Tag Archives: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Expressionism – Berlin Years

26 Nov

When David Bowie and Iggy Pop came to Berlin in the late seventies, they were welcomed by a divided city, a city which flourished in its confinement, breathing and living in hustle of capitalism, at the same time suffocating in an alienation which was its own product.

wir-kinder-von-bahnhof-zoo-david-bowie

With Bowie’s arrival in Berlin, a period of cultural and artistic thriving started both for him and the city itself, which gleefully relived the glamour and decadence of its Weimar days.

Products of this fruitful, avant-garde, quite radical, sleek and modern, Europeanised, bohemian-aristocratic period of Bowie’s career were three albums; Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979), and The Idiot (1977) and Lust for Life (1977) for Iggy Pop respectively. Drawn in deeper and deeper in cocaine hell, fame and shallowness of Los Angeles, Bowie had wanted for some time a clean start, a departure from his old personas because things did took him ‘where the things are hollow’. Iggy Pop wasn’t in a good place as well. West Germany was a place to go. Bowie was drawn to Berlin; a city at the heart of the West-East ideological conflicts, with a rich yet drab cultural history.

1927-brigitte-helm-on-the-set-of-the-metropolis-1927-fritz-langBrigitte Helm on the set of the Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)

Bowie spoke himself about the reasons behind his moving to Berlin: ‘Life in LA had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. I had approached the brink of drug induced calamity one too many times and it was essential to take some kind of positive action. For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary-like situation. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity. I was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer anyway.‘ (Uncut magazine, 1999)

1976-david-bowie-iggy-pop-copenhagen

In order to understand Berlin as it was in the seventies, it is necessary to understand its history, especially its ‘golden era’ of the 1920s – the decadency and cultural richness of the era equals the ones in Bowie’s time in Berlin. Berlin underwent a lot of transformation and served as the background for many political events since it first became the capital of the German Reich in 1871; from the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the roaring twenties, with all the freedom and avant-garde that characterised the decade, then the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, World War II and the events after it, the beginning of the Cold War and the division itself, building of the infamous wall, heroin addicts at the Bahnhof Zoo, arrival of Western rock stars – Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, later Nick Cave, all the way to the fall of the Wall and today’s modern ‘clean’, commercial and capitalist face of Berlin. It’s a city that nurtured its own bleakness, greyness and almost aggressive modernity. It’s also a city that allowed Bowie his freedom and anonymity.

1908-ernst-ludwig-kirchner-street-dresdenKircher’s vibrant colours express the overwhelming bustle and frenzy of life in a big city, and the loneliness of an individual at the same time. A million people and not a single friend.

I especially felt this modernity and sense of alienation in places such as Potsdamer Platz, Bahnhof Zoo (can’t deny its legacy) and Alexanderplatz. I remember it well, last summer I was standing on Alexander Platz with greyness all around me and trams passing in different directions – I felt like I was in one of Kirchner’s paintings. I also enjoyed watching trains arriving to the Bahnhof Zoo, wondering about the boroughs they connect. Oh, I simply adore that urban Romanticism about Berlin!

1914-ernst-ludwig-kirchner-1880-1938-berlin-street-scene-1914-pastel-and-charcoal-on-beige-colored-corrugated-laid-paper-67-7-x-49-3-cm-stadel-museum-frankfurt-am-mainErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Berlin Street Scene, 1914: People crossing each other’s paths, walking directionless, waiting for tramways, chatting, gazing into distance, waiting for clients; careless, nervous, breathing an air of avant-garde.

In 1871, Berlin had only 800,000 inhabitants, in 1929 it had more than four million. Unlike London or Paris, Berlin wasn’t dotted with museums, churches and palaces, but was rather more ‘grey and uniform looking’.

Old Berlin consisted of six different boroughs: Mitte, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreutzberg, Tiergarten and Wedding. In 1920, seven surrounding towns were incorporated:Charlottenburg, Spandau, Schöneberg, Wilmersdorf, Lichtenberg, Neuköln and Kopenick. ‘Greater Berlin’ was thus formed by artificially uniting the existing, established eastern sector with a new area of land. The resulting caesura remained visible and tangible, both in terms of the social structure of the city and the mentality of its inhabitants.’ (Berlin in the 20s, Rainer Metzger)

This is an interesting information because we know that both Marlene Dietrich and Blixa Bargeld were born in Schöneberg – the same part of Berlin that Bowie and Iggy lived in. Bowie also named his song: Neuköln. The point is, Berlin was different, a concrete jungle half-coated in avant-garde, half in junkies, misfits and eccentrics. Paris had a romantic flair, London had a certain quirkiness, but Berlin had the legacy of Expressionists and Anita Berber, and of course – Gropiusstadt.

