Tag Archives: Germany

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys: Fluxus artist

Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was a German Fluxus artist, one of the first to organize “happenings” through performance art, who also worked as a sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist, and pedagogue. The concepts of humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy were central to his work and life. He developed his own “extended definition of art,” seeing the artist not as a craftsman but instead as fulfilling the role of modern shaman. Though not a common household name, Beuys is considered by many scholars of art history, as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the twentieth century.

Joseph Beuys was born in Krefeld, Germany to his father Josef Jakob Beuys and his mother Johanna Maria Margarete Beuys. The family moved to Kleve, an industrial town in the Lower Rhine region of Germany, close to the Dutch border, shortly after Beuys was born. He attended primary school at the Katholische Volksschule and secondary school at the Staatliches Gymnasium Kleve, now known as the Freiherr-vom-Stein-Gymnasium. Even from a young age, Beuys demonstrated a talent for drawing, but he also exhibited a penchant for piano and cello.

Portrait of Joseph Beuys by Andy Warhol (located now at The National Galleries of Scotland)
Portrait of Joseph Beuys by Andy Warhol (located now at The National Galleries of Scotland)

Beuys approached his art and his life from an intellectual and conceptual perspective, creating for himself a backstory and legacy that were to later undergo great scrutiny and criticism. During the second world war, he had served military service as part of the Luftwaffe. On March 16, 1944, the plane he was in crashed near the Crimean Front, and the story of his rescue and recovery was of his own invention, but contained theme elements, such as fat and felt, that would recur again and again in his later work.

As Beuys told it, “Had it not been for the Tartars I would not be alive today. They were the nomads of the Crimea, in what was then no man’s land between the Russian and German fronts, and favoured neither side. I had already struck up a good relationship with them, and often wandered off to sit with them. ‘Du nix njemcky’ they would say, ‘du Tartar,’ and try to persuade me to join their clan. Their nomadic ways attracted me of course, although by that time their movements had been restricted. Yet, it was they who discovered me in the snow after the crash, when the German search parties had given up. I was still unconscious then and only came round completely after twelve days or so, and by then I was back in a German field hospital. So the memories I have of that time are images that penetrated my consciousness. The last thing I remember was that it was too late to jump, too late for the parachutes to open. That must have been a couple of seconds before hitting the ground. Luckily I was not strapped in – I always preferred free movement to safety belts… My friend was strapped in and he was atomized on impact – there was almost nothing to be found of him afterwards. But I must have shot through the windscreen as it flew back at the same speed as the plane hit the ground and that saved me, though I had bad skull and jaw injuries. Then the tail flipped over and I was completely buried in the snow. That’s how the Tartars found me days later. I remember voices saying ‘Voda’ (Water), then the felt of their tents, and the dense pungent smell of cheese, fat and milk. They covered my body in fat to help it regenerate warmth, and wrapped it in felt as an insulator to keep warmth in.”

However, records from the time tell the story as Beuys being conscious, recovered by a German search commando, and that there were no Tatars in the area who would have come to his aid. He was taken to a military hospital and was in recovery from March 17 to April 7. Despite the actual series of events, Beuys’ story served as a powerful myth of origins for his own artistic identity, and the foundation of his future creative endeavors.

After the war, he began his career as an artist full-time, continuing his education, and co-founding the Donnerstag-Gesellschaft (in English, the “Thursday Group”). Between 1947 and 1950, the group organized discussions, exhibitions, events and concerts in the Alfter Castle, near Bonn.

Alfter Castle

Throughout the 1950’s, he produced thousands of drawings, but struggled physically, emotionally, and financially. In 1956 he suffered his first breakdown, a severe depression, the result of artistic self-doubt and the physical and psychological trauma of his experiences in the war. He was taken in by his first patrons, the van der Grinten brothers, where he was to spend time on his recovery. By 1958 he began exhibiting his work, and in 1959 he married Eva Wurmbach. They had two children together, Wenzel (born 1961) and Jessyka (born 1964).

