“He who dreams while he is awake has knowledge of a thousand things which elude him who dreams only in his sleep.“ Werner Haftmann (ed.) , Wols, Aufzeichungen, Aphorismen, Zeichnungen, Cologne, 1963, p.53. Frequently quoted by Wols, this aphorism can be considered somewhat of a Leitmotif of the artist who, during his lifetime, became the ultimate embodiment of the individual and the artist as one inseparable entity.
Born in Berlin in 1913 as Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, the name Wols is a pseudonym consisting of the first three letters of Wolfgang and first in Schulze. The exceptionally gifted artist grew up in an upper middle-class environment that fostered both his intellectual and artistic inclinations. After leaving school in 1931, he declined a position at the Dresden Opera to pursue a career in photography. At the age of nineteen, Wols left for France where, at the outbreak of the war in 1939, he was interned for a total of 14 months. Even though his work is grounded in surrealism and an admiration for the works of Yves Tanguy, Wols’ artistic output in this time of isolation forms an integral role in the formation of his inimitable style and development of Art Informel and Tachism. Having produced mainly watercolors and drawings during the war years, this phase of Wols’ career shows an intimate account of psychological trauma, vulnerability and existential treat. ‘Non-formal’ phantastical worlds appear, objects dissolve and materialize, geometric shapes and spindle legged figures form the protagonists of a lyrical theatre played on the stage of Wols’ paper. Ambiguous and filled with possible transformations, his non figurative works on paper form a key part of Wols’s seminal oeuvre and show the artists struggle better than any of his photographic self-portraits.
“Après Wols, tout est à refaire” George Mathieu, Au-delà du Tachime, Paris, 1963, p.35. In the relatively short time of Wols‘ creative output, he was able to transform and deeply inspire the artistic output of countless post war artists around the globe. After having died of food poisoning in 1951, his works were exhibited at Documenta I, II and III from 1955 - 1964 and at the Venice Biennale in 1958. His photographs, drawings and oil paintings can be found in prestigious museum collections around the world such as the Tate Modern, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and to this day they have not lost any of their haunting beauty and immediacy.