1923-anita-berber-photographed-by-madame-dora-1923Anita Berber, looking like one of Klimt’s muses and a Biba girl at the same time.

What Berlin also possessed, both in the 1920s and in the 1970s, was a certain fragility, awareness of its own transience. In that decadent frenzy, anxiety and excitement, the city lived, breathed and sensed its own collapse, as the Einsturzende Neubauten would later sing. Carl Zuckmayer, a German writer who lived in 1920s Berlin, writes about this feeling: ‘The arts blossomed like a field awaiting the harvest. Hence the charm of the tragic genius that characterised the epoch and the works of many poets and artists cut off in their prime… I remember well how Max Reinhardt… once said: “What I love is this taste of transience on the tongue – every year might be the last year.” Rainer Metzger further adds: ‘Today it is clear just how accurate, vigilant and prophetic this awareness of its own fragility, prior to the events of 1933, turned out to be.‘ Berlin’s artistic and cultural life at the time was a landslide, its seeming excitement, energy and a need for fun and intoxication was simply a facade that hid the unrest that lay on the inside.

1977-child-in-berlin-david-bowieDavid Bowie, Child in Berlin, 1977

Berlin in the seventies still held many of these characteristics, except it didn’t just sense the catastrophe but lived in the middle of it. Now a wall divided the West and the East, and Bowie arrived just in time to sing of lovers standing by the wall and create a new sound that would soak up the atmosphere of the city like a sponge. A sense of transience still lingered though, as we all know, Bowie’s artistic periods and personas didn’t last long, and from the moment he came it was evident that he may be gone soon. How long would Berlin continue to inspire him? One, two albums? It turned out to be three. If I may say – some of the most beautiful out of all his entire oeuvre. Bowie later ‘called “Heroes”, and his three Berlin albums, his DNA.’ (*)

1978-david-bowie-isolar-ii-tour-festhalle-frankfurt-14-may-1978

Bowie’s divine Berlin era started as early as in the summer of 1976, when he started working on The Idiot with Iggy Pop, although his previous album Station to Station hints at a change that was soon to come, especially the ten minutes long title track, Bowie said himself: As far as the music goes, Low and its siblings were a direct follow-on from the title track Station To Station. It’s often struck me that there will usually be one track on any given album of mine, which will be a fair indicator of the intent of the following album. (Uncut magazine, 1999)

Iggy Pop said in this interview that The Idiot was inspired by the idea of Berlin, not the city itself yet, although they knew it was their next destination. That is so interesting because many times in art there’s a situation that the artist painted his reveries of a certain place, idealised visions of it, and not the realistic place itself. That’s the power of imagination.

Seeking spiritual and physical purification, and turning his interest from America to Europe again, Bowie found a new wellspring of creativity, imagination and happiness. Seems like those years served him good; not only did he produce three magnificent albums, and turned Berlin into a Mecca for the world of rock music, but also – found himself. He no longer needed a mask to hide himself, but rather found a way to express himself and go on stage as David Bowie.

1925-26-farewell-by-ernst-ludwig-kirchnerErnst Ludwig Kirchner, The Farewell, 1925-26

David Bowie loved Expressionism, and often visited Die Brücke Museum in Berlin, which was opened just nine years prior to his arrival. I remember reading somewhere that he loved watching twenty hour long Expressionistic films while travelling by train. He explained his love for the art movement in one interview:

Since my teenage years I had obsessed on the angst ridden, emotional work of the expressionists, both artists and film makers, and Berlin had been their spiritual home. This was the nub of Die Brucke movement, Max Rheinhardt, Brecht and where Metropolis and Caligari had originated. It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood. This was where I felt my work was going. My attention had been swung back to Europe with the release of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in 1974. The preponderance of electronic instruments convinced me that this was an area that I had to investigate a little further.‘ (Uncut magazine, 1999)

Did Bowie have Kirchner’s painting The Farewell in mind when he wrote lyrics for Sound and Vision? Just look at that beautiful vibrant electric blue outline on Kirchner’s figures of a woman with turquoise skin and a man in a brown-reddish coat. It really pierces your vision, and it’s imbued with almost a spiritual energy, just that single line would make a painting outstanding.

Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue” (*)

1979-david-bowie-heroes-cover

Covers of Bowie’s album Heroes and Iggy Pop’s Idiot both have a similar theme, which draws direct influence from artists such as Erich Heckel, mentioned by Bowie in an interview as one of his favourites at the time, and also the photographs of Egon Schiele. Bowie and Pop’s interpretations of the older artworks possess the same modernity, chic avant-garde, almost robotic poses. The titles are interesting as well, Hero and Idiot, antonyms of a sort.