Eva and Joseph Beuys, 1960
Joseph and Eva Beuys, 1966
Bueys with his son Wenzel, 1968
Beuys with his children, Wenzel and Jessyka, 1970

In 1961, he became professor of ‘monumental sculpture’ at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. In 1964, Beuys was brought into the public consciousness after his performance piece at the Technical College Aachen. As part of a festival of new art coinciding with the 20th anniversary of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, Beuys created a performance or Aktion. The performance was interrupted when one of a group of radical students punched Beuys in the face, breaking his nose. The photograph of the bloodied Beuys with his arm raised, circulated in media around the world.

Joseph Beuys, bloodied after being punched in the face

Beuys’ extensive oeuvre was composed primarily of traditional works (painting, drawing, sculpture and installations), performance, contributions to the theory of art and academic teaching, and sociopolitical activities. One example is the over 10 hour long “Ja Ja Ja Ne Ne Ne” performance. Beuys sat on a stage for over 10 hours saying only the words “Ja ja ja, ne ne ne” (in English “Yes yes yes, no no no”), and was joined by friends who came and went, joining him in his long performance. He said that the idea was based on his overhearing some very old women sitting on a bench one day, their conversation sounding as if it only consisted of the words “ja ja ja, ne ne ne.” A short snippet of that audio here:

Some of his most notable performances are The Chief (1964), How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965), and  I Like America and America Likes Me (1974). Protection of the environment was of great importance to him, and with that fundamentally in his mind, he created numerous sculptural works based on a philosophy of art and nature coexisting with the purpose of eliciting environmental and social change.

Still from “The Chief,” performance

 

How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare:

 

Clip from I Like America and America Likes Me

In 1982, Beuys experimented with the newly developing art of music video, and created a piece for a song he had written entitled “Sonne statt Reagan” which translates to “Sun, not Rain/Reagan,” a play on the word for rain, “Regen,” pronounced the same as the former president’s name. This political piece,  which cleverly played with puns in German, was founded on the objective of reinforcing some his personal key messages, such as his extremely liberal, pacifist political attitude, his desire to perpetuate open discourse on art and politics, his rejection of creating work that critics expected he would do, and most importantly being open to exploring different media forms as a means of artistic communication.

Beuys made it clear that he considered this song as a work of art, not the “pop” product it appears to be. This becomes clear when one looks at the lyrics, and sees Beuys’ juxtapostioning of superficially lighthearted medium and realistically dark subject matter. (Lyrics in German and English are at the bottom of this page)

As a political influence,  Beuys founded (or co-founded) the following organizations: German Student Party (1967), Organization for Direct Democracy Through Referendum (1971), Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research (1974), and German Green Party Die Grünen (1980). After his experiences during the war, Beuys became a devout pacifist and was a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons. He was also a dedicated environmentalist, and was even elected a Green Party (Die Grünen) candidate for the European Parliament.

In May 1985, Beuys was diagnosed with a rare condition that caused painful inflammation of the lungs. On January 23 the following year, he suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack at his home. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the North Sea. He was 64 years old.


References:

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys, 1972

Digital portrait
by Terri Maxfield Lipp, May 2015

(click image for full resolution)


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Special thanks to: Daily Artfixx, On This Day, WikipediaFind-A-Grave, A&E Bio, The Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery, Famous Birthdays, Encyclopedia Brittanica, and all the art history buffs that keep the internet full of wonderful information and images. 

Lyrics to Sonne Statt Reagan:

German:

Aus dem Land
Das sich selbst zerstört
Und uns den "way of life" diktiert
Da kommt Reagan und bringt Waffen und Tod
Und hört er Frieden
Sieht er rot
Er sagt als Präsident von USA
Atomkrieg? - Ja
Bitte
Dort und da

Ob Polen
Mittler Osten
Nicaragua

Er will den Endsieg
Das ist doch klar

Doch wir wollen Sonne statt Reagan
Ohne Rüstung leben!
Ob West
Ob Ost
Auf Raketen muss Rost!
Wir wollen Sonne statt Reagan
Ohne Rüstung leben!
Ob West
Ob Ost
Auf Raketen muss Rost!

