Cuno Amiet: Expressionism and «Brücke» movement
Cuno Amiet’s artistic career follows the development of modern art, as it evolved during the artist’s lifetime. He promptly adapted neo-impressionist and expressionist forms in his paintings; hence Amiet can be considered a pioneer of 20th century European painting.
Our preceding blog entry was dedicated to Amiet’s early paintings during his prosperous stay in Bretagne, where he came to see artworks by Paul Gauguin and furthermore, where his French artist friends introduced him to Van Gogh’s art and the usage of pure colour. After returning from Pont-Aven and subsequent years of intense working, an exhibition showing over 40 artworks by Amiet was scheduled by 1905 in Dresden at the Richter gallery. Certainly, local artists came to see the show. That Swiss artist, who had been in Pont-Aven and was familiar with Gauguin and Van Gogh, must have made a great impression on the young members of the «Brücke» group, for afterwards, they asked Amiet to join their movement. «Die Brücke» (The Bridge) was a group of German artists formed in Dresden in 1905. Founding members were Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. They published a broadside, called «Programme» in 1906, where Kirchner wrote:
„We call all young people together, and as young people, who carry the future in us, we want to wrest freedom for our actions and our lives from the older, comfortably established forces.“
The seminal group had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and the creation of Expressionism.
Since Amiet joined the group, he henceforth adapted expressionist forms in his paintings. In 1908 he painted «Stillleben mit Zitronen», a still life depicting lemons. Particularly striking about this image are the vivid colours that Amiet employs and the abstinence of traditional perspective. A plate with two lemons is presented on an abstractly depicted blue table. Its surface seems distorted because of the rough brush strokes, characteristic of Amiet’s paintings from that period. While a mask-like doll head peers over an edge, an orange and a green textile decorate the interior. Behind the table, a basket-chair is integrated within the one dimensional, elusive background. The usage of complementary contrast is paradigmatic in Amiet’s oeuvre; here he combines vivid orange with dark blue colours.
As a part of the Bromer Art Collection there is a further painting by Amiet, as well highly expressive, which he painted in 1909, one year after completing the still life with lemons. In this painting Amiet portrayed a child by applying pastose colours on the canvas. The vivid multi-coloured cross-hatching in the background and the narrowed elaboration of facial features give the portrait its expressive appearance.
Cuno Amiet, "Stillleben mit Zitronen", 1908, oil on canvas, 55 x 60 cm
Cuno Amiet, "Bildnis eines Kindes", 1909, oil on canvas, 32.5 x 32 cm
On regarding those two canvases plus the colour woodcut displayed on the horizontal header («Schulpause im Winter» (Schoolbreak during winter time), no date, 32.5 x 32 cm), we probably manage to understand the admiration and enchantment that Amiet’s art produced in his «Brücke» fellows.
Our next blog entry is going to move further on, it is going to tell us about Amiet’s countryside artist house and by then, about his life as a successful painter.
Cuno Amiet: The artist’s beginnings – Seeking for light and colour in Pont-Aven
Bromer Art Collection offers a tiny overview of Cuno Amiet’s (1868-1961) broad oeuvre, of course with gaps. Embracing 12 paintings and 4 paper-works, the collection’s works date back from 1894 reaching to 1957. Based on Bromer Art Collection’s works, this essay is concerned to demonstrate Amiet’s stylistic plurality, which characterises his artistic output. Hence the next four blog-entries are dedicated, unassumingly and fragmentary, to formative moments in Cuno Amiet’s eventful live.
The great scope of Amiet's work of 70 years, and his predilection for experimentation, make his oeuvre appear disparate at first – a constant, though, is the primacy of colour. His numerous landscape paintings depict many winter scenes, gardens and fruit harvests. But he also experimented with the genre of portrait and still life painting. His interest is aimed at traditional motives, which he depicts in several modern, avant-garde techniques, reaching from Neo-impressionism to Expressionism.