Musically, I’ve always been a fan of Bowie’s Berlin era. Even though I like Bowie’s earlier stuff as well, this period endlessly captivates me, not just because the songs are so peculiar, strange and beautiful, but also because of the cult of the city itself, and also because it’s Bowie’s most-honest, most-himself phase up to that point. Songs from Low, Heroes, Lodger, The Idiot and Lust for Life are anomalies in a world of rock music, created in a specific place at a specific time. Berlin was never the same again. Back then, it was strange, unexplored and politically unstable. Then came capitalism, and they’ve created a seemingly clean and safe, but slightly soulless environment, which is just what tourists want. They don’t want to feel the real thing, or see junkies or live art, they want to take a photo standing in front of Brandenburger Tor. I can’t help it wonder, would Bowie chose Berlin as his artistic destination knowing the city as it is today?

1914-photograph-of-egon-schiele

Musically, Bowie and Pop’s albums from their Berlin eras convey that specific atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and that grey, modern and grim appearance of the city. As if their music responded to the scenery around them. Listening to tracks such as V-Schneider or Sense of Doubt you can picture the massive monstrous building of Gropiusstadt, or U-Bahns and Strassenbahns arriving at a station, you can feel the November coldness and bare trees in Mitte, tall soulless buildings, escalators at Europa Centar, never ending traffic jams…

1917-roquairol-erich-heckel-1917-or-the-idiot-iggy-popErich Heckel, Roquairol, 1917

And now some lyrics. Iggy Pop and David Bowie co-wrote Sister Midnight:

Calling Sister Midnight
You’ve got me reaching for the moon
Calling Sister Midnight
You’ve got me playing the fool
Calling Sister Midnight
Calling Sister Midnight
Can you hear me call
Can you hear me well
Can you hear me at all
Calling Sister Midnight
I’m an Idiot for you
Calling Sister Midnight
I’m a breakage inside.

1977-iggy-pop-the-idiot-released-on-18th-march-1977

David Bowie’s song ‘What in a World’:

You’re just a little girl with grey eyes

So deep in your room,
You never leave your room
Something deep inside of me
Yearning deep inside of me
Talking through the gloom
What in the world can you do
What in the world can you do
I’m in the mood for your love
For your love
For your love” (*)

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Comparison: Picasso and Kirchner

27 Nov

Who knew there’s a connection between Picasso and Kirchner? Even though their painting styles are rather different, on one occasion they did portray a similar subject – a subject of prostitutes, common for Kirchner, and also a theme of one of the most famous Picasso’s work – The Young Ladies of Avignon.

1913. Five Women in the Street by Ernst Ludwig KirchnerFive Women in the Street, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1913

These two paintings are executed in very different ways which is a result of the different art movements Kirchner and Picasso belonged to, but the subject that they portrayed so memorably is the same. Pablo Picasso’s painting The Young Ladies of Avignon is a good representation of the Cubist art movement which Picasso co-founded, whilst Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s painting Five Women in the Street is painted in Expressionistic manner. However, both of the paintings show prostitutes, five of them on each painting. While Picasso painted their bodies in very natural pinkish tones, and shaped them quite sharply, following Cezanne’s theory of shapes (an idea that everything in nature can be parceled into geometrical shapes). If you take a close look, you’ll notice how torsos are shaped like triangles, and their breasts like circles and quadrilaterals. Also, it’s interesting to note the unusual perspective, typical for Cubism by the way; a perspective which shows women’s eyes and nose from different angles, as if the viewer was walking around the painting. On the other hand, Kirchner painted these ‘fallen women’ in a very gothic manner; elongated, with thin, fragile bodies wrapped in dark coats, their faces pale, sickly, resembling masks. While yellow colour in Picasso’s painted exceeds into warm and safe earthly, pinkish tones, in Kirchner’s painting yellow looks feeble, grim and apocalyptic.

Refusal of the traditional conception of beauty is evident in both paintings. If we remember the ways Rubens or Titian painted their voluptuous beauties, and compare it with these part angular, part mask-like body parts, and add the other details I numbered above, it becomes clear that these two paintings are pure avant-garde. Both Picasso and Kirchner’s women appear ugly and grotesque compared to more traditional artworks, but we have to be open-minded in order to appreciate these peculiar, off-beat beauties. It is also the atmosphere of these paintings that differs them; Picasso’s painting appears stable, almost frozen in time, while Kirchner portrayed the city’s dynamics, hastiness, feeling of anxiety, fear and hopelessness – Kirchner’s women are walking up and down the streets of pre-catastrophe Berlin.

1907. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon)[2] by the Spanish artist Pablo PicassoLes Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon), Pablo Picasso, 1907

City Scenes – Comparison: Impressionism and Expressionism

9 Sep

Diversities of people and cultures, sense of anonymity and optimistic yet fleeting feeling that everything is possible, along with vibrancy of the landscape are some of the things that attracted artists to European capitals. Specific mood and appearance of cities, in this case Paris and Berlin, affected artists who chose to either capture the city’s spirit on canvas, or express feelings which the city triggered.

