I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths for life for myself; it’s for that reason that I went to war, and for that reason I volunteered.
The painter Otto Dix stands out in the art world through his enrollment in fighting for the Central Powers of World War I. From his legacy, Dix’s works were intended to reflect a grotesque, macabre version of society in the 1900’s German Empire. With an intent to contradict the general preference of people that art should be “pretty” and “appealing” (perhaps to balance out the time’s gloomy atmosphere), he exposes the ugly side of life, where beauty is commonly artificial.
Above are three separate paintings which include ghastly characters expressed through his artistic lens. These images of normal people are twisted so that the sailor becomes diabolically sinister, make-up on the women inflames their skin, bones are visibly weak, and the figures’ eyes show the extent of their cynical demeanors and disfigurement. All characters that appear in his work are shown to be similarly unflattering except for one painting, which is a portrait of his wife (shown below).
Above is a portrait from Otto Dix entitled “Kriegsverletzter”, or “war-wounded”, which shows a man who’s face is half-destroyed. What leads me to an analysis of this painting is the title itself. We all know that war doesn’t just cause physical damage but harms the human psyche as well and steals a part of that person. Maybe “Kriegsverletzter” is showing the emotional erosion of a man after battle. Or it displays the face of a friend who later is killed and haunts the painter with his moribund state.
In this, a soldier lies in painful agony- hand clenched at his heart, arm twisted, and eyes of shock- in a trench of some sort. As we are already told, Dix saw many things in the span of his enlistment and though we don’t know for sure if “Die Kunst des Krieges” (“The Art of War”) was a glimpse of what horror he witnessed, we can imagine.
Though we weren’t in Dix’s position, the drawings he produced are enough to transport us back into the wastelands of WWI and the seedy ports of Germany. And it is the mystery of their backgrounds that make them even more haunting.