This week saw the passing of Austrian painter, sculptor, architect and designer Ernst Fuchs. Born to Jewish and Catholic parents 85 years ago – though baptised a Catholic out of fear at what was brewing in Austria and neighbouring Germany at the time — Fuchs was a co-founder of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. His work always seemed to me to straddle the divide between certain acclaimed artists of yore – like Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Gustav Klimt – and younger ones like H.R. Giger and Mati Klarwein who’d established themselves in the 1960s and whose work seemed as much at home in movie design and on album covers as it did on canvas.
The 1960s, of course, were a decade when interest exploded in the psychedelic and esoteric and any artist worth his or her salt with a hankering for the weird, fabulist and baroque had a good chance of finding an audience. No doubt the 1960s saw Fuchs win more than a few admirers, for he liked to paint pictures that combined religious, mythological and erotic motifs whilst decking them out in eye-catching colour schemes.
Here are a couple of my favourites among Fuchs’s paintings.
Firstly, there’s Metamorphosis of Lucretia, which has a skinned, unicorn-thing crouching at the feet of a statuesque beauty whilst wielding a horn that’s second in size only to the Freudian metaphor weighing on the painting like a boulder. But who’s the sinister, Clive Barker-style fellow in the red robe and red Panama hat lurking on the left? (From http://www.wikiart.org/en/ernst-fuchs/the-sorrowful-rosary#supersized-artistPaintings-275438.)
Another one I like very much is Leda and the Swan – or Leda und der Schwan as the German-speaking Fuchs would have called it. Fuchs puts a bold, brazen quality into his take on the Greek myth that’s inspired everyone from Rubens to W.B. Yeats. Its curves and swirls call to mind the populist artist Roger Dean and the picture feels like it belongs on the cover of an album by some 1970s prog-rock or heavy metal band. (From http://www.ernstfuchs-gallery.com/a4e.html.)
Meanwhile, here’s The Sorrowful Rosary – which sees Fuchs delving into the Catholic side of his heritage for inspiration, though the morbid religiosity of the picture is balanced by its colourfulness and fantasticality. (From http://www.wikiart.org/en/ernst-fuchs/the-sorrowful-rosary#supersized-artistPaintings-275511.)
And finally, there’s this depiction of the two-faced Roman god Janus, which I’ve taken from http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/2006/05/27/the-art-of-ernst-fuchs/. Unlike most pictures of Janus, there’s no simple juxtaposition of the faces here, one looking forwards and the other backwards. Rather, they form a twisted, ruptured semi-configuration so that one gazes out balefully from the side of the other – which in my opinion makes this the spookiest thing of all to have come from the imagination of the late Ernst Fuchs.