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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Oskar Kokoschka

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Oskar Kokoschka: March 1,1886-Feb. 22,1980...Austria/Czechoslovakia/England

"I try to keep my sitters moving and talking, to make them forget they are being painted. This has nothing to do with extracting intimate secrets or confessions, but rather with establishing, in motion, an essential image of the kind that remains in memory or recurs in dreams."
~Oskar Kokoschka

Another artist that is not easy to peg into a nice little package is Oskar Kokoschka. He spent much of his childhood in Vienna, Austria. His father was a silversmith and struggled during the slow economic times. There he entered the School of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule) were he painted crafts and postcards. This is the school Adolph Hitler was rejected from: "Hitler unfortunately failed the exam. If I had failed in his place, the world would have been spared a good deal of misery. Hitler would have become a bad painter, and I should have become a reasonable, understanding politician.” Although the end goal was to become an art teacher, he was kicked out after his shocking Expressionist work that was seen in a local art exhibition. He worked writing expressionist plays and working with architect Adolf Loos to perfect his techniques as an artist. He was also greatly influenced by the artworks by Jan Comenius, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Vincent van Gogh, as well as the arts of the Baroque in general as well as the art of Eastern Asia.

When World War I was beginning, Kokoschka was living in Germany and volunteered to serve. He became a dragoon, a foot soldier that is trained to also fight on horseback. On the frontline by 1913, he was seriously wounded and discharged in 1916. After the war, he began traveling to gain inspirations and teaching art around the world. Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He was everywhere. He was settling down again in Vienna when he became more than a little alarmed by the growing power of the Nazis. In 1935 he was living in Prague, Czechoslovakia. While there he became a legal citizen. Back in Nazi Austria, Hitler had labeled his art as “degenerate. Angered and fearful of the German push toward Czechoslovakia after they took control of Austria, he fled on to England in 1938 (where he also became a citizen) but would move on to Villeneuve, Switzerland to teach at the International Summer Academy of Art.

Over his life, Kokoschka became known as a stubborn artist who created amazing expressionistic portraits and urban landscapes. He worked in the two major styles of the time: Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter. With his favored a high vantage point, no doubt an Asian infusion, he created amazing painterly landscapes. “True dreams and visions should be as visible to the artist as the phenomena of the objective world.” He was able to bring is ideas forward in his works by restricting the colors in his palette, being aware of the surface texture in his work, and through distortion of his subject matter.

Kokoschka also created lots of portraits. His best known was The Tempest (sometimes called The Bride of the Wind). After a long relationship with Alma Mahler, she ended up rejecting him for another man. He would continue to love her all his life. When they broke up, he even bought a life sized doll of her and the doll appears in several of his paintings. "Finally, after I had drawn it and painted it over and over again, I decided to do away with it. It had managed to cure me completely of my passion. So I gave a big champagne Party with chamber music, during which my maid Hulda exhibited the doll in all its beautiful clothes for the last time. When dawn broke - I was quite drunk, as was everyone else - I beheaded it out in the garden and broke a bottle-of red wine over its head." But this painting, The Tempist, was his tribute to Mahler. It shows the couple in a wave of emotion. "Consciousness is the grave of things, the place where they cease to exist, beyond which they end. And when they have ended, it seems that they no longer have any essential existence except in the visions in me." Oskar Kokoschka died of old age in Montreux, Switzerland: he was ninety-four.

The Tempest
1914. Oil on canvas. 5 feet 11¼  inches x 7 feet 3 inches. Kunstmuseum, Basle, Switzerland.

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063