Hookers and War- The World of Otto Dix

Otto Dix was a German painter, Sagittarius, possible sex addict, and one time leader of a machine gun unit.

After joining the First World War Dix rose to the ranks of Vice Sergeant Major and was also awarded the Iron Cross. In 1915 he was involved in the Battle of the Somme, which is one of the most violent blood baths in the history of war. Over 1.5 million people were killed, and Dix was wounded many times. He suffered deeply from his experiences during combat and often had recurring nightmares. I'm sure all the Thorazine, Stelazine, Lithium and Lorazepam in the free world couldn't dowse the screamin' Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he more than likely suffered from.

His works penetrate like a horrid nightmare. Violence mingles with scenes of lurid sexuality and crowded surrealism. Paralyzed veterans play cards together. Morbidly obese prostitutes hang out with emaciated prostitutes. Bruise-blue prostitutes squeeze their tits in bars washed in garish hues. Sometimes he paints himself painting prostitutes.

He really, really liked to paint prostitutes.

Every corner of his canvas seems to suffer- suffocating the viewer with deranged paranoia and grief. Even during his later years when attempting a lilting portrait of his daughter frolicking among flowers, he manages an eerie quality- the fauna almost seeming a little clingy, threatening.

Among his more famous paintings include the dazzling triptych Metropolis and his stylized, demented Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden. He is however perhaps best known for his series of fifty etchings titled "Der Krieg"- a detailing of battlefield horror in what is considered by many to be one of the most compelling statements on war ever achieved. This shit makes Francis Bacon look like Thomas Kinkade. Stormtroopers in gas masks charge at you. Infested skeletons grimace and cower in death. They offer a troublesome record of the terror and emotional pain Dix must have suffered in battle and are detailed with extraordinary expertise. Each piece is more vile and thrilling than the next.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, many of Dix's works were destroyed by the Nazis- his anti-military work pissing them off big time. (I'm assuming they didn't mind the paintings of the prostitutes.) He was essentially declared a degenerate and they fucked with him constantly- forbidding him to exhibit or teach. Under Hitler's rule Dix could only be an artist in Germany if he joined the Imperial Chamber of Fine Arts (controlled by the Nazi government, of course) and agreed to only paint landscapes. He reluctantly joined so he could continue working and then proceeded to paint a series of bleak landscapes with coded messages against the Nazis. A notable example can be found in "Flanders"- (pictured below) a drab, rotting piece where almost subliminal corpses absorb into the landscape. At one point Dix was arrested (and later released) on charges of conspiring to kill Hitler and was later pressured to join the German Army in the final months of World War II. As if things hadn't sucked enough for this guy, he ended up being captured by French Troops.

I love Dix. And perhaps my most compelling reason to love him is that he is responsible for creating the scariest piece of art in the history of the universe- "At the Mirror". (pictured below) This was completed in 1921 and makes the chick coming out of the bathtub in "The Shining" look pretty hot.

(click on images to enlarge)

The Master.


Paul Emile Berthon

I know almost nothing about Paul Emile Berthon- and from what I can tell no one else does, either. It's possible I'm just being lazy, but I did try..

I know he was born in 1872 and died in 1909 at the age of 37. I have no clue how he passed, but I like to think he died during an act of coitus with some model during a lunar eclipse on a bed of lettuce. Or something equally magical.

Along with Alfons Mucha, he was part of the Art Nouveau movement, studying under Eugene Grasset- another formidable artist associated with the decorative arts style. His lithographs are extraordinary, gentle treatments of women dressed in a lush palette of golds and gem stone-like color. Influenced strongly by Japanese prints and flora and fauna- these elements are strong within his work as well. Most of his posters do not include script, allowing them even more freedom to stand alone as wonderful works of art.

Oh, and he lived in Paris and had a moustache.


Unica Zürn

Unica Zürn was a German author and painter, born in 1916. She is known mainly for her strange line drawings, being prone to depression and for really liking anagrams. The latter probably meant she was an amazing Scrabble player. In 1953 she met the German surrealist Hans Bellmer, who promptly made her his lover, model and muse. As a result she was now involved with the surrealist movement, and was soon running in social circles which included the likes of Man Ray and Henri Michaux. Michaux was experimenting heavily with mescaline at the time as a means of freeing latent creative ideas, and Zurn participated as well. It was this drug use that contributed to her mental decline and as a result her already fragile psyche further collapsed and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Despite this diagnosis, Zurn continued to be prolific, producing many line drawings and three written works. Her drawings are warbly-lined, uneasy fantasies depicting mythical creatures, tenuous landscapes and ominous versions of herself. These drawings are clearly manifestations of her growing mental agitation, often dealing with themes of isolation, multiple personalities, and despair. There is a playful, child-like quality to them as well, but always with a somber undercurrent.

Her written works consist of a book of anagrams called Hexentexte and two volumes of prose- Jasmine Man and Sombre Spring- the confessional material in both further evidence of her mental decline.

During a leave from a mental institution, while growing increasingly distraught over her emotional health and the health of Bellmer following a stroke, Zurn jumped out of their apartment window to her death. About five years later, in 1975, following a long illness, Bellmer died and was buried next to Zurn. The gravestone they share bears the lines that Bellmer had written for her funeral wreath years prior- Mon Amour le suivra dans l'Eternite- "My love will follow you into eternity."