The artist’s beginnings can be located in Pont-Aven, a little picturesque fishing village in Bretagne, where the 24-year-old Amiet arrived in Mai 1892. Even though he only stayed for few months, the period in Pont-Aven was very prosperous to Amiet. The inspiring entourage – the so-called «School of Pont-Aven» , a group of artists around Paul Gauguin - encouraged him to develop his own artistic style. He turned away from the academic tone painting to the usage of pure colours. Seeking for light and colour he adapted a neo-impressionist painting style and its characteristic usage of dots and patterns to depict an image. Amiet applies Pointillism; a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of colour are applied in patterns to form an image. Amiet uses a technique of patterns to form images, though with larger cube-like brushstrokes. The technique relies on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the colour spots into a fuller range of tones and it focuses on the specific style of brushwork used to apply the paint. «Prozession in Pont-Aven» is one of Amiet’s artworks that he made during his stay in the Bretagne. The painting depicts a traditional Breton «Pardon», a religious procession in honour of their local saints. The artwork can only be understood considering Amiet’s Breton idols, such as Gauguin and Van Gogh. Amiet expresses his artistic freedom, which he acquired by then, by applying the colour in thick lines on the canvas, by deliberately placing white dots to depict the traditional bonnets and by reducing the scenery to its most elemental forms. While observing Amiet’s oil canvas «Stillleben mit Fayence und Äpfeln» (Still life with faience ware and apples) a similar technique can be recognized. The painting is evidently less abstract, but nevertheless, he also applies a form of Pointillism, or dot-like depiction.
Cuno Amiet,"Prozession in Pont-Aven", no date, oil on canvas, monogrammed lower left "CA", 27 x 41 cm
Cuno Amiet, "Stillleben mit Fayence und Äpfeln", no date, oil on canvas, 49 x 28.6 cm
Among the avant-garde artist circle in Pont-Aven, Amiet experimented with new painting techniques. When he returned to Switzerland people would reject his usage of pure colour. Nevertheless, Amiet moved further on and kept up with Europe’s avant-garde movements. In the next episode our journey will take us to Amiet’s expressionist period. We will look at his paintings during his participation in the «Brücke» group.
Nature photography by Roland Fürst
„Nature Photography by Roland Fürst“: The title already reveals that the exhibition taking place at Bromer Experimental Space does not highlight Roland Fürst’s political sphere as a federal councillor from Solothurn, but his artistic side.
Nature photography refers to a wide range of photography taken outdoors and devoted to displaying natural elements such as landscapes. Nature photography tends to put a stronger emphasis on the aesthetic value of the photo than other photography genres, such as photojournalism and documentary photography. Roland Fürst’s photography is characterised by bright, saturated colours, field depth and precision. His work juxtaposes photography as an accurate reproduction of reality and photography as a highly expressive art form.
bromer kunst’s Blockhaus gallery is showing Fürst’s picture for the first time from Mai 12th to July 16th 2017.
«Kuba – Freiheit oder Terror: Ein Maler erlebt die Revolution»
Swiss artist Rudolf Häsler escaped his homeland’s narrowness, the same way already many Swiss artists have done before he did.
On one of his journeys across Europe he coincidentally fell in love with a Cuban, whom he got married shortly afterwards during a two-week honeymoon journey in Cuba. Initially, the couple intended to remain merely two weeks in Cuba – eventually they stayed over a decade in the Caribbean insular state. It must have been Häsler’s fate to stumble across the revolutionary forces and to experience the enthusiasm of an entire nation, yearning for freedom and independence. Willing to contribute to the fulfilment of the revolutionary ideals, Häsler rapidly decided to participate in the Cuban Revolution. Shortly after the revolutionary forces gained victory, Rudolf Häsler was appointed director at the national department of arts and crafts. As a governmental member he was constrained to experience the government’s gradual totalitarian turn from a close distance. Because of his closeness to the political elite, his writing’s represent unique reports; they elaborately describe the political structures within the apparatus of state with an astonishing richness in details.
Häsler wrote down what he witnessed in detail and thus, managed to create a very personal account of what he perceived and experienced during his 12 years on Cuba. The book constitutes a broad documentation about a historical event, written from a personal point of view. Therefor, it can be read either as a documentation of a crucial period in world history, or merely as an artist’s narrative about his personal experiences within a completely unexpected situation.
