One of the most common themes in Brücke woodcuts is that of Man in Nature. The group’s collective resentment and generally negative outlook industrialization and modernity resulted in the belief (popularized by the likes of Paul Gauguin) that to get back to nature and to a more “primitive” and “pure” way of living was to get to the heart of the meaning of life, and of art. (MOMA, Die Brücke: Retreat) To the young artists of Die Brücke, the wilderness and countryside of Europe was “unspoilt” by the evils of modern life. From 1909 through 1919 members of Die Brücke went on retreats to paint and carve blocks of the landscape of the Moritzburg Lakes near Dresden. They depicted the trees, mountains, the monumentality of nature, sometimes barely differentiating between the forms of nature and that of man. Man becomes another rock, cabins another mountain.
Perhaps the “simpler time” before the dichotomy between the natural and the made-made worlds never existed. Even so, it remains a notion that many sought out during the early twentieth century. At the heart of Die Brücke was idea of stripping man of the shackles of corrupt society and returning to the root of what it means to be human. “To create for ourselves freedom of life and movement against the long-established power of our elders”, says the group’s 1906 manifesto. Rather than succumbing to the dirge of the city, industry and modernity, the young group reveled in“being inspired by life and…submitting to their own experiences” (Kirchner, Chronicle of the Brücke Group of Artists).
Contemporary printmakers continue in the same vein as Die Brücke. Running Away by Brielle DuFlon uses the same quality of line throughout the lower two-thirds of the print in such a way that the ﬁgure disappears into the surrounding environment, evoking the sense of her being “at one” with nature. DuFlon also utilizes a thicker, rougher, darker line in the foliage at the top of the scene. This line underscores the wildness of the wilderness retreat and, though one may disappear into it, how other it is from the modern human being.
There is a trend in contemporary printmaking of amplifying the differences between the natural world and the modern or technological world. In the two works above, the unknown artists put the natural world (represented by a tree and a morning glory blossom) in direct contrast to the motherboards, circuitry and wires of technology. Yet the viewer can also see the similarities in form, the notion that the form of these electronics are based on forms in the natural world. Wires evoke the form of vines winding and tangling in gardens, and the order of circuits and cells mimic the cells and structure of trees. This contemporary understanding recognizes that while we may escape to nature from the trappings of technology, one can never escape from the order of nature itself.
While Die Brücke rejected technological advancement and modernity, many young printmakers today embrace the internet as a digital community of artists. In a way, it’s like Kirchner and his colleagues meeting in a studio apartment, comparing notes, but on a much larger scale. These artists have found way to link their work and their lives to the past while embracing the present in a way Die Brücke never did.