by Wieland Schmied, catalogue by Alfred Marks
Frederick A. Praeger
"The Shadow World of Alfred Kubin"
by Christopher Bentley
The New York Review of Books
Alfred Kubin: 1877-1959
Shepherd W&K Galleries
"Alfred Kubin," Grove Art Online
by Christopher Brockhaus
Oxford University Press
A quick look through the works of Alfred Kubin should leave no doubt as to the reality of his inner demons. Born in 1877, the Austrian printmaker's troubled childhood began with the death of his mother when he was ten years old. His consistent failure in school earned him the disdain of his father, a former military officer, who would beat him and "[talk] to him as to a sick cow." At fifteen, he was apprenticed to a landscape printmaker, but found no success. As for his love life, his affections never found reciprocation. At nineteen, his despair reached a climax: "A dull depression swept over me, and... I left for the faraway town of my childhood, with a cheap, old gun in my pocket, to shoot myself at the grave of my mother." The firearm misfired, and Kubin, unable to pull the trigger again, would live on to create the creepy images to which he was so one-sidedly committed.
I had recently learned of Alfred Kubin through the cited article in The New York Review of Books, whereupon I immediately encountered The Moment of Birth (1903).
|The Moment of Birth (1903): Facsimile prints on Japan paper, 229 x 318 mm|
Such weird (often spidery) creatures are commonplace in Kubin's work. Equally commonplace are distorted depictions of humans, as in Old Man with Pike (c. 1920/25).
|Old Man with Pike (c. 1920/25): Ink on paper, 349 x 260 mm|
Another common theme of Kubin's work is the entanglement of sexuality and violence. Take, for instance, the gesture-like Strangler (c. 1918/20).
The stray lines animate the actors, making the violence overt and immediate. Similarly there is The Spider (1902), which, in particular, presents another commonly found notion in Kubin: that of a woman as temptress and destroyer.
I suspect that the principal source of my fascination with Kubin are the puzzling narratives of his work. They don't always work for me however, and in fact, I don't much care for any but the first of the images I've posted here. But The Moment of Birth and other works of his like it succeed in truly disturbing and confusing me. Looking at these, I feel like Alice in Wonderland, a foreigner in a world where strange creatures and people abound. But in this dark place of the imagination of Alfred Kubin, there is sometimes a sense of haunting familiarity.
|Strangler (c. 1918/20): Ink and watercolor on Bütten paper, 260 x 381 mm|
|The Spider (1902): Pen and ink on paper, 190 x 247 mm|