Posts Tagged ‘expressionism’
May 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Fact: August Strindberg could paint. Though he was always more renowned for his plays and novels, he was a prolific artist, producing more than one hundred works over the course of his life. In their brooding expressionism, his paintings were every inch as forward-thinking as his contemporaries—he counted Gauguin and Munch among his friends—and his work received enough notice that in 1894 he published an essay on his methods in a Parisian journal.
Strindberg, who died today in 1912, had an array of interests: at various points, he turned to painting, photography, telegraphy, theosophy, alchemy, and Swedenborgianism, a sect of Christianity that denied the Holy Trinity. The plenitude of his hobbies made him, depending on whom you asked, a polymath, a dilettante, or an insane person.
Strindberg tended to paint only in times of grave crisis, when he found himself too distraught to write. Maybe accordingly his landscapes are seldom sylvan, his seascapes seldom serene, and his skies seldom sunny. In 2001, Cabinet published a well-observed essay by Douglas Feuk about Strindberg’s vatic art:
In his paintings there is always a “motif”—often stormy skies, agitated waves, perhaps a lonely rock by the sea. But these landscapes or seascapes are still half-embedded in the material, like a world in the process of being created. Boundaries and differences are fluid: Air might have the same density as stone, and the rock seems mysteriously fused with the water—as if they were all but different manifestations of the same matter. In fact, the tactile surface in Strindberg's paintings is at times emphasized so much that not only does it provide an image of nature, it also, in part, gives the impression of being nature. In the painting High Sea, for example, there are sections that Strindberg has blackened with a burner, but also patches of a brownish-gray, rough structure that seem to be not so much painted as oxidized, or in other ways created by some elementary process of nature.
May 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Apropos Sadie’s piece about “degenerate art”: today marks the birthday of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of many German expressionist painters whose work the Nazis filed under that dread “degenerate” rubric. Kirchner, who was born in Bavaria, suffered a breakdown when he was serving in World War I; he was plagued with health problems for the rest of his life, and spent much of his time in Davos. In 1937, the Germans destroyed or sold more than six hundred of Kirchner’s works; from Switzerland, he wrote,
Here we have been hearing terrible rumors about torture of the Jews, but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last twenty years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why we founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German. Dear God. It does upset me.
In 1938, fearing that Germany would annex Switzerland, Kirchner shot himself. The Kirchner Museum, in Davos, offers a fifteen-page biography of the artist—a remarkable, if sorrowful, read, full of suffering and exile. I was struck foremost by this prefatory note—intended to introduce his 1922 exhibition in Frankfurt—which Kirchner wrote himself under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle. It finds the painter somewhat desperately planting the idea that he’s reinvented himself, that his illness, and his new life outside Germany, have only bolstered his work. He seems bent on convincing himself of his success as much as anyone else:
The bleak and yet so intimate nature of the mountains has had an enormous impact on the painter. It has deepened his love for his subjects and at the same time purged his vision of everything that is secondary. Nothing inessential appears in the paintings, but how delicately every detail is worked out! The creative thought emerges strongly and nakedly from the finished work. Kirchner is now so taken up with entirely new problems that one cannot apply the old criteria to him if one is to do justice to his work. Those who wish to classify him on the strength of his German paintings will be both disappointed and surprised. Far from destroying him, his serious illness has matured him. Besides his work on visible life, creativity stemming solely from the imagination has opened up its vast potential to him—for this the brief span of his life will probably be far from sufficient.
April 10, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Alfred Kubin was an Austrian artist and, to hazard a guess, a fairly tortured soul. Today is his birthday, and as a peg it’ll have to suffice, though I don’t imagine he was the type to put on a party hat. He was known to live in a small castle in Zwickledt, and his biography includes a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt—the latter on his mother’s grave. His early drawings, shown here, often feature monsters, deformities, disfigurements, human bodies in decay—a grim phantasmagoria of the bleak, the macabre, and the merely unsettling, with a palette that tends toward soot. What keeps me looking at it is some element of detachment in his style, as if a savage disembowelment by a fantastical creature were no big thing; we’re not accustomed to seeing the brutal without the lurid. As Christopher Brockhaus notes, “these drawings revealed Kubin’s abiding interest in the macabre. Thematically they were related to Symbolism, as shown by the ink drawing The Spider (c. 1900–01; Vienna, Albertina), which depicts a grotesque woman-spider at the center of a web in which copulating couples are ensnared. This reflects the common Symbolist notion of the woman as temptress and destroyer.” Not surprisingly, Kubin admired Schopenhauer. Read More »