Karl Otto Götz – 1914 – 2017

I just learned that my favorite painter, Karl Otto Götz, has died on Saturday, aged 103 years.

Götz was the most important artist of the “Informel” movement, the European counterpart of abstract expressionism. Götz was also important as a university teacher (his students include Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, among others) and as a theoretician of art and aesthetics.

See here for previous articles about K.O. Götz on this blog.

(The picture, showing K.O.Götz’ painting “Rimu”, is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riemu.jpg.)


Living Room with Tropical Plants


In a previous post, it was already mentioned that one of Rolf Keller’s hobbies was growing tropical plants. In 1958, he removed one of the walls of his apartment (he was the owner of the house) and replaced it with a glass cabinet or indoor greenhouse, shown on this drawing. In the lower right corner, you can see Rolf Keller’s “24” logo, his signature and the dating “Dez. 58” (Dec. 58). The two rooms where integrated into one larger room this way with the “greenhouse” as a room divider. The size of the painting is 22 cm * 29 cm. It is mixed media, predominantly watercolor.

There had been paintings of tropical plants on the wall before, documented on some photographs, but obviously Rolf Keller had preferred to get the real thing instead. The integration of living plants and typical 1950s furniture creates a modern atmosphere.

The project of building the glass cabinet and populating it with plants is documented in several letters, some of them with illustrations. I am planning to show the more interesting ones here in a future post. For example, in one of the letters Rolf Keller describes how he got and transported the large branch that acts as the “backbone” of the little tropical landscape inside. Getting the plants in the GDR (East Germany) of the late 1950s was a challenge, but he was eventually able to get several species of epiphytic ferns and flowering plants.

In the back of the room, you can see Rolf Keller’s wife, Grete Keller, perhaps reading a book, or playing a solitaire card game.

On the right side, the picture is getting sketchier. One can see here that Rolf Keller would draw hidden parts of an object, like the arm chair sketched here, in order to get the proportions right, even if these would not be visible in a finished painting. Rolf Keller signed and framed the picture like this, so I think the sketchiness of the drawing on the sides is intended. This way, the viewer’s gaze is directed to the center which has been worked out in more detail, showing the plants and the bright light of the lamp.

In the foreground you can see one of the chairs shown in a previous post. The lamp might be the one shown there as well.

Here is an enlargeable version of the image. Click on it, then click again to see details.


Rocks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains 4


A watercolor showing the “Schrammsteinmassiv”, a famous group or rocks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, made by Svend Keller on June 7th, 1949. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains were one of Svend Keller’s favorite landscapes and there are several depictions of motives from this area made in different techniques (see https://kellerdoscope.wordpress.com/?s=Elbe+Sandstone&submit=Search).

Zooming In and Zooming Out

My contribution to the cooperative blog project “Journey of a photograph”. The journey will be going on now…



Nerve impulses running down the spinal cord, triggering muscle cells – mitochondria pumping protons and electrons to provide the energy to move a muscle. The muscle contracts and the fingertip touches the release button, triggering a cascade of electronic signals, calculations, movements of electromechanical parts, chemical reactions inside a battery, a shutter opening, photons flashing inside and triggering chemical changes in the particles of the film. A myriad of smallest and shortest events and processes combine to produce that short “click” that indicates that a picture has been taken. The photographer looks away and her mind and eye turn on something else.

A short moment in her life. The moment she pressed the trigger of her camera. Clouds, trees or bushes, houses, the horizon, the sun. Motion blur. Lens Flair.

The photograph was shot while in motion, maybe from a train or a car. The hexagonal spots of lens flair…

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Industrial Illustration, 1950s


Rolf Keller worked as a self-employed graphics artist working for different clients. He did caricatures for newspapers, newspaper advertisements, layouts as well as illustrations and the kind of work we have seen already in this blog, like the greeting cards and advent calendars he designed for Lederbogen Verlag. However, economically more important for him was the work he did for industrial customers.

In a letter to Svend Keller, dated Sept. 28th, 1957, Rolf Keller writes:

“Relating to business, September was extremely poor. The main reason is that there were no assignments from WMW, since Sch. was absent for 6 weeks to build up an exhibition. Yesterday, the first assignments came in again.”[1]

WMW, actually VVB WMW, was the association of nationally-owned enterprises producing machine tools in the GDR. This citation demonstrates that WMW was the main client of Rolf Keller; the work for them was his bread and butter business. The letters indicate that besids WMW, he had other industrial customers as well. For these companies, he designed logos (an especially lucrative kind of work, according to his letters; I don’t know it he was the one who designed the WMW-logo visible on this leaflet, but it is possible), but also leaflets like the one shown here, the only item of this kind I have at the moment. It shows one of the machines offered by WMW. I do not know what kind of print process was employed at the time to transfer a painting into a print like this, but using such paintings instead of photographs seems to have been quite common in technical illustrations of the time. The painting is signed and shows Rolf Keller’s logo, as well as a “50” that is probably the year. The middle folds shows staple holes, so there must have been at least a cover, if not additional pages. It is well possible that Rolf Keller also did the layout of the whole page, as well as the layout of the back page (listing several machines and parts, together with the respective providers), but I don’t know. Anyway, here is the back side, to give you an impression of what kind of publication this was:


Rolf Keller probably did similar illustrations for catalogues and advertisments as well. He also worked for WMW during the Leipzig industrial fair and seems to have been involved in the design of their stand at the fair, strenuous but well paid work involving night shifts, according to some letters. It looks like the fair stand included hand-painted posters of machines. In a letter dated 13th March 1957, again to Svend Keller, he writes:

“I am quite overworked since everything is night-work. I Paint in most cases from 6 PM until 4 AM. Yesterday and today, however, only until 11:30 PM, but I was there from 8 AM to 9 [?] and I did a lot of sketching despite the strong bustling activity. Then to the accommodation, to sleep for 2 hours. I think you would enjoy the tempera-paintings of the machines. Today I have finished painting the next model of a complicated worm grinder.”[2]

It does not become quite clear here if Rolf Keller actually worked on the fair stand itself. Some of the work on the fair seems to have been the preparation of paintings to be used later, not the direct work on the fair stand. In a letter from 20th of March, 1957, he writes:

“I am now evaluating the things from the fair for Schönfeldt, preparing figures and staffage to it and adjusting diverse things. Strange that everything needs its time and hour to develop to maturity. One time during the fair while working in the night, I was totally desperate because it just did not work. Now, after gaining distance it works nearly effortlessly and the tempera paintings are bit by bit taking shape.”[3]

The “figures and staffage” might have been decoration for the fair stand, for next time, but that does not become completely clear here. The paintings might have been done for catalogues and fliyers, like the one shown here. The fair would have provided an opportunity to get access to samples of all the different machines in one place and without disturbance, something that might not have been possible in the factory. The man named “Schönfeldt”, also mentioned in other letters, is obviously the “Sch.” from the first citation above. He obviously was Rolf Keller’s main contact within WMW.

After the German reunification, some of the companies belonging to WMW where sold. Some of them seem to have gone bankrupt. The machine industry of the GDR was largely targeted at east Europe and the Sovjet Union. When the east German Mark was converted into the west German Deutschmark at a conversion rate of 1 to 1, the industrial products of GDR companies became too expensive for their traditional customers in the east. On the other hand, they were not up to date technologically. As a result, a large part of the east German industry collapsed. The surviving remains of those companies, including some remains of WMW, now belong to different industrial groups. However, after some research I found that documents from WMW, including catalogs and leaflets, have been transferred to the state archive of Saxony, in its Chemnitz branch (see http://www.archiv.sachsen.de/cps/bestaende.html?oid=09.08.05&file=31011.xml&syg_id=44476&obf2=762). It is very likely that in the inventory of that archive, more works of Rolf Keller await discovery, and I want to try to track them down when I have the time to do so.

I think this is an interesting part of industrial history as well as history of applied art and design. Such old industrial illustrations from the 1950s, showing the technology of 60 or more years ago, have a certain aesthetic appeal to me. If you enlarge the picture, you might appreciate the artistic quality it has. This is not only an old picture of and old machine; it is also a work of art.


[1] German original: „Der September war geschäftlich äußerst mies, ein Monat wie seit Jahren nicht. Das lag hauptsächlich am Ausfall der WMW-Aufträge, da Sch. 6 Wochen abwesend war, um eine Ausstellung aufzubauen. Gestern kamen die ersten Aufträge wieder.“

[2] German original: „Bin ziemlich überarbeitet, da alles Nachtarbeit ist. Male zumeist von 6 Uhr abends bis 4 Uhr früh. Gestern und heute allerdings nur ½ 12, war jedoch von Früh 8 bis 9 [?] Uhr dort u. habe trotz des Riesenbetriebes viel skizziert. Dann ins Quartier, 2 Std. schlafen. Ich glaube, die Tempera-Bilder der Maschinen würden Dir auch Spaß machen. Heute habe ich das nächste Modell einer komplizierten Schnecken-Schleifmaschine fertig gemalt.“

[3] “Ich werte jetzt die Sachen von der Messe für Schönfeldt aus, mache Figuren und Staffage dazu und gleiche Verschiedenes aus. Seltsam, daß doch alles seine Zeit und Stunde braucht, um zur Reife zu kommen. Einmal war ich auf der Messe bei der Nachtarbeit völlig verzweifelt, weil es einfach nicht mehr klappte. Jetzt, nachdem Abstand gewonnen ist, geht es fast mühelos u. die Temperabilder gewinnen allmählich Gesicht.”

Rocks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains 2


A monochrome watercolor made by Svend Keller on June 7th, 1949. The caption reads “Schrammsteine – Wildschützensteig -“. The “Schrammsteine” is a rock formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. “Wildschützensteig” is a particular way up those rocks. The name means something like “poacher’s steep track”.  You can find pictures of it on the internet. There are metal staircases in parts of the way today, but I don’t know how it looked in 1949.

There are several drawings by Svend Keller showing motives from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. This is the second one I am showing here, the first one is here. Throughout his life, Svend Keller was fascinated by this mountain range with its rugged, steep cliffs. After moving to West Germany, he was, to his regret, unable to visit this area for several decades and only returned there after Germany’s reunification.

The picture looks almost like an abstract painting, especially if you enlarge it on your screen and look at sections of it. I like the structures and textures of it. Unlike the other watercolor paintings I have posted here before, it looks like there is no preparatory drawing in this one.