Er will die Säcke im Osten reizen
Die auch nicht mit Atomen geizen
Doch dein Krieg um hirnverbrannte Ziele
Der läuft nicht Reagan - wir sind viele!
Hau ab mit deinen Nuklearstrategen

Deinen Russenhassern
Deinem Strahlenregen

Mensch Knitterface
Der Film ist aus

Nimm' die Raketen mit nach Haus!

Denn wir wollen Sonne statt Reagan
Ohne Rüstung leben!
Ob Ost
Ob West
Kalten Kriegern die Pest!
Wir wollen Sonne statt Reagan
Ohne Rüstung leben!
Ob Ost
Ob West
Kalten Kriegern die Pest!

Dieser Reagan kommt als Mann der Rüstungsindustrie
But the peoples of the States don't want it - nie!
Und den wahren Frieden wird's erst geben
Wenn alle Menschen ohne Waffen leben

Wir wollen Sonne statt Reagan
Ohne Rüstung leben!
Ob West
Ob Ost
Auf Raketen muss Rost!
Sonne statt Reagan
Ohne Rüstung leben!
Ob Ost
Ob West
Kalten Kriegern die Pest! …

English:
(translated from Google Translate. Click here to help improve this translation)

In the country
That destroys itself
And dictated to us the "way of life"
Reagan comes and brings weapons and death
And he hears peace
Looks red
He says as President of the USA
Nuclear war? - Yes
You're welcome
Here and there

Whether Poland
Middle East
Nicaragua

He wants the final victory
That's obvious

But we want sun instead of Reagan
Live without armor!
West
Whether East
On missiles must rust!
We want sun instead of Reagan
Live without armor!
West
Whether East
On missiles must rust!

He wants to irritate the bags in the east
They also do not sting with atoms
But your war for brain-burned targets
He's not running Reagan - we're many!
Get rid of your nuclear power gene

Your Russians
Your radiation

Human Knitterface
The movie is off

Take the rockets home with you!

For we want sun instead of Reagan
Live without armor!
Whether East
West
Cold warriors the plague!
We want sun instead of Reagan
Live without armor!
Whether East
West
Cold warriors the plague!

This Reagan comes as a man of the armaments industry
But the people of the States do not want it - never!
And true peace will come first
When all people live without weapons

We want sun instead of Reagan
Live without armor!
West
Whether East
On missiles must rust!
Sun instead of Reagan
Live without armor!
Whether East
West
Cold warriors the plague! ...

Max Klinger

Max Klinger:  painter, sculptor

Max Klinger (18 February 1857 – 5 July 1920) was a German symbolist painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer.


Klinger was born in Leipzig and studied in the beautiful and inspirational city of Karlsruhe, Germany. An admirer of the etchings of Menzel and Goya, he shortly became a skilled and imaginative engraver in his own right. He began creating sculptures in the early 1880s. From 1883–1893 he lived in Rome, and became increasingly influenced by the Italian Renaissance and antiquity.

"The Judgement of Paris," 1886-87
“The Judgement of Paris,” 1886-87

His best known work is a series of ten etchings entitled Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove (printed 1881). These pictures were based on images which came to Klinger in dreams after finding a glove at an ice-skating rink. In the leitmotivic device of a glove—belonging to a woman whose face we never see—Klinger anticipated the research of Freud and Krafft-Ebing on fetish objects. (see slideshow below for all ten plates)


In this case, the glove becomes a symbol for the artist’s romantic yearnings, finding itself, in each plate, in different dramatic situations, and performing the role that we might expect the figure of the beloved herself to fulfill. Semioticians have also seen in the symbol of the glove an example of a sliding signifier, or signifier without signified—in this case, the identity of the woman which Klinger is careful to conceal. The plates suggest various psychological states or existential crises faced by the artist protagonist (who bears a striking resemblance to the young Klinger).

"Bust of Elsa Asenijeff," c. 1900
“Bust of Elsa Asenijeff,” c. 1900
Klinger’s model, Elsa Asenijeff, c. 1897

Klinger traveled extensively around the art centers of Europe for years before returning to Leipzig in 1893. From 1897 he mostly concentrated on sculpture; his marble statue of Beethoven was an integral part of the Vienna Secession exhibit of 1902.

