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Oskar Kokoschka
Second only to writers or maybe third behind writers and musicians, artists have this romantic public image--emotional, illogical, psychotic, mentally unstable, tied to wild, creative outbursts of sheer genius. Gee, I wish my life were that exciting...once in a while anyway. I've written on artistic stereotypes before and there are a couple others, the loner, quiet, unknown, and unappreciated until after his death at some obscenely early age; or his opposite, the shrewd, overblown entrepreneur who multiplies a modicum of art talent backed by a maximum of personality and an overabundance of business savvy into a one-man-band of giddy, gaudy success. I don't need to name names in any of these categories, each have their readily identifiable poster boys. And if you're wondering why I'm speaking only of the masculine gender it's because few if any women artists fit into any of these almost completely male stereotypes. I'm not sure if the feminine sex should take comfort or dismay in this phenomena but such seems to be the case.

I call the first type the van Gogh syndrome, and here's an artist that fits that group almost as well as its namesake. He was born in Austria in 1886. Given his rather temperamental personality, as a young man, he was drawn to a group of early twentieth-century artists, not too unlike himself, who have since come to be known as the German Expressionists. Among them were Max Beckman, Otto Dix, Lyonel Feininger, George Grosz, Ernst Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch (Norwegian), and Wassily Kandinsky (Russian). They were not all wild-eyed psychos but in virtually every one there was at least a thread of emotional instability running through both their work and lives. Oskar Kokoschka's thread of emotional instability was as big as a cable and just as taunt. Influenced heavily by the elegant art of Gustave Klimt, both his portraits and his landscapes exhibit an energetic, stylistic and colouristic freedom few in his Teutonic clique dared approach.

Kokoschka did hold a steady job for a time, as an art instructor at the famed Dresden Academy after the First World War. It was one of the few stable periods of his life following his recovery from a torrid love affair with Alma Mahler, the widow of the composer Gustav Mahler. His painting, Bride of the Wind from 1914 is a romantic, swirling, tempestuous testament to just how completely in love he was with her. But alas, the archetypal femme fatale rejected him for another. He reacted by fashioning a life-size doll resembling her, which he carried with him at all times. Reacting also to the political instability in eastern Europe in those years, Kokoschka migrated to Paris, then London, and then New York for a time, finally settling in Switzerland after the Second World War. There's no indication at which stop along the way he ditched the doll, but his colourful, dramatic, romantic cityscapes such as Polperro II (Cornwall, England, 1939) soared to the top of Expressionist art in whichever country he happened to be in at the moment. And surprisingly, he did break with one of the usual elements common with the van Gogh syndrome. He lived to a ripe old age. He died in 1980 at the age of ninety-four.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 February 2000


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