From our continental correspondent – More art and comics
Like I said in a recent post about Typex’s Rembrandt graphic novel, there’s quite a lot of Art in comics these days. Well, yes, obviously there is art, it is a graphic medium after all! But here we mean (hushed, respectful tones) Art. With a capital A, as in the ‘fine arts’ and how comics are addressing them. Here’s a second example : Herr Merz.
This biography of essential dadaist Kurt Schwitters by the Norwegian cartoonist Lars Fiske was originally published in Norwegian. I read it in Dutch, and as far as I know there’s no English translation. Which, again, is a shame.
Even in the creative, experimental whirlwind that was the art world in the beginning of the 20th Century, Kurt Schwitters was a strange kind of guy. He wasn’t just an artist – he was art. His life was dedicated to creating what he called Merz, a total work of art including sculpture, painting and poetry. He built immense, room-filling towers and sculptures, using random pieces of wood, junk he found lying around and objects he repurposed.
When the Nazi’s came to power in the 1930s, Schwitters fled, first to Norway and, after the war, to Great-Britain. Everywhere he went, he tried to re-create his great work, his Merzbau (Merz Building), while earning his keep by selling portraits and landscape paintings. Schwitters died in 1948 without having been able to finish his great work.
Fiske tells Schwitters’ story in a graphical style that is as irreverent and original as its subject. Part caricature, part clear line, it is a roller coaster that uses the page without any preconsideration as it sees fit, leaving the reader pretty dizzy at times. It is never boring, at times very taxing (with text going all over the place), and it is always extremely provocative and optimistic.
If there’s anything Fiske brings about in his story, it’s this optimism that Schwitters showed throughout his life. Nobody except for a small circle of friends even understood what he was doing, and still he went on doing it, even when he had to live in an unheated shack he built for himself in the North of Norway. Fiske travels through Germany, Norway and the UK in search of the remains of Schwitters’ Merzbauen, but only finds dilapidated remains, mere fragments of a joyous and truly original work of art. And still the book is a celebration of this original mind and its creativity, its absolutely unique vision of art as the purpose for life in all its fragility.
Again a book that should be translated into English pretty damn quickly (and I hope that somewhere someone’s working very hard to do just that). Lars Fiske – Herr Merz (published No Comprendo, ISBN 978-82-8255-016-1)