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightCamille Pissarro, Montmartre Boulevard at Night, 1897

Although stylistically and atmospherically different, both paintings represent city scenes. Pissarro painted the ‘Montmartre Boulevard at Night’ in a true impressionistic manner with small and thin, yet visible brushstrokes, and created a sense of flickering excitement. On the other hand, painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is a good example of Kirchner’s typical wild, passionate, almost angry brushstrokes which are responsible for the overall feeling of dynamism. Elements on Pissarro’s painting such as carriages, trees and streetlamps make it an appealing one, specially for modern viewers and their visions of romantic Paris. Pissarro painted a lively and bustling Parisian night – lights are shining, carriages are arriving, people are having fun.

Kirchner’s painting radiates a completely different atmosphere. Starting with the unusual composition in a shape of an X, Kirchner creates a distorted and deformed space. Accentuated contour lines and dramatic choice of colours only deepen the unease a viewer can feel while looking at the painting. Elements that Kirchner chose to portray, Strassenbahns and tall, undefined buildings created a certain coldness and alienation. While Pissarro’s passers-by that occupy the pavement are barely visible, painted in soft and blurry shades of grey and purple, Kirchner’s characters resemble shadows, tall, black and deprived of any individuality, they stroll the streets of decadent Berlin, isolated from themselves and their surroundings, suffocated by the modern architecture around them. A suitable background for this painting would be the song ‘Kollaps’ by Einstürzende Neubauten.

Similarities between these two city scenes can be found in colours, but noticing this similarity again brings us to a great difference that is truly due to the art movements these two artworks belong to. Both Pissarro and Kirchner used blue and yellow in abundance. Whereas Pissarro’s blue is deep and soothing, Kirchner’s is cold, occasionally exceeding into shades of grey. Yellow that appears like a soft flickering light on Pissarro’s painting, on Kirchner’s painting it looks solid and exaggerated, its shade is almost sickly, at parts turning to bleak green shades, framed by solid brushstrokes of black. However, both paintings are ‘portraits’ of cities at a specific moment; vivacious Fin de siècle Paris and decadent catastrophic pre-Weimar Berlin. Still, as an Impressionist, Pissarro was interested in outward appearance and he captured the spirit of Paris at that specific moment, while Kirchner, as an Expressionist, presented us his own feelings and state of mind, using reality merely as an encouragement for expressing artistic experience.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorfplatz, 1912

Goodbye to Berlin

31 Aug

1914. Friedrichstrasse - KirchnerKirchner, Friedrichstrasse, 1914

Last three weeks I was in Berlin, visiting my family. I haven’t felt so good, so full of energy and inspiration, so rapturous and alive for a long time! I came to Berlin with thoughts of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Christiane F. and Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Marlene Dietrich, Christopher Isherwood and his Weimar Berlin, industrial rock sound of the Einstürzende Neubauten, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and other expressionists. Even though I’ve been to Berlin a few times, this time seems to have been magical. I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ve seen such diversities and vibrancy, a bunch of individualists, drunken people, an eclectic mix of cultures, architectural splendor; from frightening and modern building on Potsdamer Platz to lovely residential buildings on Wedding to the beautiful Schloss Charlottenburg. I think I left a little piece of my soul somewhere out there, on those beautiful cobble streets and wide avenues.

I’ve visited the Alte Nationalgalerie and I’ve seen the ‘Im-Ex’ exhibition, along with the museum’s permanant collection of German Romanticism and lots of other things. A few painting caught my attention the most, among them the works of Kirchner, especially the one called ‘Potsdamer Platz’. His dynamic brush strokes and vibrant colours continue to amaze me. Here are some other artworks that I’ve seen. Who knows, maybe I’ll write about one of them soon. Or maybe I won’t.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer PlatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner – Potsdamer Platz, 1914

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightBoulevard Montmartre, effet de nuit by Pissarro, 1898

1879. Chez le père Lathuille - Edouard Manet Chez le père Lathuille – Edouard Manet, 1879

1879. In the Conservatory by ManetIn the Conservatory by Manet, 1879

1868. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian)Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian), 1868

1876. The Cheval-Glass - Berthe Morisot The Cheval-Glass – Berthe Morisot, 1876

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz, 1912

1899. Charing Cross Bridge - Claude MonetCharing Cross Bridge – Claude Monet, 1899

E.L.Kirchner, Rheinbruecke / 1914 - Kirchner / Rhine Bridge / 1914 -Rheinbrücke in Köln, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

1913. Drei Akte, Karl Schmidt-RottluffDrei Akte, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1913

1903. The Sin (Die Sünde) - Franz StuckThe Sin (Die Sünde) – Franz Stuck, 1903

Stu-04-NatGalTilla Durieux als Circe – Franz Stuck, 1900

1815. Gothic Church on a Rock by the Sea - Karl Friedrich SchinkelGothic Church on a Rock by the Sea – Karl Friedrich Schinkel, 1815

1822. Moonrise over the Sea - Caspar David FriedrichMoonrise over the Sea – Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

berlin im ex 2

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Berlin Years

11 Aug

A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.

