Oskar Schlemmer (German, 1888–1943)

Inspired in part by Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and his observations and experiences during the First World War, Oskar Schlemmer began to conceive of the human body as a new artistic medium. He saw ballet and pantomime as free from the historical baggage of theatre and opera and thus able to present his ideas of choreographed geometry, man as dancer, transformed by costume, moving in space.German painter, sculptor, choreographer and stage designer. After the death of his parents he lived with his sister at Göppingen, and in Stuttgart from 1903 to 1905 he served an apprenticeship at a workshop specializing in marquetry while attending classes at the Kunstgewerbeschule. He continued his studies on a bursary from 1906 to 1911 at the Kunstakademie in Stuttgart under the plein-air landscape painters Christian Landenberger (1862–1927) and Friedrich von Keller (1840–1914). In 1911–12 he lived in Berlin, where he produced paintings such as Hunting Lodge, Grunewald (1911; Stuttgart, Staatsgal.) and Self-portrait (1912; Stuttgart, Staatsgal.) under the influence of Cubism. After returning to Stuttgart, Schlemmer studied under Adolf Hölzel, whose theory of pictorial methods made him a pioneer of abstract art and who gathered around him an international circle of students that included Willi Baumeister and the Swiss artists Otto Meyer-Amden and Johannes Itten, with whom Schlemmer became friends.

Schlemmer’s experience with dance soon found direct expression in paintings such as The Dancer (1923; Stuttgart, Staatsgal.), a stylized self-portrait, and The Gesture, Dancer (1922; Munich, Staatsgal. Mod. Kst) in which the torso and legs of a female figure are stylized into huge curved forms similar to those seen in the costume of The Abstract. Schlemmer abandoned his earlier, rigorously flat style of painting in favour of a greater sense of volume and depth in the treatment both of figures and of space. In his commitment to the Bauhaus programme for interrelating art and craft with architecture he designed and executed wall decorations in the Weimar Workshop Building (1923; destr. 1930, largely reconstructed early 1980s) as a highlight of Bauhaus Week. The walls, corridors, stairways and niches of this building, designed by Henry Van de Velde, were intended to provide a visual statement of the figurative grammar underlying the formation of different human types. This collaborative installation, which in 1930 became an early casualty of Nazi vandalism, was followed in 1925 by a series entitled Gallery Pictures, for example Roman (Basle, Kstmus.) and Concentric Group (Stuttgart, Staatsgal.), which were striking for their classical harmony.

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