Tuesday, August 17, 2010

trichterfeld bei dontrien, von leuchtkugeln erhellt

i've had a re-discovery. i first saw this print at uw madison's chazen art museum. madison has a spectacular collection of 20th century german and austrian prints, and since i took a couple of 20th century art courses there under a professor who's written books on max beckmann--a prominent german expressionist--i was bound to see these prints at some point.

this particular one was laid out on the table in the chazen's print room, along with some other ones that i barely remember. there was a striking emil nolde, and a paul klee. but more than those, even though i studied them intensely, and even wrote a paper on the klee... the otto dix print,
trichterfelt bei dontrien, von leuchtkugeln erhellt (craterfield near dontrien, lit up by flares), 1924, part of the der krieg (war) cycle has stuck with me.

i'm not sure what it is about seeing a piece of art in person. even if it is just a print. there's something about the texture of the paper, the ink, the penciled-in numbered edition, and signature in the corner. it's one-of-a-kind, even in a cycle that may have printed fifty or a hundred of the same image. someone took a block or a stone and they pressed it down on that paper and made an image out of a scratched surface, ink, and paper. these simple things together, done well, can bring a hand to one's heart.

it's nearly abstract. it's so simple, and yet the emotional and even physical implications of a crater field in world war I france are massive. it could be the surface of the moon; one might even guess that it is if it wasn't within the context of the rest of the cycle. it stands out to me, also, because it differs greatly from the rest of the works into the series. the national gallery of australia has a good article on this series, along with some other images from it.

i'm not sure why it has stuck with me so much more than other prints from this era. i have a fondness for german expressionist prints and woodcuts, so it's no surprise that one would remain engrained over time. it must be the emotion of such a simple, seemingly empty image.

dix is not necessarily my favorite german expressionist. his work is amazing. but it is also disconcerting. it's that disturbance factor that makes me love it and loathe it simultaneously. his art came from a deep, dark place, rooted in the misery of death and war in early 20th century europe. that, of course, is what makes it as fascinating as it is.

below, just because it's arguably his most famous painting, and because it's awesome (and yet, in its own way, still disturbing) dix's
portrait of the journalist sylvia von harden, 1926:

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