1913. Kirchner - Street, Berlin1913 Street, Berlin

In 1911. Kirchner moved to Berlin and started a new phase in his artistic endeavors; vivid street scenes with prostitutes and elegantly dressed men, chic streetwalkers with angular faces; all presented in brilliant pinks, purples, blues and blacks, with heavy brush strokes accentuating the dynamic, hectic and urban mood of the decadent city. Luxury and anxious energy of Berlin, the Hauptstadt of Decadence, were perfectly captured by Kirchner who said of Berlin ”You’ll be totally surprised when you set foot in Berlin. We’ve become a large family and you can get everything you need – women and shelter.” Kirchner himself arrived there with his then new girlfriend Erna Schilling who helped him in re-creating the atmosphere of his studio in Dresden. Walls of his new studio-apartment in Berlin were soon decorated with primitivist hangings, Ajanta- inspired wall paintings and African sculptors he carved himself.

Berlin in those years was just what Kirchner was looking for; with the crowded cafes, different venues, interesting people, lively circuses and cabarets, the city proved to be very alluring for him, and the initial excitement with the life in Berlin was evident in his early works. Later however, his paintings showed an uneasy balance between the excitement with the city and the alienation he felt living in it. Landscape of his paintings was the one of vibrant colours, intensity, with the emphasis on movement, and the capturing of the intensity and urgency of the city. His artistic sensibilities, caught up in the city’s dynamism led to an increased sensitivity of the form, colour and expression. Daring brush strokes and harmonies, along with angular figures and night street scenes characterised Kirchner’s Berlin years.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz1914 Potsdamer Platz

With the angular figures, intense colours and simplified, yet very atmospheric background, Kirchner succeeded in ‘creating new appearances of things‘; in these paintings, especially ‘Street, Berlin‘ and ‘Potsdamer Platz‘ we see Berlin not how it technically looked like in early 1910s, but rather through these twisted perspectives and vibrancy we see, or feel, a whole mood of the city; a decadent spirit captured for eternity. “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.“, Kirchner said, and that’s what he seemed to be doing, taking inspiration from the street scenes he saw through his window, portraying the street scenes in the ‘capital of cabaret’ with raw intensity of colours.

Conflicting interests and fierce rivalries characteristic for Berlin’s art world of the time, along with the competitive ambiance eventually splintered the group in 1913. Although they continued having joint exhibitions in Berlin, the close personal connection among the members loosened as the members struck out in different artistic directions. These artistic differences were aggravated by Kirchner’s chronicle of Die Brücke, in which he imposed himself as a prominent figure. The other artists associated with the group felt that their contributions for the group were understated. Kirchner’s relationship with the Bridge group remained difficult for the rest of his life, and he even rejected any association with them.

1913. Kirchner - Berlin Street Scene1913 Kirchner – Berlin Street Scene

After disassembling with the group, he went on to develop a much more individual style and his Berlin scenes of alienated figures, reflect a sense of creative isolation and city melancholia. Kirchner’s street scenes, painted in sharp brush strokes and vibrant colours, are permeated with sarcasm and the depressive and alienating atmosphere of Berlin. Initial excitement with the city shifted into a metropolitan loneliness and anxiety which resulted in a morbid fascination with the alienation in modern society. His ‘Berlin street scenes‘ portray society as Kirchner saw it; a bleak masses of people walking by each other, lonely and estranged figures with dark holes instead of eyes reflect the darkness that had begun to engulf him. Painted in dark colours, some of the sullen gentleman seem like shadows; a modern life stripped of its false glamour and splendor with nothing but a raw essential left; all the hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence are presented without embellishment.

Ladies shown on the painting were mostly prostitutes. Kirchner’s girlfriend Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda, a dancer, whom the painter described as having ‘beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies‘, posed as models for his street scenes. Kirchner glorifies the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes’ clothes in these paintings; their bodies are elongated, their posture elegant, their faces angular, with a mask-like appearance, their gaze wanders between pride and doubtfulness. Dressed in their haughty attire, their faces painted with rouge, these ‘ladies of the night‘ mirror the alienating, melancholic, isolating and anxious atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and of the society in general.