The reprintnig of the book «Kuba – Freiheit oder Terror: Ein Maler erlebt die Revolution» written by Swiss artist Rudolf Häsler (1927 – 1999) was bromer edition's first book launch. The book launch took place on April 8th at bromer kunst.
Retrospective-exhibition at Blockhaus Experimental Space
“I am against all forms of monotony and uniformity. I love the unknown, the absurd and the paradox. And I also love chaos and order, each at their right time and sometimes even at the same time: in life as on the canvas.”
Urs Burki (1945-2017) obtained his Doctor of Medicine in 1972 and gained popularity as an exceptional plastic surgeon in in the early years of this millennium; by then he realised several performance-like open-air plastic surgeries in unexpected locations like concert halls and even on mountain peaks. From that point on Burki worked exclusively as a plastic surgeon in public, drawing attention to himself primarily through his spectacular open-air operations and not because of his artistic output. Even though Burki already created his first artworks in the 1970iesincluding sculptures, photographs, paintings and performances. By then Burki was an active member of the young art scene in Lucerne, which included artists like Jean Christoph Ammann, Luciano Castelli und Urs Lüthi.
During a long period Burki consciously withheld his artistic work from the public. bromer kunst’s Blockhaus Experimental Space now shows fort he first time a broad retrospective exhibition of Urs Burki’s rich and varied oeuvre. On the occasion of the opening on the 31st of March 2017 the monograph about Urs Burki’s broad oeuvre «Urs Burki - Chaos and order. Works from 1973 to 2017» and the book «Openair-Perfrmances» will be launched.
Luc Chessex show at bromer kunst – Cuba in the 1960ies
Parallel to the current Rudolf Häsler – retrospective, a space within the bromer kunst gallery is consecrated to the documentary photographs by Luc Chessex (*1936, Lausanne). The exhibited works aesthetically portray Cuba during the 1960ies, straight after the Socialist Revolution. The issue of the photographs is perfectly embedded into the Rudolf Häsler exhibition, since both artist travelled simultaneously to Cuba and worked as employees of the Cuban Government.
Luc Chessex gained great popularity due to his photographic output during his stay in Cuba; his pictures travelled around the world and spread Cuba’s socialist ideas. There is no artist who documented the political change during the revolutionary years in Cuba as extensively as Chessex did. The portraits he took of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are still considered as icons of the Revolution.
Initially, Rudolf Häsler travelled to Cuba for the sake of love, Chessex however, followed the Revolution that was happening on the Caribbean island. Travelling there and taking pictures was Chessex’s own way to contribute something to the historical event. As a 25-year-old man he immigrated to the recently established Socialist Nation in the 1960ies. There he was appointed official propaganda-photographer by the Cuban ministry of culture. Afterwards, he engaged with the Cuban news agency “Prensa Latina” and therefore, travelled to various Latin-American countries.
Both Swiss artists -Luc Chessex and Rudolf Häsler- sympathised with the ideals of the Cuban Revolution and they understood how to contribute in their own individual and creative way to the realisation of the ideological goal. There is no doubt about the fact that both artists met regularly during their stay in Cuba; either in cultural events or enjoying white wine and jerky from the Grisons in the Swiss embassy.
Cuban Art around the Revolution @ bromer kunst
In order to illustrate the artistic influences to which Swiss artist Rudolf Häsler was exposed during his sojourn in Cuba (1957-1969), bromer kunst gallery dedicates a part of the current retrospective-exhibition to Cuban art around the Revolution. 26 artworks from the Bromer Art Collection, embracing the period from 1943 to 1996, provide a daring insight into the manifold Cuban art history.
The dawn of the 19th century marked the beginning of Cuba's fine arts academic tradition. By then the French historical painter Jean Baptiste Vermay (1786-1833) established the first academy of arts in Havana according to the European model. Not until the 1940ies when artists like Wilfredo Lam traveled to Europe and made acquaintance to the leading artist of Cubism and Surrealism, the ideas of European avant-garde reached Cuba and contributed that painters gradually turned away from the academic tradition. Just like Jorge Camachos’ paintings for instance, inevitably evoke associations with European Surrealism.
