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 reasonably 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 Soul on Fire), 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 (A Glove) 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.

 

53 thoughts on “Visions from the Other Side

      1. I will definitely take a look. I always really appreciate suggestions for other artists because my knowledge is quite restricted, so any leads are good. Thanks again.

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  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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  4. Alfred Kubin’s work is amazing. I saw some of his works at a museum in NYC called the Neue Galerie that features Austrian and German art. I find symbolism almost as fascinating as Surrealism also. Great post!

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    1. Thank you… I wish I had seen that exhibition. Symbolism definitely had influences on Surrealism and would be one of my favourite movements, though Cakeland is a big place.

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  5. So he was a writer and am illustrator? I fancy myself right now as I was wondering like yeah it all makes sense I am definitely a writer who paints words and pictures and that’s how my curiosity and imagination express themselves. I’m always intrigued by what an artist creates and the sort of story behind. Not particularly interested in this art but oh does the why delight me so and that is art….thanks for the treat as always

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  6. Nice that you showcased him. I discovered him pretty young, I think I was 18, working in the art archives of my university and would most frequent that row of stacks where we had symbolists. His art is so raw, really he doesn’t hold anything back. I wondered if the Nazis destroyed any of his works as a fair number survived the war. This is interest sting he married a half Jewish woman–do you know if the Nazis deported her or made them divorce so they could do so? A miscHling like that, as they called them, would definitely be sent to Auschwitz.

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    1. Thank you…don’t quote me in this but I seem to remember that she passed before the Anschluss (a blessing, in a way). He was declared a degenerate artist but you are right a lot of his work survived. He lead a very reclusive life in his schloss during the war and after.

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    1. Thank you so much and happy to have you as a follower. Please feel free to look around my site which mainly concentrates on Surrealism and Symbolism with detours into Renaissance, Japanese and Erotic art. Also please ask questions, I always answer as best I can.

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      1. I will, just give me some time to first explore your site in leisure. I have finally found a person who can help me understand art better and I intend to make the best of it. Have a great day! I didn’t get your name though.

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  7. Nightmare material—should remember to look him up if I ever need inspiration for that kind of darkness. Stylistically, would have never associated him with Klee or Kandinsky, both of which I enjoy especially for their abstract colour work.

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