1914. Friedrichstrasse - Kirchner1914 Friedrichstrasse – Kirchner

Perhaps the most famous of Kirchner’s street scenes is a painting ‘Friedrichstrasse‘ painted in 1914. In it, the viewer is confronted by three elongated women (most likely prostitutes again) who stand proudly in the foreground like three magnificent peacocks. Behind them stand anonymous suited men with blank expressions, suggesting the dehumanisation of individuals as a result of a modern life. Kirchner’s vivid palette and aggressive brush strokes only intensify the agony and anxiety an individual faces. The street is crowded, noisy and hectic, yet none of the individuals interact with each other. His street scenes portray an individual in isolation. Each of these works has a unique character, but the idea behind it is ‘a sense of living dangerously in a great capital city on the edge of a catastrophe.’

In these years his work became more dramatic; his usual heavy brush strokes now appeared almost violent, energetic composition and elongated figures reflect isolation, while the black brush strokes give a sense of movement and speed. The metropolitan alienation, despair and anxiety Kirchner expressed in his works perhaps show the life as it was in his head; dark and hectic, and serve as a prelude to his final mental and psychical collapse, and the collapse of modern society in general. These street scenes are only a continuation of the ‘Fin de Siecle neurosis.‘ Kirchner later described his subject matter as ‘the nervous faces of people of our time’ reflecting ‘every smallest irritation’.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Nollendorfplatz1912 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz

Kirchner’s work, and that of the other members of ‘The Bridge’, was influential on David Bowie who was fond of the Expressionists in general. He liked the intensity, striking forms and ‘raw power’ of Kirchner’s paintings, but the most appealing to him was the alienation that Kirchner expressed in his Berlin street scenes. In the 1970s Berlin was permeated by the atmosphere of neglect and desolation. Berlin’s world-weary self regard was attractive to foreigners who saw their own alienation mirrored in the city’s outsider status; David Bowie was one of them, fascinated by Berlin’s rich yet lush history of cabaret, expressionist silent movies and urban paintings. Bowie identified himself with the city’s fate; the fate of growing too quickly, both politically and in urban development, and having to suffer eternal growing pains. Architecture critic Heinrich Wefing once talked of Berlin’s partus praecipitatus – ‘always having to be more, always having to wrestle with one’s own role’ — Bowie recognised himself in this fate.

Brian Eno once said ‘Very rough, rough strokes — and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing. And all of that — the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood — remind me of the way David works.’ Works such as ‘Nollendorfplatz’ and ‘Brandenburger Tor‘ reveal Kirchner’s shift in subject matter from female figures to metropolitan scenes. The painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is painted in clashing blue and yellow shades, with monstrous ‘strassenbahnen‘ and a crooked perspective as a clear rejection of the previous architecture studies. It brings Max Weber’s concept of rationalisation on a higher level with people appearing as tall dark shadows, so uniformed and monotonous they merge with the landscape of the city. Quick and heavy brush strokes create a feeling of speed, movement and bustle of modern life in a city. Kirchner’s distorted imagery symbolise the destructiveness and desolation of an urban life; he questions the social progress and the dehumanization of people in cities. He expresses his inner emotions and confusion with life in modern society.

1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Brandenburger Tor1915 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Brandenburger Tor

Kirchner committed suicide on 15th June 1938. after the Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and sold or destroyed over six hundred of his paintings. Still, Kirchner ought to be remembered as a leading force behind German Expressionism. He was an artist who painted Berlin and captured both its decadent, dynamic and daring atmosphere, along with the isolated urban individuals completely detached from society. Kirchner’s paintings reflect the mood of the German capital in the years of political tensions and mirror both the extravagances and cultural florescence before the final collapse.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Berlin Years

11 Nov

A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.

1913. Kirchner - Street, Berlin1913. Street, Berlin

In 1911. Kirchner moved to Berlin and started a new phase in his artistic endeavors; vivid street scenes with prostitutes and elegantly dressed men, chic streetwalkers with angular faces; all presented in brilliant pinks, purples, blues and blacks, with heavy brush strokes accentuating the dynamic, hectic and urban mood of the decadent city. Luxury and anxious energy of Berlin, the Hauptstadt of Decadence, were perfectly captured by Kirchner who said of Berlin ”You’ll be totally surprised when you set foot in Berlin. We’ve become a large family and you can get everything you need – women and shelter.” Kirchner himself arrived there with his then new girlfriend Erna Schilling who helped him in re-creating the atmosphere of his studio in Dresden. Walls of his new studio-apartment in Berlin were soon decorated with primitivist hangings, Ajanta- inspired wall paintings and African sculptors he carved himself.

