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Beuys’ Alchemical Credo: The Presence of Nature as an Emblem and Epiphany for the Creative Man

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The work of the German artist Joseph Beuys, who lived from 1921–1986, is strongly dedicated to man's nature, his way of life, his thoughts and deeds during a creative process. As Beuys was always in his work looking for equivalents in nature, I begin by discussing some of his drawings with Iceland as subject.In 1974 he made a drawing called “Island (Bergnase)” (Iceland (the nose of a mountain)). The title of the work makes it clear that he looked to this mountain as if it was a human. The second drawing is simply called “Aus Island“ (from Iceland). It dates from 1977 and shows forms which can perhaps be read as one of the typical old Icelandic houses which are built right into and onto the earth. Very typical for his imagination are drawings which show the volcanic flow coming out of a body-like earth, in an example from 1956 entitled: “W√§rmeplastik im Gebirge” (plastic of warmth in the mountains). You could easily think of a woman's body, which Beuys intended. He once said that warmth was not merely physical. “It is precisely the same which means the substance of love […] It means a higher form of warmth, a warmth of evolution, that means love itself.” Here we see that Beuys was especially interested in the relation of humans and earth. He made sketches of this subject in various other drawings in a more pronounced way. An example is the drawing of a human body next to a plant and a stone, called &“Partitur des Interviews mit Daniela del Pesco†” (1972). The little tree has a connecting line to the chest, with the word “Seele” (soul) written in this field, and the stone is related to the “K√∂rper” (body). It is an old idea that can also be found in Chinese drawings of the Ming-Period: stones and trees are shown as one unit, for instance in an example, which is a poetic introduction to the Lou-chou Hall by the emperor Ch'ien-lung, both presenting the dead and the living material as substances for one life (exhibited in the National Museum of Taipeh/Taiwan).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • Art, Ethics and Environment: A Free Inquiry Into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature
    The aim of this collection is to bring together different trends in thinking about nature and value that are distinctive of these changing moods in art and philosophy and to juxtapose them with some other ways of thinking about these issues, such as economics and religion. The authors include Holmes Rolston III, Antje von Graevenitz, Roger Pouivet, Eric Palazzo and Emily Brady. The essays and artworks in this volume derive from the conference Nature in the Kingdom of Ends held in Selfoss, Iceland, on June 11th and 12th 2005.
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