Otto Dix: When Ambivalence Has No Equivalence
I have the option to work from home or from the office when it suits me, when I am in the company building one of my habits at lunch time is to grab a paper and read a couple of articles over my salad and favourite granola yoghurt. Last month that I was in at lunch time all the papers have already been ‘’taken’’ except for a supplement on the 100 years’ anniversary of the Somme Battle.
I thought that it would do and took the supplement for some quick reading, you see I have always been attracted by history to a point that I have even started a degree in history back in university, that was before realizing I liked history from a sociologic standpoint but I really did not like studying history from an academic perspective. I became a drop out and have always been ambivalent about history teaching however I am still naturally inclined to follow and be attracted to historic stories and societal transformations when I come across them.
But let’s go back to this supplement, after some well thought articles on Verdun, why WWI was a new kind of war and what was the role of Irish born regiments troops on the longest and bloodiest battle on the western front, I ended up reading the last article called an ‘’ Artist on the front line’’, the artist in question was Otto Dix.
The two pages and a half had a profound impact on me, I would have some difficulty to explain why but maybe it is Otto Dix personality that makes him so normal and human for an individual I would consider as being a visionary artist. The article was referring to his ambivalence (more on that later) but past that I needed to know more about this fascinating individual.
A few clicks later I had a better idea of who Otto was: born in 1891 he was a regular chap by many aspects he went to war because he wanted too he was subject to this almost hypnotic need that he had to experience it, he came from a working class family and was not an obvious choice to follow an apprentice ship in decorative painting but he liked the smell of painting and a combination of events made the rest of his-story.
During the war he produced more than 600 drawings and gouaches, they are unique as they are ‘’a record of war thru the eyes of a soldier’’. During and post war he produced some of the most fascinating body of work about war and its lasting traumas. Like most survivors and while he came back intact at least from a body perspective his work continued to be fuelled by this ambivalence between obsession and rejection, some people have denied the importance of his work qualifying it as morbid and nightmarish illustrations with no real intent. My two cents and I am far from being an art expert either but I strongly disagree based on what I have seen. His work speaks to me on so many levels, it is un-humanly human.
The fact that he did not blame parties in his work but focused more on the catastrophic aspects of war led critics to think he was apolitical and therefore shallow, he was also given bad press when in the 30’s he did not unequivocally take a stance and remained in Germany, it is true that he adopted a low profile in order to protect and minimize his family exposure, never the less as expected his art was portrayed as ‘’degenerate’’ by the Nazi regime.
With time people came to terms with the true satirical nature of his work and has been since compared to Goya for the intensity and raw power of his defiant art.
A true 20th century genius
Otto Dix War Tryptic
Irish Times Supplement May 2016
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