Tuesday, May 05, 2020

MONSTER BRAINS - Stephen Romano curator in residence: Wolfgang Grasse (1930 - 2008)

Wolfgang Grasse (1930 - 2008) "The Throne of Death" (The Merry Go Round) Detail, 1999

Wolfgang Grasse (1930 - 2008)

Wolfgang Grasse was born Dresden, Germany in 1930. At the age of 14 Wolfgang Grasse saw firsthand the hell and horror unleashed during the British and American bombing of the city of Dresden. This event traumatized him for the rest of his life.

Afterwards, he left Germany for Italy to study art under his grandfather, Friedrich Grasse. In 1948 Grasse was arrested by Soviet authorities for an anti-Soviet cartoon of Stalin hanging from the gallows. First sentenced to death, his sentence was reduced to 25 years at hard labor in a gulag in Poland, where he said there were 12,000 other male prisoners. He spent eight years in prison, and says that the only way he survived was by his art. Grasse would bribe the guards with drawings of erotic images or portraits of their family in exchange for food and protection. Once released, he resumed his artistic career in Berlin working as an illustrator, and continuing his own art practice of painting and drawing.In 1968, Wolfgang Grasse joined an exodus from Germany to Australia. After living in Sidney for a year, he relocated to Penguin Tasmania, where he was a freelance illustrator for The Bulletin. He had several exhibitions and swiftly settled into the Australian art scene, writing and illustrating children’s books and even making a feature-length film.

Grasse has stated that even while living in the bucolic beauty and tranquility of Tasmania, he still suffered from terrifying vivid nightmares, in particular about his time in the gulag, which led him to become a devout Christian. Grasse stated that he wasn't certain if he was actually living a life in Tasmania and having nightmares about prison, or if he was really still in the Gulag, and only dreaming there about having a tranquil life.

"I paint objective, figurative art with high technical perfection to create beautiful, valuable and qualitative works with interesting visions. My art is called Fantastic Realism (Vienese School) influenced also by French surreal and Japanese art (Hokusai, Kunisada, Hiroshige)."

Fantastical and metaphysical; such is the art of Wolfgang Grasse. Some called him a “wise old magician who through his paintings casts a spell on the viewer.” Some compare him with Bosch, Bruegel and Max Beckman.

Much of his art has a gruesome edge, often dwelling on death and sometimes even on apocalyptic events which reflect the ordeals of his experiences in Germany.

Then again, it can be limpid and dreamlike, lavish and mischievous. HIs themes are many, his ability undisputed. It is incredibly intricate and technically skilled.

His work has been categorized as surrealist and also as fantastic realism. The latter was how he liked to be described. Grasse died in 2008, four days after his muse and wife tragically drowned.

He is a stand-alone artist in our culture - and, perhaps, even in our times.

Wolfgang Grasse - Throne
"The Throne of Death" (The Merry Go Round) 1999
click for enlargement

Wolfgang Grasse - Kingdom
"Kingdom of Death", Acrylic on Panel, 2000
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Wolfgang Grasse - Temptation
Wolfgang Grasse (1930 - 2008) "The Temptation of Saint Anthony" 1983
Collection of Damian Michaels, Australia
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"Ein gewissen Dr. Ming" (A Certain Dr. Ming), Ink on paper, 1962

"Ein gewissen Dr. Ming" (A Certain Dr. Ming), Ink on paper, 1962

"Ein gewissen Dr. Ming" (A Certain Dr. Ming), Ink on paper, 1962

"Ein gewissen Dr. Ming" (A Certain Dr. Ming), Ink on paper, 1962

"Ein gewissen Dr. Ming" (A Certain Dr. Ming), Ink on paper, 1962

Wolfgang Grasse - Fire
"Firestone" Acrylic on panel, 2004
click for enlargement

Wolfgang Grasse - Dragon
"Gustrow" Acrylic on panel, 1977
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“Der Wahnsinn” (The Madness), ink on paper, 1958

“Der Selbstmorder Vorm Spiegel” (The Suicide in Front of the Mirror), Ink and acrylic on paper, 1959

"Der Flotenspieler" (The Flute Player), Ink on paper, 1960

"Der Baum" (The Tree), Ink on Paper, 1961

Untitled, Ink and acrylic on paper, 1960

"Selbstbildnis Mit Tod" (Self-Portrait with Death),  Ink on paper, 1957 

"Luna", Ink on paper, circa 1980

Wolfgang Grasse - Dresden
"Dresden", Acrylic on Panel, 1977
click for enlargement

Wolfgang Grasse - Fortune
"Death's Victory" Acrylic on panel, 1960
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"The Broom" Ink on paper, 1981


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