photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
for some reason around 2001 i became deeply interested in the VIENNA SECESSION MOVEMENT of the late 19th and early 20th century and related AUSTRIAN artists such as GUSTAV KLIMT, OSKAR KOKOSCHKA and EGON SCHIELE. with the later two there was an EXPRESSIONISTIC and VISCERAL nature to their paintings that i found compelling, especially when held in comparison to GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST painters like EMIL NOLDE and ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER from roughly the same period and later NEUE SACHLICHKEIT ("NEW OBJECTIVITY") painters like OTTO DIX, GEORGE GROSZ and MAX BECKMANN. SCHIELE in particular was just so EXRREME in his depiction of HUMAN FRAILTY with his nudes. there is an ingrained sense of PHYSICAL DETERIORATION and DISFIGUREMENT with the SALLOW skin, BLANK UNADORNED countenances, oblique sight-lines and CONTORTED corpse-like postures against a WHITEWASHED floating background that put the emphasis front-and-center on the nude figure in a PROVOCATIVE manner. i was taken with SCHIELE's work immediately as a teenager.
my mother on the other hand, initially was revulsed and put off by those nude paintings and that reaction is pretty common. his work can be interpreted as RAW, BLEAK, UNROMANTIC and CONFRONTATIONAL in the extreme. i was lucky enough to visit the scenic CZECH village of CESKY KRUMLOV where SCHIELE lived and his gallery is stationed, in between stops in VIENNA and PRAGUE on a trip with my father in 2002. where that capacity for depicting the human form in such a blemished, convulsive and wholly compromised state is rooted i will never know.
but i saw that unflinching artistic gaze and capacity to depict REPRESENTATIONAL REALITY "as is" as a sincere form of EMPATHY and COMPASSION, not DEBASEMENT, PITY or SCORN. and such is also the opinion and central thesis of the recent GERMAN documentary EGON SCHIELE: BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE (METAFILM, 2018), which recounts not only the life and impact of the painter on future GERMAN-speaking artists, but also the story of how his work grew over time to be celebrated on the same level as his peer, predecessor and one-time mentor KLIMT, whose own art in dialogue almost feels like an INVERSION of sorts in terms of TONE, TECHNIQUE and INTENT with that of SCHIELE. KLIMT's work was a celebration of the body and its status as a vessel for PLEASURE, VITALITY and REJUVENATION. with SCHIELE, his work seemingly depicts the body as a messy, fleshy, unsavory PRISON that is the locust of PAIN and DEBILITATION that the individual tolerates until ultimately freed from their mortal coil.
this documentary makes an interesting choice in having the narrator interview two of SCHIELE's favorite models, that being his girlfriend WALBURGA "WALLY" NEUZIL, sister-in-law ADELE HARMS and younger sister GERTRUDE. given his lack of resources and the PRIVATE nature of his visual experiments, its particularly interesting that he utilized his sister as a nude model. the narrative device of breaking the fourth wall and interviewing both of the DECEASED subjects firsthand is done partly to dispel a misinterpreted sexual interpretation of these rather EXPLICIT paintings. its still jarring though to consider that many of these paintings are of an underage family member and is most definitely still TABOO. for SCHIELE, the film argues, utilizing such a model was done out of necessity and was done in collaboration with his sibling.
overall, this brief documentary is successful in explaining how his paintings were informed by his technical training, preternatural artistic abilities and even access to emerging technologies such as x-rays. definitely worth checking if you are interested in TRANSGRESSIVE ART and the EXPRESSIONIST movement writ large.
SPOTLIGHT | EGON SCHIELE
photo manipulation by nacrowe
there was a period in high school after i arrived in SACRAMENTO my senior year where somehow i became familiar with the works of late 19th century AUSTRIAN ART NOVEAU artist GUSTAV KLIMT and the SECESSIONIST movement associated with him.
i think part of my fascination was wanting to be somewhere other than conservative, white bread NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, as KLIMT's art is lusciously decorated with gold and exotic motifs the relay some otherworldly realm of beauty and perfection. then there was EGON SCHIELE.
through KLIMT i learned of this upstart from the following generation that drew these brutally revolting self portraits that could not be more the polar opposite. his drawings convey bodies suspended without in a white plain colored in earth tones that seemed to reference decomposition and self-annihilation. his drawings are nihilistic and reduced humanity down to gangly misshapen limbs and soulless countenance that has more to do with a cadaver than an individual. around this period and i took BIOLOGY where we were taken to the UC DAVIS cadaver lab when i was able to view such lifeless forms out in the open. it immediately reminded me of SCHIELE and his work has been ingrained in my consciousness ever since, outshining that of KLIMT in my opinion.
to me art should challenge the viewer and SCHIELE makes me consider my mortality and my physical being, echoing the visceral nature of CARAVAGGIO, and later 20th century work of FRANCIS BACON and MARK ROTHKO. for me his work is deeply affecting and not always in an uplifting, reassuring manner. his has a definite memento mori vibe that sticks in the craw of your consciousness.