Thursday, 16 June 2016

THE ART OF DARKNESS


THE ART OF DARKNESS
Andreas Paul Weber 1893-1980
Speculating on death


In April 1995 I visited Dachau Concentration Camp for The New Statesman magazine to write a feature (entitled Hell Was Here) on the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. I’d imagined that Munich in April, being far south of Mansfield, would be mild and spring-like. No chance. It was freezing, and I recall the bitter sleet slashing against the train windows on the short journey from Munich Bahnhof to Dachau.

My fellow passengers disembarking at Dachau were a mix of elderly tourists and high school pupils. The older visitors included several Americans. Cold and icy, the weather seemed apt for such a destination, but that day was not without its humour.  There was a minibus waiting outside Dachau railway station which took people to the concentration camp. As we clambered on board, I noticed the driver, obviously of the new, post-war generation of Germans. He was huge, bearded and long-haired, wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with some heavy metal rock calligraphy. As we all shuffled into the bus interior, our colossal chauffeur turned in his seat and bellowed forcefully at us all in the kind of German accent only heard in British B-movies:

    You vill all move down zer bus und be seated now!” At this a small, elderly American guy who may well have been Jewish, piped up in a New York accent;

   “Gee, buddy - ya sure make these trips authentic!”


I spent most of that bitter day walking around the camp. All the main huts, but for a couple, had been demolished, but the Crematorium remained, as did the watchtowers and original SS barracks. There was an oppressive, doomy ambience to the place; no doubt this was to be expected considering the misery, death and torture which had existed there. It was the first of such establishments to be set up by Himmler as early as 1933, the idea being that the Nazis should imprison people as a ‘preventative’ measure - in effect, if they suspected that you might commit a crime, then that was reason enough to lock you up. And, of course, if you were a communist, a dissident, a critic of the party, and although the ‘Final Solution’ hadn’t been established yet, the first batch of inmates included numerous Jews.

It was in the SS barracks, where such awful remnants of mistreatment were displayed, like the whipping block, where prisoners would be tied down for sadistic punishment that I paused with an intake of breath at some framed lithographs. They were some of the most sinister, disturbing art I’d ever seen.

WEBER IN 1979
Andreas Paul Weber (1893-1980) was one of the Third Reich’s first dissidents. His name rarely appears in dictionaries of art. In 1928, appalled at the rise of National Socialism, aged 35 he joined Ernst Niekisch’s anti-Nazi circle and began illustrating books for the Widerstands-Verlag (Resistance Press). When Hitler came to power, the Resistance Press was immediately banned and Weber was arrested and committed to Dachau Concentration Camp. Today there is a Paul Weber Museum in Ratzeburg, a town in Germany south of Lubeck. I would dearly like to go there and see Weber’s originals. There is a sinister darkness to his lithographs depicting the rise of Nazism, it’s corrosive invasion into private life and the hypocrisy of the war years.

'The Informer'
Yet there are blind spots in the museum’s biography of Weber; for example, when he was discharged from Dachau before the war, he at least managed to visit Cuba, and then during the war his work seems to have been (mis?)used by the Nazis. He was drafted in WW2. He did a series of works criticising Imperialism, The Britische Bilder (The British Pictures) producing over one hundred sketches and drawings to protest against Imperialism and Colonialism. In the 60s and 70s Weber became an avid supporter of the ecological movement. He maintained a love of nature and peace throughout his life, detested militarism, pollution, and devoted his art to themes such as justice.  This paragraph from the museum’s website succinctly explains Weber;

          Death is an important theme in Weber's work, as is the figure of the fool, which is a common character in his drawings. The artist identified himself with his figure, which was inspired by the historical joker Eulenspiegel, who lived a few miles from Ratzeburg in the town of Mölln, and by the medieval court jester. Weber envisioned himself as a court jester, because in this position he  could tell uncomfortable truths without being punished.
Titled 'Doom' this was the way Weber predicted National Socialism would go -
straight into the grave.

When it comes to capturing the dark mood of the underbelly of world politics, capitalism and war, every time I think about Dachau I now think about Andreas Paul Weber.  During his 87 years, he produced nearly 3,000 lithographs, hundreds of wood cuts, more than 200 oil paintings and several thousand other drawings. And still he has the power to chill me to the bone.
'The Meeting' 1932



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