Visions from the Other Side

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Alfred Kubin-Le Saut de la Mort (The Jump of Death) 1902
One of the most important of the Austrian Symbolists, Alfred Kubin was the master of macabre art and the morbid image, who in his insistence upon portraying all the horrors lurking just beneath the surface in the unconscious mind can be said to have anticipated the Surrealists.

His life reads like a cross between a Freudian case study and a decadent fiction. He didn’t meet his father until he was two and afterwards he only felt, ‘hate, hate, hate’ towards him. His beloved mother died when he was ten and the following year he lost his virginity to a pregnant friend. This unhappy childhood led to his abortive suicide attempt on his mother’s grave when he was nineteen. He joined the army but that resulted in a nervous breakdown.

After discovering the works of Odilon Redon (Visionary Noir), Edvard Munch (Madonna and Self-Portraits), James Ensor (The Entry),  and Felicien Rops (Les Diaboliques) Kubin decided to devote his life to art. Other major influences were the works of Max Klinger and Goya (The Sleep of Reason), especially in their use of aquatint.

Kubin worked primarily as a book illustrator, mainly of Gothic and fantastic fiction, notably Edgar Allen Poe, E.T.A Hoffman and Gustav Meyrick. In 1906 he married the half-Jewish heiress Hedwig Grundler and they moved to an isolated 12th century castle in Upper Austria, where he was to remain to his death. The marriage was a success, much to everyone’s surprise as Hedwig had a heavy morphine dependency that required frequent hospitalizations.

Kubin was a friend of both Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky and did show with their Blauer Riter group, however his avant-garde involvement ended by the time of the WWI.

Kubin was also a talented writer and his brilliant proto-surrealist novel The Other Side  of 1909 (which I intend to write about in detail at some point) was much admired by his friend Franz Kafka and also by that troubling genius of German letters, Ernst Junger.

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36 thoughts on “Visions from the Other Side

  1. Wow. A lot of those are really dark. I couldn’t figure out what was on the woman’s body in the first painting but with the title, realized it is a man diving(possibly with an erection). Lots of dead people in this art. Interesting.

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    1. Thanks Vic, I thought I would go with the most shocking image as the header, I have to grab people’s attention somehow. I did say that he was the master of the morbid image and that jump into death is a Freudian nightmare. This post definitely falls under the death side of Cake or death.

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  2. I have never seen The Jump Of Death, a play on words no doubt for the french for orgasm, but more besides, it’s a daring, incredible portrayal. Part of me thinks if from the eyes of a male it’s intrinsically perverted, but as an admirer of original thought and art the other part of me says wow that’s really captured the temptation, the repulsion, the desire, the horror, the unknown, the lure of the female in terms of crude sex and desire. In that sense I cannot think of a picture that has achieved this more, his other work is also very, very good but this one especially that you chose as your feature, I can see why. I find myself looking deeper not out of perversion but curiosity, as if ‘has he seen something we don’t know?’ and ‘what’s there that we don’t see?’ as well as fascinated that he could represent it in a duality of repulsion and ardor. Wonderful! Just as I said you always teach me something you are truly superb in that way.

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    1. Thank you Feather for your insightful and detailed comment. Although most of my site is dedicated to Surrealism an important strand is of Symbolism/Decadence as they were the most important forebearers of the movement. Symbolism views on women were hysterically misogynistic on the whole. Kubin’s The Jump into Death is a prime example however you are right in saying that he perfectly captures the temptation and repulsion, fascination and the horror. The whole womb/tomb dichotomy, the return to origins. This wasn’t just confined to the Symbolist, Nietzsche and Strindberg also showed the same virulent misogyny. I don’t agree with them, however on occasion it made for compelling art. By the way I blushing at the truly superb.

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      1. Agreed. Within misogyny so much talent which is frustrating I feel the same about Robert crumbs work, bukowskis and Billy chilish and others. I think I believe you can be a superb artist even if you are a misogynist which is hard, to ignire? Appreciate or reject? I can say, irrespective I like this for it’s audacious truth parody and horror and i also appreciate the strange fascination of things that repulse

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      2. It is that old question, does art have to be moral. And can people with objectionable views still be possessed by genius? I think art doesn’t have to be moral and yes people can have objectionable and still be possessed by genius. Junger who I mentioned in the last line is a case in point. Although not a Nazi he was definitely far right wing and loved war. Yet Brecht sprang to his defence after the war and he could certainly write. So…how do we judge?

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  3. Certainly attention grabbing, Cake! Wow! The Jump of Death … a lot to extrapolate from that. The jump – I wonder if he was relating this to his mother’s death (maybe wishing to jump back into the womb) or his having an early and unusual first sexual encounter, jumping prematurity as it were. The other works are very dark and disturbing. And all the more fascinating for that fact.

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