The early stages of a modern art in Cuba correlate, as in other countries of Latin America, with the shaping of a national identity. Thus Cuba starts to develop an art tradition, that adopts traditional elements from abroad, but at the same time refers to its Afro-Cuban roots and its national culture. That way, Cuban art creates a characteristic synthesis as shown in Antonio Argudíns paintings. Around the 1950ies Argudín painted Cuban subjects in a European vanguard manner. 20 years later Raúl Martínez paints Pop Art portraits of leading Cuban politicians and hence likewise combines a foreign art movement with Cuban national history.
Fig.: Antonio Argudín, Revolution, 1966, Oil on canvas, 89 x 128 cm
As well in Cuba the artistic output of the 20th century is characterized by a vast diversity of supposedly loose style pluralism. Bromer Art Collection presents a section trough Cuban art during a politically eventful era, which inevitably influenced the country’s artistic output and the Swiss artist Rudolf Häsler forcedly stumbled across.
Rudolf Häsler’s Fountain of Neptune
From 1985 to 1990 Rudolf Häsler meticulously painted on his 150 x 265 cm sized canvas depicting the Fountain of Neptune. The spectator tries in vain to reconstruct the alignments of the painting’s vanishing point and soon notices that the artist applied a distorted perspective; framing the entire composition of the monumental fountain Häsler depicts the scenery with a sort of wide-angle perspective. The broad view integrates on the right boarder the stonework of the Palazzo Vecchio’s northwestern corner on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence and on the left the bronze sculpture of Cosimo I. de’ Medici. Florentine Renaissance architecture can be spotted behind the marmoreal fountain.
The most important Florentine artists participated in the competition for the fountain’s design in 1559. Bartolemeo Ammannati’s proposal convinced most, since his representation of the sea god Neptune portrayed a matching symbol of power for the sponsor Cosimo I. de’ Medic.
Neptune is standing in Contrapposto position on a chariot carried by four seahorses. The base is decorated with shells, fishes and sea serpents.
The boarders of the octagonal marble basin encompasses eight symmetrically arranged and elegantly shaped bronze figures in various positions: The sea goddesses Thetis, Doris, Oceanus and Nereus are siting on elevated bases surrounded by Nymphs, Satyrs and Faunes.
Häsler rejects to incorporate the torso of Neptune’s figure to his composition, yet he manages to capture the figure’s plasticity. The artist imitates the texture of the white Carrara-marble and he even depicts the bronze figure’s oxidized surface.
Due to Häsler’s Photorealistic style the painting may appear like a postcard at first glance. When taking a closer look the distorted perspective displays a surreal arrangement, which could never be perceived by human vision; the various perspective sights comprised within the painting suggest a synthesis of reality and fiction. It is precisely this discrepancy that distinguishes Häsler’s virtuosity and emphasizes him as a unique artist of Photorealism.
Rudolf Häsler – An avant-garde painter of Photorealism
The word Photorealism was coined for the first time by Louis K. Meisel a gallery owner from New York in 1969. He designated an American art movement that began in the late 1960s and was completely new to art adepts. Photorealism is a genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing and other graphic media, in which an artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible in another medium.
After leaving Cuba, Häsler reached the Big Apple totally ignorant about the photorealistic art movement. In contrast to the communist Caribbean country, the omnipresent consumerism that he encountered in The U.S. was astonishing to him: «I had to find a way to cope with that alien reality; I began to analyze the new visual appearances, I examined them as precisely as possible in order to understand them.»