Berlin in those years was just what Kirchner was looking for; with the crowded cafes, different venues, interesting people, lively circuses and cabarets, the city proved to be very alluring for him, and the initial excitement with the life in Berlin was evident in his early works. Later however, his paintings showed an uneasy balance between the excitement with the city and the alienation he felt living in it. Landscape of his paintings was the one of vibrant colours, intensity, with the emphasis on movement, and the capturing of the intensity and urgency of the city. His artistic sensibilities, caught up in the city’s dynamism led to an increased sensitivity of the form, colour and expression. Daring brush strokes and harmonies, along with angular figures and night street scenes characterised Kirchner’s Berlin years.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz1914. Potsdamer Platz

With the angular figures, intense colours and simplified, yet very atmospheric background, Kirchner succeeded in ‘creating new appearances of things‘; in these paintings, especially ‘Street, Berlin‘ and ‘Potsdamer Platz‘ we see Berlin not how it technically looked like in early 1910s, but rather through these twisted perspectives and vibrancy we see, or feel, a whole mood of the city; a decadent spirit captured for eternity. “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.“, Kirchner said, and that’s what he seemed to be doing, taking inspiration from the street scenes he saw through his window, portraying the street scenes in the ‘capital of cabaret’ with raw intensity of colours.

Conflicting interests and fierce rivalries characteristic for Berlin’s art world of the time, along with the competitive ambiance eventually splintered the group in 1913. Although they continued having joint exhibitions in Berlin, the close personal connection among the members loosened as the members struck out in different artistic directions. These artistic differences were aggravated by Kirchner’s chronicle of Die Brücke, in which he imposed himself as a prominent figure. The other artists associated with the group felt that their contributions for the group were understated. Kirchner’s relationship with the Bridge group remained difficult for the rest of his life, and he even rejected any association with them.

1913. Kirchner - Berlin Street Scene1913. Kirchner – Berlin Street Scene

After disassembling with the group, he went on to develop a much more individual style and his Berlin scenes of alienated figures, reflect a sense of creative isolation and city melancholia. Kirchner’s street scenes, painted in sharp brush strokes and vibrant colours, are permeated with sarcasm and the depressive and alienating atmosphere of Berlin. Initial excitement with the city shifted into a metropolitan loneliness and anxiety which resulted in a morbid fascination with the alienation in modern society. His ‘Berlin street scenes‘ portray society as Kirchner saw it; a bleak masses of people walking by each other, lonely and estranged figures with dark holes instead of eyes reflect the darkness that had begun to engulf him. Painted in dark colours, some of the sullen gentleman seem like shadows; a modern life stripped of its false glamour and splendor with nothing but a raw essential left; all the hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence are presented without embellishment.

Ladies shown on the painting were mostly prostitutes. Kirchner’s girlfriend Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda, a dancer, whom the painter described as having ‘beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies‘, posed as models for his street scenes. Kirchner glorifies the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes’ clothes in these paintings; their bodies are elongated, their posture elegant, their faces angular, with a mask-like appearance, their gaze wanders between pride and doubtfulness. Dressed in their haughty attire, their faces painted with rouge, these ‘ladies of the night‘ mirror the alienating, melancholic, isolating and anxious atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and of the society in general.

1914. Friedrichstrasse - Kirchner1914. Friedrichstrasse – Kirchner

Perhaps the most famous of Kirchner’s street scenes is a painting ‘Friedrichstrasse‘ painted in 1914. In it, the viewer is confronted by three elongated women (most likely prostitutes again) who stand proudly in the foreground like three magnificent peacocks. Behind them stand anonymous suited men with blank expressions, suggesting the dehumanisation of individuals as a result of a modern life. Kirchner’s vivid palette and aggressive brush strokes only intensify the agony and anxiety an individual faces. The street is crowded, noisy and hectic, yet none of the individuals interact with each other. His street scenes portray an individual in isolation. Each of these works has a unique character, but the idea behind it is ‘a sense of living dangerously in a great capital city on the edge of a catastrophe.’

In these years his work became more dramatic; his usual heavy brush strokes now appeared almost violent, energetic composition and elongated figures reflect isolation, while the black brush strokes give a sense of movement and speed. The metropolitan alienation, despair and anxiety Kirchner expressed in his works perhaps show the life as it was in his head; dark and hectic, and serve as a prelude to his final mental and psychical collapse, and the collapse of modern society in general. These street scenes are only a continuation of the ‘Fin de Siecle neurosis.‘ Kirchner later described his subject matter as ‘the nervous faces of people of our time’ reflecting ‘every smallest irritation’.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Nollendorfplatz1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz

Kirchner’s work, and that of the other members of ‘The Bridge’, was influential on David Bowie who was fond of the Expressionists in general. He liked the intensity, striking forms and ‘raw power’ of Kirchner’s paintings, but the most appealing to him was the alienation that Kirchner expressed in his Berlin street scenes. In the 1970s Berlin was permeated by the atmosphere of neglect and desolation. Berlin’s world-weary self regard was attractive to foreigners who saw their own alienation mirrored in the city’s outsider status; David Bowie was one of them, fascinated by Berlin’s rich yet lush history of cabaret, expressionist silent movies and urban paintings. Bowie identified himself with the city’s fate; the fate of growing too quickly, both politically and in urban development, and having to suffer eternal growing pains. Architecture critic Heinrich Wefing once talked of Berlin’s partus praecipitatus – ‘always having to be more, always having to wrestle with one’s own role’ — Bowie recognised himself in this fate.

