Biblical Imagination in German Expressionist Prints at Abraham Art Gallery
by Hannah Wells, Wayland Baptist University Fine Arts Department
Aug. 5, 2022
The Abraham Art Gallery opened the new season Monday, August 1 with the exhibit BIBLICAL IMAGINATION IN GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST PRINTS. From the collection of Sandra Bowden, the show features over 50 original graphic art prints by famous Expressionists from the early 20th century, two woodcuts from the 16th century, and two carved masks from Africa. Sandra Bowden is an acclaimed Christian artist and collector, interpreting Scripture and her faith through mixed media. The show is open to the public through Oct. 15.
Expressionism refers to artwork created in Northern Europe, specifically Germany, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term was originally coined to distinguish the new trend in artistic expression from the Impressionists, and was only popularized in 1911 by the German avant-garde magazine, Der Sturm (The Storm). The definition eventually came to encompass painting, sculpture, graphic art and prints, then eventually literature and film.
The Bowden collection balances motifs of Old Testament traditions and stories with the poignant Passion of Christ to represent the range of emotional power which distinguishes the German Expressionist movement. The prints demonstrate the artists’ stylistic abandonment of structure to focus on the evocative possibilities of medium and subject, believing it a necessity to emphasize the relationship between color, line & space rather than realistic representation to convey emotion. At the turn of the century, certain artists were frustrated with conventionally accepted art forms and ideals of beauty. Expressionism became as much a way of living and communicating as a style of art; doubts in religion and society led a group of artists to break away from the superficial style of the Impressionists, renouncing beauty for its own sake in favor of distorted forms, bold color contrasts and themes rooted in suffering, death and the tension of the human condition. They drew inspiration from the aesthetic philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, mysticism and existentialism, rooting the core of their beliefs in a personal, subjective reality. Other key influences included the simplified abstracted forms and vivid, non-natural color palette adopted by the French movement, Fauvism; African art, Japanese prints, folk art and symbolism; and pioneer artists such as Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.
The two hallmark groups of Expressionism, which fostered communal inspiration and yielded the bulk of Expressionist art we admire today, were Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden, Germany active from 1905-1913; and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich, Germany, active from 1911-1914.
The prominent printmaking technique used by Expressionists was the woodcut, favored for its ability to create a dynamic between space and form with high contrast, and to express the energy of lines or texture in relation to the emotion of the subject. A number of the artists associated with the movement grew disillusioned of war and the immorality of society, protesting openly against the rising of the Third Reich; some were labeled as Degenerate Artists, had their work destroyed, or were forbidden to paint ever again.
Featured printmaking methods in the exhibit include etching, drypoint, woodcut and lithography. Featured artists include Richard Seewald, Christian Rohlfs, Max Pechstein, Ernst Barlach, Lovis Corinth, Oskar Kokoschka, Albrecht Dürer, Karl Caspar, Max Beckmann, Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz, Emil Nolde, Max Kaus, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Dix, Gerhard Marcks, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Masereel, and Alfred Kubin.
The Abraham Art Gallery is located on the Atrium level of the WBU Mabee Learning Resource Center & Library. Hours are Monday through Thursday 10am – 5pm, Friday 10am – 4pm and Saturday 2pm – 5pm. For more information or to schedule a tour, please call 806-291-3710.
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