Käthe Kollwitz: Die Mutter (The Mothers, 1922/23)
posted by Meghan
Oh man, we’re all ladies and none of us have posted about any card-carrying, vagina-wielding lady artists? Correcting that NOW, with the addition of the amazing, fantastic Käthe Kollwitz into our pantheon. A contemporary of the Die Brücke dudes who decided to ignore those German-nationalist, sexist (but, let’s admit it, still pretty cool) white guys, Kollwitz spoke for the downtrodden, the poor, the young, the dying, and the weak. Kollwitz was a dedicated pacifist whose own sons were killed during WWI. Ok, ok, using the family history and personal, emotional, WOMAN-Y pain of female artists to define their work is a dangerous game: how often do you hear about every personal sorrow and sexy-times detail of male artist’s lives (answer: not very often, lemme tell you). But in Kollwitz’s case, personal narrative completely radicalized and shaped her work, so yeah, important I guess.
This gal could do it all, at least when it came to the graphic arts: she’s not a painter but fuck can she draw. Although she’s best known for her charcoal drawings, like Nie wieder Krieg (Never Again War, 1924) which passionately questioned war and violence, I really adore her woodblock prints, particularly those from the series Krieg (War, 1923). These prints speak more clearly than any other indictments of war that I’ve seen: Kollwitz’s works are utterly accessible, both in style (figurative subjects; clean, bold lines; clear, simple composition) and theme (notably, the absence of academic symbolism). Kollwitz is an artist for the common man, not for art scholars and learned university denizens, for ostensibly it is the poor and the uneducated who are sent to the front lines of battle.
The above print Die Mutter (The Mothers, 1922/23) is just so sdjflaksjfshfjskfhlaks amazing. Look at it. Can’t you just feel the fear and sorrow of the huddled mothers?
Things I love:
-The lack of any hint of location or background. That choice makes this print a universal illustration of the pain of losing a child, rather than a depiction of a specific circumstance. (Also as a person who always forgets to include anchoring elements in most of my drawings, Kollwitz makes me feel better about myself…because this harrowing print is all about making me feel better.)
-The necessary shading via line. Obviously with a woodblock print, the artist is pretty limited in terms of shading. While I love prints that place more emphasis on line, Kollwitz is the queen and master of shading and this comes across even in her prints.
-The children peering out between the mothers. They’re cute! And creepy! And confused!
-The size and stylization of the hands. There should be a tumblr about how artists render hands. My top pick would be Schiele (who also wins for “Best Artist’s Signature”), but Kollwitz would be in my top 10.
Summary: Kollwitz! Kollwitz! Kollwitz! Forever!
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