Experiencing a little of the magic of Kurt Schwitters

The collection at Abbot Hall

Having been a lover of the Lake District for many years and now actually living in Kendal, my interest and appreciation of German artist Kurt Schwitters has grown substantially. Schwitters lived close to Ambleside for many years and died in Kendal so there are several art organisations displaying small but significant works of his. Described as the first multimedia artist, his practise extended beyond painting and collage to encompass experimental poetry, sound art, typography and installation art in the form of the Merzbau constructions.

It is in the Abbot Hall gallery where I started my initial interest they hold a small collection of works and there's one in particular that always catches my eye. Even before I knew who the artist was, it was the one that I had to stop to look at. 'Flight' 1945 incorporates a clever collage of driftwood and drawing offering up connotations of a butterfly, bird or plane. Its the composition and weight of the piece that bewitches me. Its also the reason why I make a beeline for his larger artworks in modern art galleries in Europe and even further afield.

Another paper collage incorporates a beer label 'Collage, Mier Bitte' 1945-47 a pun on the word 'to me please'. The collage is a typical example of the ways in which Schwitters created double meaning through the arrangement of scraps of paper and words.

My time in Madrid was one such occasion where we came across several of his works at the Reina Sofia, and I can only describe my initial reaction as one of being overjoyed at the sheer sight of them. It's the undemanding way he combines wood, paint and other found materials to create compositions, some
representational but a lot are in an abstracted form, similar to Cubism and Mondrian's artistic adventures in neoplasticism. There's a grid-like unity producing a compelling force, both artists altered the dynamics of color and space, producing new tensions and equilibrium in their works. Its this surreal tension that I seek from Schwitters work, as well as his love for the landscape that inhabits them too.

As part of a personal project I'll be re-visiting the Merz Barn and will take a first look at the Armitt Museum in Ambleside to research into the art Schwitters specifically made in the UK and how this has fed into his work (and reputation) as an world-reknowed artist.

Abbot Hall collection

Kurt Schwitter's paintings in Madrid

Kurt Schnitters
'Creator of MERZ'
Abbot Hall
Kendal, LA9 5AL


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