Pascal Derrien

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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Otto Dix: When Ambivalence Has No Equivalence

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

Photo Credits

Otto Dix War Tryptic


Irish Times Supplement May 2016

More about Otto Dix

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Lyon Brave

2 years ago #22

sounds comfortable

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #21

thanks for adding some context and other pointers to the discussion :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #20

thanks Don Kerr and thanks form sharing :-)

don kerr

5 years ago #19

I too just came upon this post and am so glad to have found it. Like Dean Owen Regardless, the Otto Dix story was clearly waiting there for you to be picked up and although his images are grim they are visceral and truthful unlike some wartime art which was used to glorify battle. Thanks for illuminating this aspect of history. Will share.

CityVP Manjit

5 years ago #18

Having finished reading this I simply needed to know more and as I found a Guardian article that satisfied this curiosity more is what I got. This helped me understand the role of Dada, the connection to German War Artists and the difference between English War Poets. I got a sense of a highly patriotic man who was curious about war and on realizing the reality and brutality of it, shared his psyche of that which drove other war artists mad - I am sure a part of this is self-preservation of Dix's mental state, otherwise to keep such horror in one's head is a recipe for madness or suicide. That he also survived the Nazi's who were very much aware of his "degenerate" art only makes Dix even more fascinating to me. The guardian article provided me with intro's to the world of George Grosz and I quickly understood from reading that Otto Dix was living his art, whereas another painter Max Beckermann is more representative of art movements. In this regard I identify with Otto Dix as I have already identified with Henri Matisse - in the case of Matisse I enjoyed his originality and humility, which is quite a contrast to the ego and extrovertly admired and loved Picasso. Even though I only have this and the Guardian article to go by, I can see in Otto Dix an extraordinarily honest being, maybe initially naive enough to be seduced by patriotic callings to fight a war that took war into an even uglier mechanized dimension. That it took only 21 years for the world to make the same mistake twice tells me that very few paid attention to Otto Dix's hellish warning. I am not sure that global leaders still identify with this for global leaders won't risk their own children where there is hell.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #17

every now and again I get it somewhat right :-) thanks for the encouraging comment too

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #16

no problem Gerald Hecht :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #15

comment right on the button :-) Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #14

Not often, Pascal Derrien, that we stumble by chance across something that tugs at our emotions. This picture paints a thousand words, telling of the woeful reality of war - blood, guts and all. Thanks for sharing, and for reminding us that when we ignore history it has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #13

thank you for taking the time to read and commenting :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #12

thank you for dropping by Joanna Hofman :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #11

the power of evolution versus static history in one way I guess he anticipated the contradicting forces at play :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #10

actually think you are right Kevin Pashuk :-) I started the draft on the same day I read the article and let it rest for couple of weeks

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #9

That's why I like the concept of serendipity Pascal Derrien. There was a reason all the other papers were missing. You were able to get the inspiration for this post, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #8

yes agree Donna-Luisa Eversley the only description I could come up with was un=humanly human I don't even know if it correct in English but I guess people will get my point :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #7

true Dean Owen on articles cadence have a real life too including sport :-) I will do two a month :-) Yes the wheel has finally turned for Otto but he died in 1969 so politely recognized yes but maybe not to the level he should have been, I think being in Germany on a regular basis and having my own Austrian grandfather leaving Austria in the 30s and be a prisoner in camps lead me to think that the new generation is far more open to talk about this than before but there is still a collective stigma and collective taboo now thats only my opinion :-)

Dean Owen

5 years ago #6

First off, it seems like ages since reading your articles. It was something I looked forward to every day. I know you said you were cutting back, but still. Great to read you again. Secondly what a fascinating character. We only have images of the horrors of Verdun and Somme from what we have read or seen in the movies. These pictures from an actual witness give a far more real meaningful insight, more than any photo could. I assume the people that "denied the importance of his work were Germans who wanted to forget the horrors on WW1. Germany has changed now, and even the Holocaust is taught in schools as a lesson to learn from. I assume he is getting broader recognition now than ever before?

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #5

True Franci Eugenia Hoffman a gem in itself :-)

What a wonderful find. Thank you for sharing, Pascal Derrien.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #3

thanks Christopher :-) his work is very powerful indeed :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #2

I have never come across him before last month that's scary in itself :-)

Sara Jacobovici

5 years ago #1

Thank you Pascal Derrien for opening my eyes to this artist and his story.

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