Lust for Life: Die Brücke and Contemporary Printmaking

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Countless different styles of art emerged in the revolutionary and high-energy early 20th-century Europe. Though many of the once radical ideas, credos, and art movements have lost their edge in the last century, the bold and in-your-face style and subject matter of the Die Brücke group remains nearly as fresh and confrontational as it did 110 years ago.

Die Brücke was the first wave of German Expressionism. It started in 1905, with the members writing the Die Brücke manifesto in 1906. The group was made up of several young men concerned with youth, authenticity and a directness in their art. To do this, they turned to Gothic art and work from the German middle ages for inspiration. They embraced a harsh painting style and utilized woodcuts and linocuts to express the element of directness which they found so important.

Because relief printing is such a traditional medium, contemporary printmakers look to the past for inspiration. They look to old photographs, vanitas themes of suffering and death. They refer to the style of Northern Renaissance artists and to the Expressionists themselves. Relief printing with wood and linoleum has stood the test of time as a way to interpret the changing modern world in a way which directly engages the viewer.

Lebenfreiheit, translates from German as the “sanctity of life” or the “freedom to live”. This word encapsulates Die Brücke’s direct, emotionally-charged approach to art, and the joy with which contemporary printmakers approach their  work.

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Though contemporary subjects often echo the themes of Die Brücke prints, the contemporary artists relationships to these topics are unsurprisingly much different from those of artists in the early twentieth century. This difference actually magnifies the Brücke manifesto touting the ability and the desire to pursue Lebenfeiheit, the “freedom to live,” and the freedom to expression and exploration of the modern world through the authenticity and directness of relief printing.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will introduce several major subjects and themes central to Die Brücke. My hope is that this series will successfully relay their joie de vivre and link the past to trends in present-day relief printing.

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Megan Udell

Megan Udell lives in San Francisco, spending the majority of her time writing, sharing her love of art with anyone who will listen, and drinking entirely too much coffee.

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