“Statue of Beethoven,” 1902

Klinger was cited by many artists (notably Giorgio de Chirico) as being a major link between the symbolist movement of the 19th century and the start of the metaphysical and Surrealist movements of the 20th century. Asteroid 22369 Klinger is named in his honor.

Elsa Asenijeff, 1896
“The Great Goddess,” 1916
“Adam, Opus III”
“Amor, Tod, und Jenseits (Love, Death, and Beyond)”

In Elsa Bernstein’s naturalist play Dämmerung, Klinger is mentioned in the third act when Carl talks of being able to afford “etchings by Klinger” for 80 francs.
Inspection Medical Hermeneutics, an infamous Moscow art collective, based their 1991 installation Klinger’s Boxes, on an idea inspired by Klinger’s Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove.

From “Klinger’s Boxes,” this is “Cold Reduction” 1991

Edited from:


Max Klinger

 


Digital collage portrait by TMLipp
Created for The Artist Birthday Series,
February 18, 2017

(click image for full resolution)

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Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter (born 9 February 1932) is a German visual artist. Richter has produced abstract as well as photorealistic paintings, and also photographs and glass pieces. His art follows the examples of Picasso and Jean Arp in undermining the concept of the artist’s obligation to maintain a single cohesive style.
In October 2012, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist at $34 million (£21 million). This was exceeded in May 2013 when his 1968 piece Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral square, Milan) was sold for $37.1 million (£24.4 million) in New York. This was further exceeded in February 2015 when his painting Abstraktes Bild sold for $44.52 million (£30.4 million) in London at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale.


Richter was born in Hospital Dresden-Neustadt in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia (now Bogatynia, Poland), and in Waltersdorf (Zittauer Gebirge), in the Upper Lusatian countryside, where his father worked as a village teacher. Gerhard’s father, Horst Richter, was a mathematics and physics student at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden, when he married Hildegard Schönfelder in 1931, and Gerhard was born the following year.

Gerhard Richter, c. 1966
Gerhard Richter, c. 1966

After struggling to maintain a position in the new Nationalist Socialist education system, Horst found a position in Reichenau. In Reichenau, Gerhard’s younger sister, Gisela was born in November 1936. Horst and Hildegard were able to remain primarily apolitical due to Reichenau’s location in the countryside. Horst, being a teacher, was eventually forced to join the National Socialist Party. He never became an avid supporter of Nazism, and was not required to attend party rallies. In 1942, Gerhard was conscripted into the Deutsches Jungvolk, but by the end of the war he was still too young to be an official member of the Hitler Youth. In 1943 Hildegard moved the family to Waltersdorf, and was later forced to sell her piano which had great importance to her as her father had been a well known pianist.

"S. mit kind (S. with child)," 1995
“S. mit kind (S. with child),” 1995

Gerhard left school after 10th grade and apprenticed as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1948, he finished higher professional school in Zittau, and, between 1949 and 1951, successively worked as an apprentice with a sign painter and as a painter. In 1950, his application for study at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts was rejected as “too bourgeois”. He finally began his studies at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951. His teachers were Karl von Appen, Heinz Lohmar (de) and Will Grohmann.

Richter married Marianne Eufinger in 1957; she gave birth to his first daughter. He married his second wife, the sculptor Isa Genzken, in 1982. Richter had a son and daughter with his third wife, Sabine Moritz after they were married in 1995.


In the early days of his career, he prepared a wall painting (Communion with Picasso, 1955) for the refectory of his Academy of Arts as part of his B.A. Another mural entitled Lebensfreude (Joy of Life) followed at the German Hygiene Museum for his diploma. It was intended to produce an effect “similar to that of wallpaper or tapestry”.

