Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Lost in Translation

“Wiederentdeckung eines grossen zeichners.”

Not the first time I have bought an art book in another language. I’ve several, in fact, unless I learn Italian, German, French and Chinese have very little chance of ever interpreting in full. I have made some effort, “Wiederentdeckung eines grossen zeichners” translates as ‘rediscovery of a great draughtsman’ which I could not have put more succinctly as a way of describing the art of Austrian born artist, Kelmens Brosch, the ‘draughtsman’ in question and worthy protagonist of this week’s blog post.

'Meadow enters the forest' 1913 
Whilst I would love to be able to read more about Brosch’s life and work, I cannot read Austrian-German so am having to rely solely on my own interpretations and limited findings from the visuals of the work itself! Sometimes not a bad thing and this should prove an interesting exercise. I really wanted to write a post about Klemens Brosch. After seeing his work, in particular his drawings, for the first time in an exhibition at the Belvedere in Vienna, I am convinced that (as the title of the book suggests) more people need to not only rediscover, but perhaps like myself discover his work for the first time!

'The Hermit in a deep snow hut' 1919 *
I think I enjoy writing about drawing as much as doing it and remain something of a cheerleader for the joys that come from the meditative, immersive, emotive, expressive and intense practice of connecting hand/body to eye and lived experience of putting pencil/pen/silverpoint/charcoal to paper or surface. If I am really intrigued or obsessed by something then one of the best ways to really and truly capture what it is (in every sense of the word), in my opinion, is with a drawing. Though I am no way near as committed to this as what Brosch obviously was. In his few sixteen years working as an artist Brosch created 1000 drawings, watercolours, prints and paintings! Born in Linz in 1894 he was only thirty-two years old when he died in 1926 and leaving a copious legacy of drawings on themes of landscape, nature, fantasy and the first world war. What makes them so special is that they are incredibly, almost painstakingly detailed. Tone in each drawing made of hundreds upon thousands of lines, almost like an etching-rendered so carefully they are almost invisible unless looked at closely (and I mean magnifying glass closely!). None of the images (scans) from the catalogue here will quite do them justice, but in works such as ‘Meadow enters the forest’ every blade of grass, flora and fauna is meticulously and exquisitely captured as it fades off into the distance of, what is an almost eerie looking horizon of the forest. There are dozens of works of forests in general, all of which are suspenseful in their quietness and have that almost Brothers Grimm, fairy-tale or children’s illustration-like quality of narrating a scene in which some creature or threat is about to take place whilst being almost melancholic at the same time. I did read somewhere (in English) that many of his images were inspired by German literature which seems to fit my assumptions here.

There is a feeling of nostalgia too present in Brosch’s drawings, ‘Hermit in a deep snow hut’, even though I think I have never seen it before, feels so reminiscent to me of something from a children’s book that it is almost uncanny. ‘The Crocodile on the Moon-disc’ depicting exactly what it says is another example of the varied and sometimes fantasy or surreal places that Brosch's drawings went. These figures in trapped in the snow or fantastical creatures on the moon are reoccurring themes of isolation in Brosch's drawings that one could read a lot into about him as a person, but without knowing, would be purely guess-work.

What little I know of Brosch includes that he served in the First World War and after the death of his brother was discharged on grounds of being a malingerer. Brosch’s drawings from combat scenes during the war are harrowing and for me reminiscent in many ways of Goya’s ‘The Disasters of War’ due to their nightmarish, uncensored brutality. I can only speculate that the increase in the amount of work produced during this time came from the need to process what he had seen and experienced mixed with, what I do know, to be an addiction to morphine as a result of respiratory illness he had since birth. Many of these drawings are almost realer than real, so detailed they become almost photographic but are always pulled back into the subjective and human qualities of drawing that make them more accountable through the sheer time and commitment it must take to depict the image by hand rather than with the click of a button. Unlike photography (of the time) however, they can be edited and composed to heighten and emphasise in ways that make them all the more troubling in what they depict.  

For me, it is Brosch’s pencil studies of what are on face-value, arbitrary objects that really excites. In ‘Detailed study if a coat and hat’ that’s exactly what we get and alludes to the classic art school discipline of drawing drapery but on a much more everyday level. In terms of looking at form, shape, texture and tone, there is a lot going on in this drawing which at the same time is essentially of nothing of any consequence. Similarly, there are drawings of empty gloves, hands and bizarrely dead frogs which may all be drawing exercises but are beautifully observed nonetheless. Why I like drawing in the same way that others may like photography, is that it is that both are about being obsessed with looking. The noticing of something you may have never seen had you not been attempting to draw it. Technically speaking, I am never going to be like Brosch but I can relate to the desire to capture a variety of subjects through drawing and want to try drawing new things.

And if you never want to see a more beautiful set of drawings of old pairs of shoes then look away now!

'Thank the Invalids' 1915 (also below*)

In the exhibition there was a wall of what must have been at least forty drawings of old, extremely worn-out shoes drawn from a variety of different and very technically challenging angles that boggles my mind at the skilfulness involved in their making. The absence of the human form to these shoes, as with the coat, always tells a lot more about the use and character of them and their relationship with their wearer than had they been drawn with someone wearing them. If that makes sense to you as it does me! The collective title of these works translated as ‘Thank the invalids’ only raises more questions that unfortunately I do not have answers to but again conjures more associations these shoes had with their owners and just why Brosch chose to draw so many may remain a mystery to least until I learn German!

I hope you can forgive that much of what I could know about Brosch is lost in translation but there is hopefully, what this post goes some way to prove is that there is as much to be gained from visually reading the work, that I could never get from reading about it anyway. They make me want to draw! If you ever get a chance to see these works up-close in person then I thoroughly recommend a visit!

Klemens Brosch was on at the Belvedere in Vienna from 9th March - 3rd June 2018

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