Monday, October 8, 2012

Otto Dix

German critical realist Otto Dix is an artist of impressive caliber.  I first stumbled upon his works in a history class during high school.  In talking about the Weimar Republic (the type of government established after the imperial form of government was abolished in WWI) and how Hitler rose to its top, we discussed the forms in which people protested the unjust system.  Otto Dix is best known for his pieces that are remarkably critical of the Weimar Republic and the brutality of war, as he volunteered for the German army during WWI. His black humor images are as striking as they are unique, and each one makes a bold statement to viewers.  His drawings and paintings remind me of my favorite satirist, Kurt Vonnegut.

Hand To Hand Fighting, Charcoal, 1917

During his expressionist phase, Dix experimented with orphic cubism as shown in the images above and below.  In 1917, Dix was consumed by the war, and was inspired to draw the circle of his life as a function of the gruesome tragedies he participated in. The image on the left depicts an unsurvivable, bloody battle among soldiers that seemingly all look alike. The image is full of life, with free flowing marks made throughout.

As an outcome of the drawing's busy and impactful effect, viewers are not inclined to search for details. Rather, we see the soldiers as a sad conglomerate mess of limbs and faces.  The beings roll into one another, as characteristic of the orphic cubism style. The bodies are abstracted into what Dix considers the chaotic image of war.

Lover's Grave, Charcoal, 1917
The second piece in the work (above), Lover's Grave, shows the same conglomerate of soldiers buried deep in their graves.  There is no distinction made between each grave.  Again, little attention to detail is made as viewers are interested in grasping the meaning and feeling behind the piece.  The intertwined mounds atop the graves form the image of two lovers, consummating their relationship to produce another generation of fighters.

As such, the circle of life is complete, and Dix effectively moves his viewers.

Wounded Soldier, 1924
Otto Dix adopted a more and more realistic style as he wanted his artwork to be more striking and gruesome in order to make clear statements in his art.  He became masterful at using detailed, gruesome images to depict the horrors of war.

Above, we have Dix's Wounded Soldier, a remarkably horrifying capture of a soldier suffering a recent traumatic attack on his chest. It's difficult to look away from his narrowed, terrified gaze.  Dix suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and its effects gave rise to drawings such as these.  He was unafraid to expose the harsh realities soldiers felt in the trenches.  These were the real faces of the beaten soldiers.  These were the realities. This is what moved people.

Portrait of a Prisoner, 1946
In the oil painting above, Otto Dix portrays the images burned in his mind of the prisoners he lived with when forced into exile.  His art was destroyed and his life was in danger when the Nazi party came to power.  As a prisoner of war in a French camp comprised of young and old men, Dix painted this portrait.

The stunning blue sky captures the prospect of freedom, and how it is obscured by the enslaving fences.  He is a lost man, trapped man. The halo of branches that circulate the prisoner's head resemble a "crown of thorns," foreshadowing a religious trend in his artwork during his post-war work.

GeiBelung II, 1948
Otto Dix - Frauenkopf
Frauenkopf II, 1949

Otto Dix's later works demonstrate a common theme of distraught hollowness.  Hollowness in the sense of a forgotten identity due to the traumas of the outside world.  Whether it be a foolish act out of no reasonable thought at all, or a portrayal of a woman lost without her mind, only to live with a cavity filled with the same disasters found all around her.

The characters are lost, they are without cause, they are sad. I find the works of Otto Dix to be extremely inspirational.  I love his style, and his powerful message that is apparent in every one of his works.  It is no question who the artist was for any of these pieces, and for that, I admire him.  He developed a style that was bold for his time.

Otto Dix died in Germany amidst his enticement with post war sufferings and trauma.  He remains historically important as a German expressionist with no boundaries.


Karcher, Eva. Dix. New York: Crown, 1987. Print.

McGreevy, Linda F. The Life and Works of Otto Dix: German Critical Realist. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1981. Print.
"The Online Otto Dix Project." Otto Dix. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2012. <>.

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