Biblical Imagination in German Expressionist Prints at the Abraham Art Gallery

The Abraham Art Gallery opened the new season on Monday August 1 with the exhibition BIBLICAL IMAGINATION IN GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST PRINTS. From the collection of Sandra Bowden, the show features over 50 original graphic art prints by famous expressionists of the early 20e century, two woodcuts from the 16e century, and two sculpted 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 until October 15.

Expressionism refers to works of art created in Northern Europe, particularly Germany, in the late 19e and early 20e centuries. The term was originally coined to distinguish the new trend of artistic expression from the Impressionists, and was not popularized until 1911 by the German avant-garde magazine, Der Sturm (The Storm). The definition eventually came to encompass painting, sculpture, graphic art and prints, and finally literature and film.

The Bowden collection balances motifs from Old Testament traditions and stories with the poignant Passion of Christ to represent the range of emotional power that distinguished the German Expressionist movement. The prints demonstrate the artists’ stylistic abandonment of structure to focus on the evocative possibilities of medium and subject, finding it necessary to emphasize the relationship between color, line and space rather than representation realistic to convey emotion. At the turn of the century, some artists were frustrated with conventionally accepted art forms and ideals of beauty. Expressionism became as much a way of life and communication as a style of art; religious and social doubts 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 were inspired by the aesthetic philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, mysticism and existentialism, rooting the core of their beliefs in a personal and subjective reality. Other key influences included the simplified abstract forms and bright, unnatural color palette adopted by the French movement, Fauvism; African art, Japanese prints, folk art and symbolism; and pioneering artists such as Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

The two defining groups of Expressionism, which fostered community inspiration and produced much of the Expressionist art we admire today, were Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden, Germany, active from 1905 to 1913; and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich, Germany, active 1911-1914.

The primary printmaking technique used by the Expressionists was woodcut, favored for its ability to create dynamics between space and form with high contrast, and to express the energy of line or texture in relation to the emotion of the subject. A number of artists associated with the movement became disillusioned with the war and the immorality of society, openly protesting the Third Reich uprising; some were labeled as degenerate artists, had their work destroyed, or banned from painting again.

Printmaking methods featured in the exhibition 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 at the atrium level of the WBU Mabee Learning Library and Resource Center. Hours are Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information or to schedule a visit, please call 806-291-3710.

About Norma Wade

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