Such an interpretation also gives more meaning to another work that Basch painted around the same time, entitled Happy Naked Man with Umbrella.

If this were all there is to Rainy Heritage, it would not have sold for $145 million in 2007. The lingering enigma to the painting is its form. Why did Basch choose such a crude style to express his point? Some critics maintain that such expression adds to the satirical nature of the painting. While I don’t disagree that his sloppy brushstrokes have a satirical effect, I hardly find it convincing that satire was the cause of the form. Rather, I believe Basch is actually trying to have us question the authenticity of the traditions under which Vâlençia is so utterly paralyzed. Could it be that country, name, & family are self-imposed constructions? Bootleg burdens? Were they real, perhaps they would be more realistic. Which brings us to the rain, anomalous in its totalitarian accuracy & rigid straightness. If anything is real, it is the rain – the downpour of human misery. But Basch wants us to question if Vâlençia is correct in ascribing it to heritage. & once we do that, we realize that the true source of rain is the cloud; an image so simple we had ignored it altogether. Thus Basch craftily leads us astray with his symbolism, and it is only after a great deal of erroneous pondering that we see the simple answer that was with us all along. The cloud is the truth; we know this because it is not a symbol. The rainbow and the clothing are lies; we know this because they are symbols.

& the nature of the cloud, the nature of truth? Basch gives us no answers in Rainy Heritage. But in this work we do see the germ of what would blossom into Basch’s greatest and final period, his arrival at “precise truth”. Rainy Heritage thus serves as a kind of bridge connecting Basch’s heavily sarcastic symbologist period to his ultimate and enlightened period. In this way, a thorough analysis of the painting can itself yield a tentative path to nirvana.


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