Portrait of Rolf Keller, by Rudolf Kraus


A portrait showing Rolf Keller, drawing. This drawing was made by Rudolf Kraus, another artist living in Karl-Marx-Stadt (today Chemnitz) at the time. The drawing (pen and (probably) black chalk, ca. 14.3 cm x 21.5 cm), signed “Rudolf Kraus, Nov. 22nd, 1956) used to be hanging in my parents living room, so I grew up seeing it. This is the form my grandfather was present most of the time. It is now hanging in my living room.

A caricature made by Herbert Reuter, yet another artist, on January 4th 1962, shows Rudolf (“Rudi”) Kraus, among others. Here is a clipping of it showing Rudolf Kraus (showing this caricature completely needs more preparation to explain the context, so I am not going to do that today):


Rudolf Kraus is mainly known for works in public places. After the end of the German Democratic Republic, many of these, often in the style of socialist realism, were not thought to be worth keeping and where destroyed during building projects. Looking at the pictures in the Wikipedia article (linked to the name above), I tend to agree. However, the low artistic quality was obviously not due to missing ability on the side of the artist, as the drawing above is of high quality and is attesting the abilities of the artist. Rather the bad taste and ideological thinking of the people in the awarding authorities seems to be responsible. I don’t know how he was thinking about the political system, maybe he simply had no choice.

But I suspect that there must be quite some drawings or other private works of this artist, mostly probably in private collections, so his real oeuvre remains to be discovered.

Ruins 4


This pen drawing, made by Svend Keller in 1949, is an illustration for a newspaper article. Below you can see the finished article, as it was probably published in a local newspaper of Chemnitz (yet to be identified, however I have no proof at the moment the article actually appeared in print, but it probably did). This is one of the very few examples where Svend Keller actually worked commercially in his newly learnt profession as a Graphics Designer. It looks like Svend Keller designed for himself a logo to be used for such purposes (probably a stylized “K”, above the name) but I have not seen it anywhere else yet. I don’t know if other newspaper illustrations by Svend Keller exist. To find out, one would have to screen the old papers from Chemnitz, if they still exist in some library or archive, probably as microfilm. As you can see, in the printed version of the drawing, the top part of the drawing was sacrificed. Perhaps drawings played a greater role in newspapers and magazines in those days than they did later when they where largely replaced by photography.

The author of the article signed “Knudsen”. I have not yet identified who he was. Among the drawings of my father, I have found a print (probably a lithography) showing some rocks in Elbsandsteingebirge, also signed “Knudsen”. I have also seen the name being mentioned in one of Rolf Keller’s letters, but I have not yet evaluated those letters systematically. The article is a reportage describing efforts to remove the ruins at one place in Chemnitz where a new square (“Kollwitzplatz” was being built). If the author of the article is the same person (which is likely since in Germany this is a rare name) who made that print, he was probably a graphics artist as well. Maybe he was working as a freelance author for the local newspapers, providing both articles and drawings. But again, only an investigation into archives and libraries could answer that question.

A rough translation is following below. I can only give an idea of the text here, I don’t know how to capture the subtleties of the slightly propagandistic language of some sections. Remember we are here in eastern Germany, in the Soviet occupation zone, a few months before the foundation of the GDR (DDR). For example, an expression like “das schaffende Chemnitz” (literally “the working Chemnitz”, where the word “schaffen” has a connotation of “to bring into being”) seems to be communist jargon. I have translated it here simply “the workers of Chemnitz”. Probably a native speaker of English with some knowledge of Soviet jargon could come up with a better translation.




28th of March 1949.


Where the Kollwitz-square is forming

Once again, spring is coming into our city, accompanied by many hopes and wishes. With strengthened effort, people work on the rebuilding of the heavily destroyed Chemnitz.

Behind the museum as well, callused worker’s fists are clenching harder. Here, the new Käthe-Kollwitz-Square is forming that is supposed to unite the workers of Chemnitz on Mai 1st into a tremendous peace rally. Ruins are being blasted; a steam shovel is loading the narrow-gauge railway removing the debris.

