Reel Stories about Wende Flicks
Strawalde / Böttcher – Painter / Filmmaker
For me, the only good painting is one that includes a secret.
Jürgen Böttcher, director of The Wall and Born in ’45, is also a painter known as Strawalde.1 The pseudonym originated with the name of the German town Strahwalde, where Böttcher grew up. In a televised interview with talk show host Günter Gaus in 2003, Böttcher recalled: “I experienced everything there, my childhood. I could write novels about this period—the Nazi era, war, death, the difficult postwar period, my farewells when I left for the Academy. And the landscape there is exceptional.”2
Böttcher studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts from 1949 to 1953 under the artist Wilhelm Lachnit,3 a member of the Dresden Secession Group–1919 and co-founder of the New Group in 1925. The Nazis later confiscated his paintings, which they considered entartete Kunst (degenerate art), and most of his work was destroyed in the British bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945. In 1954, Lachnit gave up his professorship at the Dresden Academy in response to repeated reprimands and defamations of himself and his students during the Formalism and Realism debates that were raging in East Germany. Along with Harald Metzkes4 and Manfred Böttcher,5 Strawalde is among the most important artists to have studied with Lachnit.
From 1953 to 1955, Böttcher worked on his art independently and taught evening classes in Dresden. Some of his amateur students, such as A.R. Penck, later achieved considerable fame.6 Because of ideological differences with the system, Strawalde was blacklisted and thrown out of the Fine Arts Association. Only in the 1980s was Strawalde’s original artwork finally recognized.
From 1955 to 1960, Böttcher studied directing at the Film Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg; he then worked as a director at the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films until 1991. Having made over forty aesthetically provocative films, Böttcher has attained cult status among cineastes, especially for his only narrative feature film, Born in '45 (1966/90), which was inspired by Italian neo-realism. His experimental trilogy, Übermalungen (Over-Paintings, 1981), includes three short films—Venus after Giorgione, Potter's Bull and Woman at the Clavichord—and merges his talent as a filmmaker and painter. The process of over-painting was filmed on 35mm film; using copies of well-known paintings, Böttcher conceals some parts of the image with black paint while emphasizing others, opening up the artwork for new interpretation.
Böttcher’s documentaries are also reflective of his artistic interests. In Dresden in 1961, he directed his first documentary, Drei von vielen (Three of Many), a portrait of three amateur painters in his evening class—Peter Herrmann,7 Peter Graf8 and Peter Makolis9; all three later became professional artists who challenged the East German state. Also appearing briefly in the film is Ralf Winkler,10 who later became known as A. R. Penck and also rebelled against the official East German art scene. Because he did not have permanent employment, his appearance in the film was not welcomed by officials. Like Born in ‘45, Drei von vielen was banned immediately after its release and not shown until 1990.
Kurzer Besuch bei Hermann Glöckner (Short Visit with Hermann Glöckner, 1984) is a portrait of one of few East German artists who, despite official restrictions, were able to develop their own artistic style on the margins of the state-prescribed aesthetic. Glöckner (1889-1987) was an important representative of constructivism and was presented Glöckner as one of East Germany’s most enduring and significant artists11 in the ground-breaking 2009 Los Angeles exhibit “Art of Two Germanys: Cold War Cultures.”12
Böttcher’s two full-length documentaries—The Wall (1989/90) and A Place in Berlin (2001), both considered masterpieces by critics—juxtapose history and art. The first documentary puts the Berlin Wall into the spotlight, exploring its meaning as a monument and using the Berlin Wall as a canvas on which to “paint” German history. His last film, the more experimental A Place in Berlin, tells the history of the Marx-Engels-Forum, an ambitious monument project in Berlin, designed and created by sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt in collaboration with sculptors Werner Stötzer and Margret Midell, the photographer Arno Fischer and many others.
Immediately after the fall of the Wall, Strawalde was one of the 200 painters, sculptors, musicians and dancers invited to participate in an exhibition of suppressed East German artists at La Villette in Paris.13 Taking place in January 1990, the exhibition was entitled "L’autre Allemagne hors les murs” and was designed by Via Lewandowsky14 and curated by Christoph Tannert.15
Paintings by Strawalde, who lives in Berlin, have been shown in many cities around the world, including Paris, Brussels, Toronto, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne. His works also belong to important art collections, including those of the National Gallery in Berlin, Albertina in Vienna, Boston Public Library, Museum Ludwig in Cologne and Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.
