Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Prophetess" by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

In 1937 the Nazi Party organized an exhibit called Die Ausstellung "Entartete Kunst" (in English, the "Degenerate Art" Exhibition) to run concurrent with the Great German Art Exhibition, and thus showcase the dangers of so-called cultural disintegration.

Confiscated works of modern art by artists such as Karl Schmidt-Rottluff were hung in a haphazard manner alongside mocking and critical slogans, such as "Nature as seen through sick minds." Artists were specifically criticized for finding inspiration from "primitive" people such as Africans, Polynesians, and Gypsies, insulting German womanhood, distorting natural forms, and exhibiting a lack of artistic skill.

The Degenerate Art Exhibition included over 50 of Schmidt-Rottluff's works. I do not know if this particular woodcut (created in 1919) appeared in the exhibition. However, it (and most of Schmidt-Rottluff's work) easily fits the bill for all the Nazi's criticisms: there's an obvious African art influence, a woman's face is depicted in a way which is unflattering and unfeminine by conventional, Western standards, the human form is highly stylized so as to be more emotionally expressive than naturalistic, and the overall design is simplistic.

This portrait cuts through the distractions of dazzling craft and pretty imagery. The woman soothsayer speaks loud and clear as she gestures with her hand for dramatic emphasis. She transforms into something alien, yet somehow familiar. Her form is her message, a juxtaposition of primal past and future unknown.

Indeed, for us in the year 2014, she has already arrived, her predictions made manifest in the postmodern age.


  1. Interesting. Speaking of exhibits I saw your exhibit advertised at Briar Bush Nature Center through the end of May. Are there any talks with the artist planned? It would be cool to hear about your process and technique in situ.

  2. No, no talks planned. My work at Briar Bush now is mostly a pretty straight forward process of carving a wood block so I basically have a wood stamp, printing (stamping) the image onto paper with oil based black ink on watercolor paper, and then filling in the color with watercolor paints after the ink dries. But most of my work is a reduction process, which involves printing layers of color and carving the same block a little more after each layer (so destroying the block in the process and being unable to make more prints once the edition is finished.)