In the evening the colossus is still digging its giant shovel into the debris. The day’s planned target has to be accomplished. The machine is screeching and making noise. Enormous chunks of debris are thudding into the trolleys. Suddenly, a heavy, elongate steel object is clamped between the digging teeth. A bomb! – For four years, the unexploded bomb had been lying in the ruins, witness of a night of horror. Now, one push is forwarding it into the light of the day. In an instant, the square is deserted. But the operator is keeping his nerve. Gently, he lets the 250 kg chunk glide to the ground.

On the next day, the removal of debris is continued as if nothing has happened. Even an American bomb cannot stop the work!

At noon, two blasts are to be conducted. To prevent a mishap, the unexploded bomb is “screened” by T-beams and boulders. A contingent of the People’s Police closes off the surrounding streets. Two explosions – the walls are collapsing -, work can continue. But now the bomb has to be removed. Defusing it is impossible, the detonator is seized up by rust and such old explosive devices are treacherous things. The power shovel must load the chunk into a trolley. “Well, you can sit inside it!” the machinist is saying.

But then he is doing I nevertheless. Four venturous men are clasping the bomb with a chain and fix it to the giant. It is lifted more gently than a raw egg and loaded into one trolley ready for it. Carefully, it is taken away. At the street, the unexploded bomb is loaded onto a police truck allocated for it, gazed at by many passersby, to be exploded in Rabensteiner forest.

On the Käthe-Kollwitz-square, people are already working again to remove the remains of the war.


Carl Amann – 1947


A pencil sketch by Svend Keller, showing the painter Carl Amann in two perspectives. Signed and dated 24th of April, 1947.

Like Rudi Gruner, Carl Amann was one of the artists living in Chemnitz (later renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt and then Chemnitz again) at the time, just like Rolf Keller and his son, Svend Keller. And like Rudi Gruner, he acted as model to Svend Keller, who was doing an aprenticeship as a grafic artist at the time.

Carl Amann was born on December 4th, 1908 in Ulm. He died in Karl-Marx-Stadt on February 5th, 1971. Biographical information about this artist can be found here. If you search the web, you might occasionally find information on auctions where some paintings of him are offered. E.g., here is a self portrait of him from 1937. If you compare the two protraits, you can see the effects of the stress of war and the times of hunger that followed.

A Long Time in the Making


This gallery contains 15 photos.

Originally posted on Claudia McGill and Her Art World:
Here is an artist book I recently finished. It’s called Reverie. This book has been in process for a very long time. I think it was in the summer of 2012…

Abi Shek in THE BOX, Düsseldorf

Abi Shek. Without title. Woodcut with ink on canvas, 150 cm x 116 cm. Picture courtesy of Abi Shek.

THE BOX, a Gallery in Düsseldorf (see http://theboxduesseldorf.blogspot.de/), opened a new exhibition this evenig showing some works of Abi Shek. Not only do I like Abi’s art a lot, his family and my own are also connected by several ties of friendship, so it was a special pleasure for me to attend the opening of the exhibition. The author, essayist and poet Frank Schablewski, a friend of Abi, delivered an interesting opening address, providing his own interpretation of Abi Shek’s works.

A central topic of Abi’s work is animals. The works shown here are large woodcuts, really large compared to typical print sizes. They are printed with printer’s ink on stretched, gessoed, painting size canvases. In some cases, like in the example shown above, additional picture elements have been painted using blue-violet ink.

Abi’s works are abstracted to black, filled contours on white ground, reduced to two dimensions. They are partially inspired by living animals, partially by ancient cultures, especially pre-historic rock art. They hover on the border between abstract and figurative art, distilling the animals into archetypal shapes that evoke resonances of animal fables and emotional encounters with nature.

The exhibition also includes a number of small metal sheet sculptures, showing animals as well. These also start with two-dimensional contours cut out of the metal sheets, but regain the third dimension by bending the sheets. As a result, they inhabit a border area between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional, between graphic art and sculpture. Abi Shek originally studied sculpture with Micha Ullman. These sculptures indicate how Abi’s graphic art is connected to his origins in three-dimensional art. In a way, his wooden printing blocks are sculptural as well, reliefs that are then used as printing blocks.

For more information on Abi Shek see http://www.abishek.de/.

