Beginner’s Guide to Schwitters

Back in December my parents generously gave me a National Art Pass as a present to celebrate a big birthday , and yes I still have problems admitting just how big the birthday number was/is. So armed with new Pass in February I visited the PreRaphaelites Exhibition at the Tate, pictures of such fiercely intense colours, symbolism and emotional power; how could you not be totally engaged with each and every one? Elbow space rating 3/10 as each room was crammed with visitors and strict time-ticket entry system in operation.

The Exhibition of works by Kurt Scwhitters next beckoned and looked as though it would take me well out of my comfort zone as far as artistic appreciation goes. This normally requires the presence of my exuberant and all knowledgable eldest daughter to guide me through anything remotely resembling “modern art”.

So the potted history of Kurt Schwitters: a German 1887-1948. The mini free guide explains that he coined the term “Merz” in which he believes that all conceivable materials can be used for artistic purposes, and technically the principal of equal evaluation applies to all materials. A perambulator wheel, wire-netting , string and cotton are factors which have equal rights with paint.

The Nazis didn’t take too kindly to his work and labelled it degenerate, which was what led him to flee to Britain (from German occupied Norway) whereupon he was interred to the Isle of Man to a camp for exiles. After his release a year later he became involved in the London Art Scene and in 1945 moved to the Lake District until his death in 1948.

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The greatest proportion of his work is collages which is reflected in the exhibits. As an ex- quilter of “Crazy” quilts (some more crazy than others lol) I immediately took to these. I love the complex layering and placing which although appears random is masterful; he creates new spaces and shapes in between the pieces he has positioned. He often starts with a base layer of picture (or in one case a board game) and then places subsequent pieces over the top ; just leaving a fragment of the original showing. I love the ethos of recycling; we see tickets, portraits, paper, card, netting, feathers, buttons, words, phrases, and the odd ping pong ball. He fuses and blends togther seemingly disparate materials like cardboard, metal and netting in the same work. The totality manages to evoke a period or expression, reminiscent of pop art.

Have to say I did erm quicken my pace through the sculptures section and and even more quickly moved through the sound installations. It was only later in the inevitable brief look round the shop I got very excited to find he was a writer of short stories as well as poetry.The following is an extract from “The Flat and Round Painter”

“Then the wind came and blew Her Majesty the Queen away, and the painter observed this display with anxious eyes. The Queen wobbled and bubbled in the air, and swayed and waved just as the air under her waved and swayed. Suddenly she grew quite thick round the middle, blew herself up , burst and fell in two pieces” Well you can’t blame the chap for the odd piece of subversive text after being incarcerated on the Isle of Man for a year can you now? and how prophetic of him to envision a Queen flying through the air…now where have I seen that image…..

But the collages win for me;my overiding impression is that they could all be book/dustjacket designs; or the odd illustration. In their time they must have been avant guarde & extraordinarily different . My philosophy is “do things differently” no matter how seemingly banal whether its doing the Tesco shop on a different day , learning something new, applying for a new job or simply doing what you normally do but in a different order. It keeps you fluid and your brain alive. This exhibition fitted the bill, was definitely different ,and oh the elbow rating 9/10 …timed entry described officially as “relaxed” proper room to breathe and soak it all up. Highly highly recommended.

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