In the early 1970s, artist Reiner Schwarz made a series of lithographs in homage to the great Renaissance artist, Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528). Although lithography wasn’t invented until the end of the eighteenth century, Dürer was a brilliant and experimental printmaker in his own right, working in etching, engraving, and woodcut. It thus seems appropriate that Schwarz turned to a print medium for his celebratory series of images. In this week’s post, “History of Twentieth Century Art” student Patrick Billings notes some of the other ways in which Schwarz’s print reflects on Dürer and German art history.
Reiner Schwarz is a German artist known for his work in lithography. Schwarz was born in 1940 and by 1950 had moved to Hanover. He studied at the Hochschule fur bildende Künste in 1960, in Berlin. From 1961-64 he worked in lithography with Marc Zimmermann. By 1964, Schwarz had qualified to become a teacher and in 1965 he became a master scholar. From 1968 onward, Schwarz worked as a freelance painter and graphic designer in Berlin, and in 1974 he was able to open his own lithography studio.
This lithograph uses a self-portrait by Dürer as a source, but it is recreated in a very dark and morbid way. The pale colors that Schwarz uses in the lithograph make the portrait appear to be of a dead person—much as the modified facial features suggest. The meticulous detail that Schwarz put into the lithograph shows the influence of Dürer himself, who was known for his very detailed paintings [and prints] of the late 1400s and early 1500s.
The lithographic process makes creating detail all the more meticulous because the artist has to use a greasy substance such as wax on a stone surface to create an image that will hold ink. It is interesting to note that lithography became very popular in Germany when it was first invented [by German actor and playwright Alois Senefelder, in 1796], so Schwarz is reflecting on a long history of printmaking in his country with this combination of subject and choice of medium.
Despite this interest in history, there is a sense of abstraction to the lithograph which puts the object firmly in with modern art. Modern artists really began by rejecting the traditional practice of realism, especially with the invention of the camera. Abstraction forces the viewer to see the subject in a new and different way. By combining the unique look of a lithograph with an abstract concept, Schwarz has created a piece of art that invites the viewer to understand what feelings he has towards the historical painting of Dürer, reinterpreting that self-portrait in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are seeing a dream of Schwarz’s.