THE BOX. Duisburger Str. 97, 40479 Düsseldorf, Germany.

May 2nd, 2014 to May 18th, 2014.

Opening times: Mo. 7 PM to 10 PM, Tue. 6 PM to 21 PM, Fr. 6 PM to 8 PM or uppon arrangement.

Pencil Sketch of a Factory


A pencil sketch by Svend Keller, 30. April (?) 1949. (I think the month is a Roman number IV, so that would be April). I don’t know if this is RAW Chemnitz Hilbersdorf again or another place. The buildings at the foot of the chimney and the fact that we don’t see its top give the impression of its size. I like the way the bearing structure of the left building and the branches of the tree before it are forming a web-like pattern. (The blue blob of ink at the left side was obviously an unintentional accident, it can be found on a number of other sketches as well.)

There is a certain feeling of fascination for me in this drawing. To describe it, let me cite the Italian artist Marco Bigliazzi  (you find his bog here), who has expressed this very aptly. In an interview (full text is here), he said:

Cranes, chimneys, factories, railroads are magical and mysterious objects for kids. If you are not obliged to work in them once grown up – if you are not obliged to confront the hard nature of daily working routines in such places – it’s most likely that they retain these qualities. [...] I like metros, undergrounds, stations and so on. Flyovers, construction yards, factories, raw spaces of work always seemed to me more real than other parts of the city: less made-up, more frank, sometimes even in a frightening way – as I was saying, more real. And there were all these fantastic, mysterious shapes: engines, tanks, pylons, cranes, containers.

I totally agree. Such buldings have a certain fascination, a kind of beauty of their own. It is sometimes an instance of what I described in The Dark Side of Beauty but definitely, such places have always had a kind of magic for me. This is definitely one of the factors that cause my fascination for the industrial landscapes my father painted, see RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf and RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf Monochrome. It is definitely also the reason I am fascinated in Bgliazzi’s art. Feelings like this are also triggered by abandoned buildings, especially industrial ones (see Towards the Philosophy of Decay).

Hans Josephson in Ernst Barlach Haus, Hamburg

File:Berlin Josephson 30983.jpg

On Saturday I visited an exhibition of some works of Sculptor Hans Josephson in the Ernst Barlach Haus in Hamburg. I had seen some of Josephson’s sculptures in the Kolumba museum in Cologne before. So I was exited to learn that there was an exhibition in Hamburg in that particular museum.

Having grown up and gone to school in the vicinity of the Jenischpark in which that museum is situated, it was a special pleasure for me to visit both the park and the museum, especially since the weather was nice. And I did not regret going into this exhibition.

The picture above shows one of Josephson’s “Halbfiguren” (in Berlin – unfortunately I have no pictures from the Hamburg exhibition) but you have to see one yourself to see how great this art is. To capture the real beauty of these works on photograph, one would need a lot of pictures for each of them, including close ups and macro photos of the surface. Josephson used brass but left it unpolished, covered in a kind of patina just the way they came out of the casting mold. The surfaces of these sculptures are extremely varied and rich in shapes, textures and colors. He is actually the master of the surface, almost like a painter in 3D. While in most other sculptures, the main effect is in the overal shape and the concepts triggered by it, here it is the surface. You have to look at them from a short distance. Some of the sculptures and reliefs are still figurative, but some (like the one above) look just like rocks or boulders and figurative elements have nearly or completely disappeared from these works.

Pictures like the one above do not do justice to the richness and beauty of the irregular surface structures. This might be one of the reasons why Josephson is not so well known. His works do not look so spectacular from a distance or on a picture. But I am sure his fame will grow.

If you look at on of these “boulders” from a short distance and walk around them to study them from all sides, they throw you into a state before words. It is hard to describe these sculptures and their effect, so I will not try. This is something that words cannot capture. Just go there yourself and see them.

Josephson was born in Königsberg (today Kaliningrad) but spend most of his life in Switzerland and acquired the Swiss citizenship. Besides Alberto Giacometti, he is regarded as the second great Swiss sculptor. Giacometti might have been the more versatile artist, but for my personal taste, just as a sculptor Josephson is the greater one, although he is less famous.

(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlin_Josephson_30983.jpg.)