Rudolf Häsler’s creative development culminated in a meticulous depiction of his surroundings, which, in comparison to his former artworks, increasingly correspond to our experienced reality. The novelty about photorealistic paintings consists in combining traditional imagery, associated with paintings, with stylistic devices characteristic of photography. Taking a closer look to Häsler’s painting of 1985 entitled "Butcher shop", it is visible that the foreground of the painting is depicted well-focused, whereas the background is blurred, as if it was out of focus– a phenomenon which is commonly attributed to photography. The compositions of Häsler’s photorealistic paintings are highly rich in details, even in the background the amount of details only minimally diminishes. Häsler’s concern is not to depict a painting with photographic preciseness; his major point is to make a conscious creative decision on which details are to be accentuated. Not every finesse is elaborated within his paintings, some details remain merely suggested. Häsler differs from other photorealistic painters because of the intriguing contrast he creates between meticulous preciseness and deliberate fuzziness. As in the painting "Bar de noche, 43nd Street, New York"of 1992, some elements are represented with means of graphical aesthetics. Those non-elaborated sections reveal the way in which Häsler proceeded to paint his photorealistic oeuvres: Häsler’s work did not consist in just copying photographies – in contrast his working process included several drafts, sketches and color surveys. His main concern is not to give an account of the truth, but rather to construct an abstract reality, prone to idealization, which, to the artist’s regard, is more capable to depict the atmosphere of a specific place.
VI-step-directions: How to shoot a documentary film in Cuba
After two years of vast investigations, the filming of the documentary about the Swiss artist Rudolf Häsler (1927-1999) entitled «Coca-Castro» initiated in spring 2016. The film was shoot in Switzerland, Spain and Cuba, whereas, the filming on Cuba proved to be the greatest challenge.
I Apply for a filming permit issued by Cuban government
Be careful when choosing your phrasing. Specify that you are not considering bringing drones or Walkie Talkies to the country and make sure to point out, that the documentary has no political extent. Still, it turns out to be difficult, expressing to Cuba’s authoritarian government the intention of making a documentary about a persona non grata, a former official, who was expelled from the country. Shortly after the revolutionary forces gained victory, Rudolf Häsler was appointed director at the national department of arts and crafts.
However, the Swiss painter Rudolf Häsler felt from grace with Fidel Castro and got displaced from his position. Thus, in 1969 he was constrained to hastily quit Cuba.
Creativity will serve our purpose, yet, to obtain a film permit by Cuba’s foreign ministry. According to the official script, Häsler is not going to be portrayed in consideration of his political commitment, if anything, a screen report about Cuba’s traditional arts and crafts will be realized based on the artist.
As an arts and crafts director Häsler was committed, after all, to reestablish Cuba’s national arts and craft tradition, which had come to a standstill during Fulgencio Batistas dictatorship. For this purpose Häsler carefully studied Cuba’s arts and crafts and found out which natural resources were accessible. Due to his travails he managed to reestablish a new ceramic industry in Cuba.
Our procedure proved to be constructive; after several official writings we obtained a film permit for a 14 days period in Havana.
II It is indispensable to be accompanied by a creative producer from Cuba:
Belkis Vega, a well-known Cuban documentary film director, helped the «Coca-Castro»-film crew to find a creative producer; Dania Illisastiguí supported us in any concern. Our smart Cuban assistant managed to organize everything, she even kept thinking about refilling cold soft drinks to our crew bus.
III Do not arise reasons for distrust:
Cubans basically draw their attention to foreigners, if you are additionally carrying a film camera with you, people will suspiciously glance at you. Be cautious whenever you get in touch with officials; to your best advantage let the creative producer conciliate the situation by showing the film permit. It is strictly forbidden to film schools, hospitals and governmental buildings – Cuba’s secular sanctuaries. By virtue of subtle tactfulness and discretion we still managed to make a brief shot of the Universidad de la Habana.
IV Read Jose Martí:
Cuba’s revolutionary poet Jose Martí (1853-1895), who struggled for the country’s independence, represents a central figure within Cuba’s understanding of its society. His bust decorates every educational establishment without exception, his lines can be read on numerous propaganda placards and the Cubans embellish their proverbs with his pieces of wisdom.
V Be oblivious to Cuba’s culinary art:
You better try to develop preferences for Cuba’s (not particularly varied) cuisine: „Arroz moro y ropa vieja“. Whenever you have eaten enough rice and beans, there is still the alternative on each menu to order Cordon Bleu, Club sandwich or Pizza (of course the Caribbean interpretation of the universally known dishes).
VI Exchange „Chocolate Suizo“ for an unforgettable view:
Offer a Swiss chocolate bar and get access to Havana’s most beautiful roof terraces in order to realize a film shoot.