On visiting Bristol’s Arnolfini gallery the other weekend, I came across ( in the gift shop) a 1:1 re-production of the sketchbook of German artist Franz Marc. This diminutive book contained the sketches of this celebrated 20th century artist, that he had produced in 1915 during his time in the trenches of France before being killed in combat in 1916.
The constructivist style of his small but detailed drawings evoke the brutal shapes of the First World War whilst creating surreal landscapes of their own – paralleling the madness of no-mans land and the torrents of rain and mud.
Despite their harsh, hard lines this series of drawings contain a certain sense of personal respite – a quick pencil sketch during a brief lull in the fighting. For the artist, surely a way of maintaining a semblance of sanity in an disorientating and violent environment.
In certain pages of the book, the shapes of animals materialise from the shading – Marc is best known for his fauvist paintings of animals such as heavy horses and foxes, amongst others. Perhaps the drawings of the animals that are in this book are those that Marc saw in his time in France – a memory of a more natural time. And god knows there were plenty of rats to study…
This intimate collection gives an insight into the psychology of an artist as a soldier, which must have been a bleak, desperate and monochrome world for an artist who worked in colour.
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