"Lebensfreude (Joy of Life)," 1956
“Lebensfreude (Joy of Life),” 1956

Both paintings were painted over for ideological reasons after Richter escaped from East to West Germany two months before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. After German reunification two “windows” of the wall painting Joy of Life (1956) were uncovered in the stairway of the German Hygiene Museum, but these were later covered over when it was decided to restore the Museum to its original 1930 state. From 1957 to 1961 Richter worked as a master trainee in the academy and took commissions for the then state of East Germany. During this time, he worked intensively on murals like Arbeiterkampf (Workers’ struggle), on oil paintings (e.g. portraits of the East German actress Angelica Domröse and of Richter’s first wife Ema), on various self-portraits and on a panorama of Dresden with the neutral name Stadtbild (Cityscape), 1956.

“Stadtbild (Cityscape),” 1956

When he escaped to West Germany, Richter began to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Karl Otto Götz together with Sigmar Polke, HA Schult, Kuno Gonschior, Hans Erhard Walther, Konrad Lueg and Gotthard Graubner. With Polke and Konrad Fischer (de) (pseudonym Lueg) he introduced the term Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capitalistic Realism) as an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial shorthand of advertising. This title also referred to the realist style of art known as Socialist Realism, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union, but it also commented upon the consumer-driven art doctrine of western capitalism.

Richter with colleagues Sigmar Polke, Konrad Fischer (then Lueg) and Manfred Kuttner

 

“Party,” 1963

Richter taught at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design as a visiting professor; he returned to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1971, where he was a professor for over 15 years. In 1983, Richter resettled from Düsseldorf to Cologne, where he still lives and works today. In 1996, he moved into a studio designed by architect Thiess Marwede.

Window at Cologne Cathedral, by Gerhard Richter
Window at Cologne Cathedral, by Gerhard Richter
Window at Cologne Cathedral, by Gerhard Richter

Nearly all of Richter’s work demonstrates both illusionistic space that seems natural and the physical activity and material of painting—as mutual interferences. For Richter, reality is the combination of new attempts to understand—to represent; in his case, to paint—the world surrounding us. Richter’s opinions and perspectives on his own art, and that of the larger art market and various artistic movements, are compiled in a chronological record of “Writings” and interviews. The following quotes are excerpts from the compilation:

  • “I am a Surrealist.”
  • “My sole concern is the object. Otherwise I would not take so much trouble over my choice of subjects; otherwise I would not paint at all.”
  • “My concern is never art, but always what art can be used for.”


Edited from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerhard_Richter


Digital collage portrait by TMLipp
Created for The Artist Birthday Series:
February 9, 2017

Gerhard Richter

(click image for full resolution)

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Yves Tanguy

Yves Tanguy: painter

Yves Tanguy (January 5, 1900 – January 15, 1955) was in many respects the quintessential Surrealist. A sociable eccentric who ate spiders as a party trick, and a close friend of Andre Breton, he was best-known for his misshapen rocks and molten surfaces that lent definition to the Surrealist aesthetic. Self-taught but enormously skilled, he painted a hyper-real world with exacting precision. His landscapes, a high-octane blend of fact and fiction, captured the attention of important artists and thinkers from Salvador Dalí to Mark Rothko who admitted their debt to the older artist. Even Carl Gustave Jung used a canvas by Tanguy to illustrate his theory of the collective unconscious.

Tanguy, the son of a retired navy captain, was born at the Ministry of Naval Affairs on Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. In 1918, he briefly joined the merchant navy before being drafted into the Army, where he befriended Jacques Prévert. At the end of his military service in 1922, he returned to Paris, where he worked various odd jobs. He stumbled upon a painting by Giorgio de Chirico and was so deeply impressed he resolved to become a painter himself in spite of his complete lack of formal training.

Prévert and Tanguy, c. 1919
Tanguy and Prévert, c. 1924

Through his friend Prévert, in around 1924 Tanguy was introduced into the circle of surrealist artists around André Breton. he quickly began to develop his own unique painting style, giving his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1927, and marrying his first wife, Jeannette Ducroq, later that same year. During this busy time of his life, Breton gave Tanguy a contract to paint 12 pieces a year. With his fixed income, he painted less and ended up creating only eight works of art for Breton.

