Saturday, April 9, 2011
Dead Jewish Artists
Albin Grau (1884-1942) was a strange cat. An artist and architect, he was an occultist back when being an occultist really meant something. A member of the Fraternitas Saturni, he founded his own film studio, Prana Film, with the idea of producing movies with occult and supernatural themes. The most famous/only fruit of his ambition was F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, which was a true collaboration with Grau handling not only all of the design but also the marketing of the movie.
Litigation with the Bram Stoker estate due to copyright infringement for Dracula put the whammy down on Grau's dream, bankrupting Prana. I like the idea of these Weimar era comrades of Grau's sitting around and getting lost in symbols and hieroglyphs, wearing funny hats at their avant-garde elk lodge meetings. The Nazis copped this style that was hanging like so much atomic fog in the Germanic atmosphere at the time, streamlined it with the darkness of fascism, slapped the SS lightning flash on it, sucking the occult dry like some kind of vampire, thusly perverting one fine hobby into something more brutal and sinister. Leave the goose stepping to the goose steppers, I'm with Grau. Unfortunately the goose steppers like to place those jack boots on the heads of their enemies. Them Nazis was no Johnsons. Grau was arrested on charges of being a Socialist and died at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Grau wasn't jewish, but I'm sure the Nazis didn't care either way.
But then Grau leads to Hugo Steiner-Prag (1880–1945), an illustrator, stage designer, and professor, famous in his day. Surely his illustrations for Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem, which was a big seller in Europe in 1915, were an influence on Grau's sketches for Nosferatu. He converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1905. Either way, when the Nazis took power in 1933, he was removed from his post at the Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Design. He made it to to the United States where prior to his death he did a beautiful set of illustrations for the poetry of Edgar Alan Poe in 1943.
Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) mostly just wanted to be left alone, to live quietly, peacefully writing and illustrating his own stories content in the provincial existence of his hometown of Drohobych. But, you see, the Nazis had other plans.
Schulz is most known for the small body of written work which was not lost or destroyed by the Nazis, such as the short story collection, The Street of Crocodiles. But ever since I saw The Drawings of Bruno Schulz it is his art, what little scraps survived down to us (this volume represents the sum total), that I admire and create the portrait of Schulz in my mind's eye. Dwarfish, fumbling men, often reduced to animal/pet-like behavior, at the feet of distant, leggy women, cradling their feet, worshipping their shoes. Bruno saw the human circus a certain way, and he stuck to it.
He was shot by the drunken rival Gestapo officer to the Nazi who was using Schulz to paint a portrait in his home out of petty jealousy. Painted over and thought lost, this restored mural was exhibited to the public for the first time in 2009.
Faulkner said the past isn't dead, it's not even past. I salute these artists for what they could have been and, more importantly, for what they both were and are. To Albin, Hugo, and Bruno. Cheers.