(click on images to enlarge)


Dorothea Tanning's Birthday Suit

Dorothea Tanning has been dubbed "the oldest living surrealist". She's friggin' 98 years old. She was born in Illinois in 1910 and lived most of her life in Paris. In 1942 she married fellow surrealist- the famous Max Ernst- and became his fourth wife.

Ernst had a thing for surrealist chicks, as he was previously involved with the painter Leonora Carrington (more on her another time).. Tanning and Ernst married in a double ceremony- which normally would be sort of white trash- but I'm guessing this one was pretty killer. The second groom was Man Ray- another crazy surrealist. I forget who he was marrying. I am picturing the table center-pieces as giant crabs wearing bow ties with handle bar mustaches, or something. I also envision Dali in the corner kicking women and eating wine glasses. In any event, it was probably a pretty gnarly reception.

Tanning's paintings are clever, gorgeously executed works depicting lush fantasies, perverse fairy-tales and herself naked. In her most famous painting entitled Birthday we see Dorothea nonchalantly bearing her nude breasts, while otherwise clothed. It's a powerful, honest piece and caused some hushed whispering at the time. She is also an accomplished costume designer, set designer, sculptor, print-maker and poet. Her works changed as she got older, becoming more like geometric explosions of color. These pieces are equally compelling and beautiful.

(click on images to enlarge)


An open letter to the muse.

That's how you describe my work
and you're so right, little one.
I explode across your sky
You reduce me to a wet firecracker
and I walk away, shamed.
You stab me with your pen, repeatedly
I bleed only idiot prose.

- Scott Ayan


Hand in the hell pot again
the other reconstructed on a moving chest
warm to the touch but bloodless
scurrying off to build lies, lies
you don't seem to mind
so I go deeper
force the shadow from under the mattress
push my fingers in the dark corners of the dresser drawers
find the hot notes of our first month
and press them to my naked heart.

I spread them out on the bed and you ask who they're from.

I sacrifice strands of my hair
light fat red candles
cover the floor in open books that you step over.
I follow you to the threshold
in the nightgown once ripped from me
that I've since sewn with dark thread
so I can trace it's scar, so it can be torn again.
My mind circles with lust
and I remind you the moon is almost full
and that the air is clean and bright and
that I want to fuck you on the neighbor's lawn.
You frown and force laughter
not knowing that I'm serious.
That I'm not asking- I'm telling.

- anonymous

Fiona and Elvis

This is alarmingly sexy, powerful, emotional and just straight up beautiful. A tremendous cover. I'm issuing a preemptive defense of this woman to any Fiona-haters out there. She is a hugely talented musician, song-writer, pianist, and delicious vocalist. Let's forgive her days of crawling around like an anorexic slut in that one music video. She was like friggin' 19 years old and pressured. Oh, and Elvis? He's the man, of course.

In Memoriam- John Hughes


Tamara De Lempicka

Tamara De Lempicka

(born Maria Gorska) painted min
d-bogglingly sexy portraits- mostly of women- and was one of the pioneers of the art deco movement. Born in 1898 in Warsaw (or as she preferred- 1902 in Moscow) into a very wealthy family, Tamara quickly grew restless after her parents divorced and married Tadeuz Lempicka when she was 18 years old- after spotting him at an opera years earlier. He was a lawyer and total ladies man and was often out of work- prompting strain and resentment in their doomed coupling. In 1917 he was arrested during the Russian Revolution in the middle of the night- Tamara went to great efforts to rescue him, searching prisons for weeks. After his release they had a daughter together- Kizette.

During the 1920's she became involved in the budding art deco movement and was soon a sought after portrait painter of the wealthy elite- painting duchesses, counts, socialites, etc. Her talent was unquestionable and her popularity bloomed. Her works embodied the classic art deco style- they were smooth, architectural and modern. They also had almost a soft-core porn quality to them at times- oozing lush sexuality and vivid color. They were titillating pieces, but with a weight to them- the eyes often had a bleary, worn look of longing and disintegration in them- despite the themes of power and sensuality. Occasionally, out of nowhere, she would paint a religious figure when she wasn't busy painting nipples and butts. She also executed lovely still lifes- although even those were pretty suggestive.

Swept up in the art deco movement, Tamara also got pretty carried away with the "roaring 20's" bohemian life-style, and had numerous affairs. She was well known for having an insatiable libido and for being a pathological liar. Her husband eventually had enough once she took up with the night club singer Suzy Solidor (whom she painted often- she's the chick with the blonde bob hair-cut, below right) and he finally dumped her.

Tamara was not a great mother. She neglected her daughter, Kizette, and sometimes even denied her existence- afraid admission of her child would make her appear old. Often she would refer to Kizette as her sister. Even so, she immortalized her daughter in the many gorgeous portraits she did of her (note- Kizette sleeping, bottom left) - possibly propelled by her guilt over being such a shitty mom.

She also married a Baron (after he commissioned her for a portrait of his mistress), traveled around the world three times in a boat, and had her ashes scattered over a volcano by a Count when she died.
(click on images to enlarge)