"Large Painting Representing A Landscape," 1927
“Large Painting Representing A Landscape,” 1927

In December 1930, at an early screening of Buñuel and Dali’s L’Age d’Or, right-wing activists went to the lobby of the cinema where the film was being screened, and destroyed art works by Dalí, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Tanguy, and others.

“Janvier,” 1930

Throughout the 1930s, he adopted the bohemian lifestyle of the struggling artist with gusto, leading eventually to the failure of his first marriage. He had an intense affair with Peggy Guggenheim in 1938 when he went to London with his wife to hang his first retrospective exhibition in Britain at her gallery Guggenheim Jeune.

"L'ennui et la tranquilité," 1938
“L’ennui et la tranquilité,” 1938

The exhibition was a great success and Guggenheim wrote in her autobiography that “Tanguy found himself rich for the first time in his life”. She purchased his pictures Toilette de L’Air and The Sun in Its Jewel Case (Le Soleil dans son écrin) for her collection. He also painted Peggy two beautiful earrings.

Peggy Guggenheim, c. 1950, wearing earrings painted by Tanguy
Peggy Guggenheim, c. 1950, wearing earrings painted by Tanguy
"Toilette De L'Air," 1937 - originally purchased by Peggy Guggenheim, now in the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany
“Toilette De L’Air,” 1937 – originally purchased by Peggy Guggenheim, now in the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany
"The Sun In Its Jewel Case," 1937 - Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy
“The Sun In Its Jewel Case,” 1937 – Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy

The affair continued in both London and Paris and only finished when Tanguy met fellow Surrealist artist Kay Sage, who would become his second wife. After seeing and being very impressed by her work, the two began a unified and symbiotic relationship. With the outbreak of World War II, Sage moved back to her native New York, and Tanguy, judged unfit for military service, followed her. He would spend the rest of his life in the United States. Sage and Tanguy were married in Reno, Nevada on August 17, 1940.

Portrait of Yves Tanguy by George Platt Lynes, New York, 1940
Portrait of Yves Tanguy by George Platt Lynes, New York, 1940
Yves Tanguy with his wife and fellow Surrealist, Kay Sage
“The Water Seekers,” 1945

Toward the end of the war, the couple moved to Woodbury, Connecticut, converting an old farmhouse into an artists’ studio. They spent the rest of their lives there. In 1948, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Sage and Tanguy were inseparable throughout their 15-year marriage, sharing a studio in Woodbury, Connecticut and communicating only in French in their home. Both artists sought to create paintings that the French poet André Breton called “peinture-poésie,” a style influenced by poetry and dream-like imagery.

The home of Tanguy and Sage, 35 Old Town Farm Road, Woodbury, CT - built in 1830, seen here in 2004
The home of Tanguy and Sage, 35 Old Town Farm Road, Woodbury, CT – built in 1830, seen here in 2004

In January 1955, Tanguy suffered a fatal stroke at Woodbury. His body was cremated and his ashes preserved until Sage’s death in 1963. Later, his ashes were scattered by his friend Pierre Matisse on the beach at Douarnenez in his beloved Brittany, together with those of his wife.

“Boneyard of the World — Multiplication of the Arcs,” 1954 – The last known completed painting by Tanguy, now in the The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

“I cannot, nor, consequently, want to try to give a definition, even a simple one, to what I paint. If I did try, I would risk very much closing myself in a definition that would later become like a prison for me.” – Yves Tanguy

Edited from:


Yves Tanguy

Digital collage portrait by TMLipp
Created for The Artist Birthday Series
January 4, 1016
(click image for full resolution)

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Click the button below to let us know about typos, incorrect information, broken links, erroneous attribution,
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Special thanks to: Daily Artfixx, On This Day, WikipediaFind-A-Grave, A&E Bio, The Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery, Famous Birthdays, Encyclopedia Brittanica, and all the art history buffs that keep the internet full of wonderful information and images. 


