Posts Tagged ‘German Expressionism’

Max Beckmann- The Actors 1941


What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality. It may sound paradoxical, but it is in fact reality which forms the mystery of our existence.

–Max Beckmann


For some reason, the work of Max Beckmann has never found its way to this blog. I have had an affinity with his work for many years. Part of that no doubt comes from the black linework that is present in much of his work as a result of his beginning his paintings on a black painted surface, which is something very familiar to my own process. This allowed his colors to expand off the surface, again something with which I can associate. This made his colors feel brighter and bolder, giving his work a look that separated itself from the bulk of other artists in the German Expressionist movement with which he is most often associated.

Max Beckmann- Self Portrait with Champagne Glass 1919

Beckmann was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1884 and from an early age showed a talent for painting. His first self portrait was painted at the age of 14. His self portraiture was an important aspect of his work as he painted at least 85 versions over the course of his life. Perhaps only Picasso and Rembrandt have documented themselves more.

Beckmann served as a medic during the First World War and the chaos and violence he experienced served to inspire his work for coming decade of the 1920’s. Working in Berlin in post-war Weimar Germany, Beckmann became a star, his work darkly documenting the existential doom that seems to mark Berlin of that time. But with the rise of Hitler, Beckmann’s light faded in Germany. He was a major target for Hitler’s wrath toward what he termed Degenerate Art and fled to Amsterdam in 1937. There, he desperately (and unsuccessfully) tried a number of times to get a visa to the USA.

But he survived the war and in 1948 emigrated to the USA. Over the course of the next three years, he taught painting at Washington University in St. Louis and the Brooklyn Museum. He died from a heart attack days after Christmas in 1950 on a Manhattan street corner as he was on his way to see one of his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.

As I said, I have always felt drawn to his work. His words speak equally as powerfully to me. He often writes of his attempts to decipher the mystery of existence that is present in the mundane. I think I can understand that.

Hope you can take some time to look over his work a bit more.

Max Beckmann- Family Picture 1920

Max Beckmann- Still Life with Three Skulls 1945

Max Beckmann- Self Portrait with Trumpet 1938

Max Beckmann- The Night 1918-1919

Max Beckmann- The King 1938

Max Beckmann- Paris Society 1931

Max Beckmann- Before the Masked Ball 1922

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And the New Day Approaches...This is another new piece that I’m calling  And There is a New Day…  It’s a 24″ by 30″ canvas and is in the obsessionist style that I have been primarily focusing on lately, which is closer to traditional painting than the usual style I have used for the past 13 or 14 years.

I really like the feel of this painting.  The underlying texture is such that it really allows the darkness to show through while still bearing lighter paints above.  This texture also gives a slightly ragged edge on the lines, which really alters the overall look.  It gives it a less controlled feel.  It reminds me , in a way, of some examples of German Expressionism and American Modernism of the  early 1920’s.  This piece still is more controlled than many of the pieces that it brings to mind but still has the give and take of light and dark that I so admire.

The theme of this piece is a familiar one for me.  There is sense of being caught in a pause, waiting for the onset of something.  A new day.  A new wind.  A new path.  In this case, it is light of the new day breaking over the horizon.  I like the way the light breaks into confetti-like dabs of color.  It creates a real vibrancy, a sense of movement forthcoming that is spreading over the sleeping village.  The houses have no windows or doors, as is usual for such pieces of mine.  I sometimes think the absence of the doors and windows symbolizes sleep in my paintings but I’m not really sure if that’s all I really see.  There are other times when I think they symbolize a general inward turning, an introversion where there is no awareness of the outside world.  Sometimes, I just think I like the look without the windows or door.

I like that there’s a little mystery in that interpretation, even for myself.  The excitement in painting for me is in not knowing what will emerge.  The day that I know how everything in one of my paintings will turn out or be translated will be the last day I need to paint.

This painting makes me glad that I do still need to paint…

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