Saturday, February 22, 2020



 I think Kathe Kollwitz is one of the most powerful and commendable graphic artists of the 20th century.

She faced a difficult life with courage and purpose, and became famous for her compelling images of injustice, war and poverty.  

This week I'd like to showcase this lovely etching, which was the model for the cover of William Faulkner's 1929 novel, The Sound and The Fury:

Recently we discussed the 20th century move away from representational, narrative art and toward conceptual art which aspired to a higher role: capturing "abstract meaning and phenomena not easily described by literal representations." Conceptual illustrators usually lack the technical skills of their predecessors; they tend to deal more in flat, simplified visual metaphors and other nonliteral approaches which don't compete with a camera.  The conceit was that these new styles were more suitable than traditional skills for depicting today's "sophisticated concepts"

As far as I'm concerned, this lovely drawing by Kollwitz single handedly proves there is no reason why technical skill can't play a key role in grappling with the most profound concepts.

Kollwitz doesn't show us a mere cliché of a skeleton as the grim reaper. With brilliant staging, she shows us the methods of the grim reaper: coming from behind, attaching itself like a barnacle and slowly weighing down-- and wearing down-- its victim.  It pulls her backward into the darkness while her muscles strain futilely for life. 


In front of her, oblivious to the existence of death and insensitive to the mother's pain is young life-- selfish, grasping and also weighing down the mother caught between them.  This is no candy coated vision of children for a popular fiction magazine, this is the greed of new life, doing what nature instructs it must do to preserve itself.

Here Ms. Kollwitz's drawing skills contribute important subtlety and complexity of staging that could never be achieved by a conceptual artist from, for example, the renowned Pushpin Studio.  In addition, her drawing skills contribute immediacy and emotional poignancy to the drawing which I simply haven't seen from her conceptual illustration counterparts.

If any of you fans of conceptual illustration out there can offer examples to prove me wrong, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, February 13, 2020