Carlo Levi

Carlo Levi: painter, writer, activist

Dr. Carlo Levi (November 29, 1902 – January 4, 1975) was an Italian-Jewish painter, writer, activist, anti-fascist, and doctor. He is best known for his book Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli), published in 1945, a memoir of his time spent in exile in Lucania, Italy, after being arrested in connection with his political activism. In 1979, the book became the basis of a movie of the same name, directed by Francesco Rosi. Lucania, now called Basilicata, was historically one of the poorest and most backward regions of the impoverished Italian south. Levi’s lucid, non-ideological and sympathetic description of the daily hardships experienced by the local peasants helped to propel the “Problem of the South” into national discourse after the end of World War II.

carlo-levi
Levi was born in Turin, Piedmont, to wealthy Jewish physician Ercole Levi and Annetta Treves, the sister of Claudio Treves, an important socialist leader in Italy. Levi graduated from high school (Liceo Alfieri) in 1917. Upon graduation, Levi attended the University of Turin, where he studied medicine and, in 1924, graduated with high marks. While at university, Levi had become friends with Piero Gobetti who sparked Levi’s interests in political activism that would continue throughout his life. Soon after graduation from the University of Turin, Levi exhibited some of his works at the XIV Venice Biennale.

carlo-levi-negli-anni-venti
Levi never completely abandoned his medical studies and served as assistant to Prof. Micheli at the University of Turin’s Clinic from 1924 to 1928, working on research involving hepatopathy and diseases of bile tract. From 1924 to 1928, Levi continued his specialization studies in Paris with Professor Bourguignon among others, although by 1927 Levi had decided to dedicate his life to painting.

Self portrait
Self portrait

Levi’s early time in Paris, as a painter and as a student of medicine, brought him into contact with many notable personalities of the 20th century, including Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Alberto Moravia, Giorgio de Chirico, and others. Levi lived almost exclusively in Paris from 1932 to 1934.

"Nudo Sdraiato," 1934
“Nudo Sdraiato,” 1934

In 1929, along with Carlo and Nello Rosselli he founded an anti-fascist movement called Giustizia e Libertà, becoming a leader of the Italian branch along with Leone Ginzburg. He also joined with Francesco Menzio in the famous Gruppo dei Sei (Group of six), all painters in Turin, including Jessie Boswell, Gigi Chessa, Nicola Galante and Enrico Paulucci.

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As a result of his activism and involvement with anti-fascist movements, Levi was arrested and exiled to Aliano (Gagliano in his book), a town in a remote area of Italy called Lucania from 1935 to 1936. There he encountered a poverty almost unknown in prosperous northern Italy. While there, Levi worked on the side as one of the doctors for the villagers, although he had never practiced medicine after graduating from medical school. During his exile he spent much of his time painting.

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Levi (seen here on far left), while in exhile in Aliano
Levi (seen here on far left), while in exile in Aliano

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After his release, he moved to France and lived there from 1939 to 1941. In 1941, he returned to Italy, and was later arrested in Florence and imprisoned in the Murate prison. He was released following Benito Mussolini’s arrest and sought refuge across the street from the Pitti Palace, where he wrote his now famous book, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli.

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After World War II, he moved to Rome and from 1945 to 1946 he served as the editor of L’Italia Libera, the publication of the Partito d’Azione, an anti-fascist organization that grew out of the republican tradition. He continued to write and paint, exhibiting in Europe and the United States. His written works include L’Orologio (The Watch) (1950), Le parole sono pietre (Words Are Stones) (1955), and Il Futuro ha un Cuore Antico (The Future has an Ancient Heart) (1956).

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In 1963, he was elected to the Senate as an independent on the Communist Party ticket; he was re-elected to the Senate in 1968 and served there until 1972.

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Author Alberto Moravia, Novelist Elsa Moranti, Author Carlo Levi and Carlo Muscetta, chatting in Levi's private studio
Author Alberto Moravia, Novelist Elsa Moranti, Author Carlo Levi and Carlo Muscetta, chatting in Levi’s private studio

Carlo Levi died of pneumonia in Rome on 4 January 1975. He is buried in Aliano. The ‘Persiana’ Gallery in Palermo exhibited his last work, Apollo and Daphne, executed on a goatskin drum the day before he was admitted to hospital.

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Edited from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Levi


Carlo Levi

Digital collage portrait by TMLipp
Created for The Artist Birthday Series
(click image for full resolution)

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