This exceptional group of drawings from a German collection gives a rare insight into the creative mind of an artist whose unique range of ideas and interests have made an extraordinary contribution to the development of contemporary art today. For Beuys, drawing was a way of thinking, a form of intellectual experimentation, which was often the germination point for many of his later sculptures, lectures and installations. He underscored the importance of these ideological delineations when describing their role in the formation of his artistic thought process,
"In the beginning I was interested mainly in developing a methodology for thinking about art and science. My drawings were one motive in this respect. At an age where most people have their set careers, I made a decision that was almost theoretical – science didn't look to me as if it would have given me the chance to create something stimulating, something that would lead to change. I had this historical aim in sight, the fact that something had to be radically transformed, and I knew that art would be the right experimental field to do it in." (the artist cited in Anne Seymour, ‘The Drawings of Joseph Beuys’, Joseph Beuys, Cambridge 1983, p. 10)
The following five drawings demonstrate both the depth and range of recurring themes and techniques Beuys engaged with throughout his life. In Untitled from 1957, Beuys uses the traditional medium of watercolour and pencil, displaying a distinct aptitude in creating a vibrant expressionist colour field. In Der Tod und das Mädchen, 1955-8, the elusive organic line that runs through so many of his works moves across the paper to form a delicate figuration of subtle elegance. Concurrently, the artist’s overriding tendency to explore the limits of artistic conventions most commonly linked to his use of unorthodox methods and materials, such as wrapping paper, newspaper, or paper bags, is demonstrated in the 1973 collage Boyne Art.
Highlighting Beuys’ radical thought processes, his drawings can be seen as visual references of his continued problem solving. Common themes and images such as the hare, the deer or the Shaman, are frequently repeated symbols that link his complicated strands of thought. Stripes of the House of the Shaman for example, a meticulous assembly of lines and calculations, reveals Beuys' concern with exploring the forces which give meaning and direction to life and art. Taking the theme of the Shaman as a basis, the artist strives to stimulate change. He explains, "through Shamanism I refer to the fatal character of the times we live in... But at the same time I also point out that the fatal character of the time we live in can be overcome in the future." (the artist cited in Anne Seymour, ‘The Drawings of Joseph Beuys’, Joseph Beuys, Cambridge 1983, p. 17).
Acting as "spiritual exercises" in his continued investigation into the basic questions of art and society, Beuys's drawings form a seminal part of the artist's oeuvre.
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