Brian Eno once said ‘Very rough, rough strokes — and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing. And all of that — the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood — remind me of the way David works.’ Works such as ‘Nollendorfplatz’ and ‘Brandenburger Tor‘ reveal Kirchner’s shift in subject matter from female figures to metropolitan scenes. The painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is painted in clashing blue and yellow shades, with monstrous ‘strassenbahnen‘ and a crooked perspective as a clear rejection of the previous architecture studies. It brings Max Weber’s concept of rationalisation on a higher level with people appearing as tall dark shadows, so uniformed and monotonous they merge with the landscape of the city. Quick and heavy brush strokes create a feeling of speed, movement and bustle of modern life in a city. Kirchner’s distorted imagery symbolise the destructiveness and desolation of an urban life; he questions the social progress and the dehumanization of people in cities. He expresses his inner emotions and confusion with life in modern society.

1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Brandenburger Tor1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Brandenburger Tor

Kirchner committed suicide on 15th June 1938. after the Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and sold or destroyed over six hundred of his paintings. Still, Kirchner ought to be remembered as a leading force behind German Expressionism. He was an artist who painted Berlin and captured both its decadent, dynamic and daring atmosphere, along with the isolated urban individuals completely detached from society. Kirchner’s paintings reflect the mood of the German capital in the years of political tensions and mirror both the extravagances and cultural florescence before the final collapse.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – A Vivid Expressionist ‘Bridge’

9 Nov

In 1905. a group of German expressionist artists was formed in Dresden. The group took the name The Bridge (Die Brücke) by a quote from the novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche ”What is great in a man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz

Although a student of architecture, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner fully committed himself to art since 1905. when he founded the artists group called The Bridge, along with two other architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel. The group aimed to create a new form of expressionism which would form a bridge between the past and the present. They found inspiration in works of Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald, as well as contemporary avant-garde movements. Their works were compared with their French peers, The Fauvists, who, although called the beasts (fauves) appeared tame by comparison. However, both movements were fond of primitive art, showed interest in expressing extreme emotions through vivid and non-naturalistic colours, both groups enjoyed a crude drawing technique  and shared an antipathy to complete abstraction.

Typical paintings of the group that include the street scenes with melancholic and agonizing mood, and erotic nudes, make the Fauvists seem tame to comparison. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s paintings are perhaps the most appealing to me; I’m very much fond of his Berlin street scenes with hectic, yet melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere. Kirchner’s studio in Dresden became a place of gathering for the artists who were drawn to the liberal atmosphere; social conventions were rejected and nudity and casual love making became typical venues for the studio. His studio was described as: ”…that of a real bohemian, full of paintings lying all over the place, drawings, books and artist’s materials — much more like an artist’s romantic lodgings than the home of a well-organised architecture student.” Still, this liberal atmosphere and casualty proved to be inspirational for this group of artists isolated themselves in this working class neighborhood in Dresedn and absorbed the dark mood of it, rejecting their own bourgeois background. Models from the same social circles posed for Kirchner and the rest of the group, most famous of them being a fifteen years old girl named Isabella. She was described by another painter from the group, Fritz Bleyl, as “a very lively, beautifully built, joyous individual, without any deformation caused by the silly fashion of the corset and completely suitable to our artistic demands, especially in the blossoming condition of her girlish buds.

In Kirchner’s ‘Dresden phase‘ his emphasis in painting was on nudes and female portraits in vivid colours whilst in his ‘Berlin phase’ he focused more on the street scenes. In 1906. he met Doris Große who would be his model until 1911. when he moved to Berlin. In his Dresden phase, Kirchner focused on female portraits with natural background and an emphasis on spontaneity. Besides the historical German influences, artists of the Bridge movement also favoured the works of Gauguin and Van Gogh; they influenced Kirchner with their flat colour application and the heavy brush strokes.

1911. Ernst Ludwig Kirchne - Weiblicher Akt mit Hut

1908. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Dodo und ihr Bruder

1906. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Doris with Ruff Collar

1907. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Sitzende Dame (Dodo)

1909. Dodo with japanese umbrella - Kirchner1909. Kirchner - Marzella

”The German artist looks not for harmony of outward appearance but much more for the mystery hidden behind the external form. He or she is interested in the soul of things, and wants to lay this bare.”