Friday, May 13, 2011

Alfred Kubin: Symbolist Artist and Proto-Surrealist

Alfred Kubin, born in 1877, was a strange, reclusive and emotionally fragile artist and illustrator. When he was about 20, he attempted suicide on his mother's grave and suffered a series of breakdowns. It was around this time that he discovered the work of Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch and Max Klinger and was profoundly influenced by them. Previously apprenticed to a successful landscape photographer, he moved into working in mostly pen and ink and lithography and began traveling in German avant-gard circles.

His work is grotesque and nightmarish, and feels profoundly Freudian (lots of scary vaginas). One the war started he pretty much became a recluse, and remained one for the rest of his life, holing up in a 12th century castle in Austria. His work was declared "degenerate" and "decadent" by the Nazis (if one wishes to be strictly truthful, he was both. The question is really whether you have a problem with it or not), but they pretty much left him alone. Unsurprisingly, he illustrated work by Poe, E.T.A. Hoffman and Dostoyevsky.

He also wrote a couple of strange dystopian novels, all of which are sadly out of print in English (unless you have a Kindle!). It's all terribly evocative. I decided to feature him here because I found that once I started looking at his pictures, I simply could not get them out of my head. I haven't read his famous novel, The Other Side, but I've heard very good things. One wonders what went on in his mind as he worked alone in his castle. One looks at his work and shudders.

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