For their KuBus series (2003-2007), the Goethe-Institut produced 49 short films about different aspects of German life, politics and culture. One of these is an interview with Strawalde, entitled The Painter and Filmmaker - Jürgen Böttcher/Strawalde (2004, 15 min., English subtitles). This film can be viewed at http://www.goethe.de/kue/flm/prj/kub/flm/en3947235.htm
Written by Hiltrud Schulz
1 See also his personal website, which includes exhibit catalogs and examples of his work: www.strawalde.de
2 Günter Gaus conducted an interview with Jürgen Böttcher for his television talk show Zur Person. The interview was broadcast on November 12, 2003. The manuscript of the interview is available at: http://www.rbb-online.de/zurperson/interview_archiv/boettcher_juergen.html
3 Wilhelm Lachnit (1899-1962): To see some of Lachnit’s painting, please visit www.wilhelmlachnit.de
4 Harald Metzkes (1929-1991), German painter and graphic artist, was a member of the Berliner Schule. He studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts and became one of Otto Nagel’s master students at the German Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. His 1956 paintingAbtransport der sechsarmigen Göttin (1956, Transportation of the Six-armed Goddess) which, owing to its distinctly symbolic use of the objective or transformation of reality, gave rise to heated public discussions of Metzkes's view of realism. Influenced by artists like Max Beckmann, Picasso, Cézanne and his own teacher, Wilhelm Lachnit. Metzkes participated in the Biennale in Venice in 1984 and 1988.
5 Manfred Böttcher (1933-2001), German painter and graphic artist, studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts from 1950-1955. He was a master student with Heinrich Ehmsen at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, where he also met Harald Metzkes. At this time, Böttcher creates his so called schwarze Bilder (“black paintings”) influenced by Max Beckmann. Böttcher was a member of the Berliner Schule.
6 Strawalde tells about working at the evening college and four of his students in his documentary film debut Drei von vielen (1961, East Germany).
7 Peter Herrmann was born in 1937 in Großschönau and grew up in Dresden. He left East Germany in 1984 and moved to West Berlin. He received the Villa Romana Florence award in 2001. http://www.galerie-am-savignyplatz.de/kuenstler/herrmann/herrmann-start.html
8 Peter Graf was born in 1937. After attending evening college in Dresden, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin-Weissenssee for one year. One of his co-students there was Georg Baselitz. Graf came to be esteemed within the East German artists’ scene. He lives and works as a painter in Radebeul.
9 Peter Makolis was born in 1936. From 1953-1956, he received an apprenticeship as a sculptor and took evening classes with Strawalde. Since 1966, he has worked as a freelance sculptor and also became involved in the restoration of important works of art.
10 A.R. Penck (Ralf Winkler) was born in Dresden in 1939. He belongs to the Baselitz, Immendorff circle. Penck was labeled as a dissident by the East German officials and moved to West Germany in 1980. He is one of the most widely known contemporary German artists and his works have been shown at the most prestigious galleries, including Biennale Venice, Museo de Arte Moderna n Sao Paulo and Tate Modern in London. His works can be found in important international art collections, such as MoMA New York.
11 On Hermann Glöckner (1889-1987) see: Michael Kimmelmaan. “Art in Two Germanys Often Spoke the Same Tongue,” New York Times, February 11, 2009: “Small assemblages by Hermann Glöckner, for example, should come as a revelation even to Germans. Glöckner, who died in 1987 at 98, concocted little sculptural gems in his studio, just for himself: elegant Constructivist improvisations, talismans of verboten modernism, made by folding, twisting and tying together discarded matchboxes, cut-up soap containers, tin pots, wood blocks and newspaper. Private acts of rebellion but also Proustian madeleines, lovingly put together from commonplace items in the East, they make much of what passed for abstract art on the other side of the Wall look labored and pretentious. Glöckner began working on his assemblages during the later 1950s, when photographers like Ursula Arnold and Arno Fischer were producing pictures of emergent socialism in street scenes whose frankness troubled East German authorities.”
12 This exhibit premiered at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from January 25 to April 19, 2009 before travelling to Nuremberg and Berlin. It presented some 300 sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, videos and other objects made by East and West German artists between the end of WWII in 1945 and the fall of the Wall in 1989.
13 See also documentary: La Villette. Dir. Gerd Kroske.1990. Distributed by defa spektrum, Berlin. http://www.defa-spektrum.de/
14 Via Lewandowsky was born in Dresden in 1963 and studied set design there at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1982 to 1987. In these years, he also belonged toAutoperforation Artists, a group that experimented with the use of film and performance. Lewandowsky made his first Super-8 film in 1985 (Report – A Comment on a Comment is part of the DEFA Film Library’s DVD release Counter Images). He moved to West Berlin a few days before the wall came down. During the 1990s, Lewandowsky received a scholarship as an artist-in-residence at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. Besides numerous one-man exhibitions – includingVienna, Amsterdam and New York – he has also taken part in many group exhibitions, among them the “documenta IX” exhibit in Kassel and "Art of the XXth Century: A Century of Art in Germany," in Berlin in 1999. Since 2000, Lewandowsky has created exhibitions that juxtapose art and science, or explore issues related to migration and politics. For the Jewish Museum in Berlin he created the “Gallery of the Missing.” In 2008-2009, he was involved in the exhibition project “Orte des Exils 01: Münih vs Istanbul” on the migration of German Jews to Istanbul at the Jewish Museum in Munich. He lives and works in Berlin. See also: www.vialewandowsky.de.
15 Christoph Tannert is the director and project coordinator at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. He has published widely on subjects related to contemporary art.