ARTIST FOCUS: HEINRICH NÜSSLEIN
One of the most idiosyncratic artists to emerge from this popular movement was Heinrich Nüsslein: a photographer, author and antiquarian, whose immersion in Theosophy would eventually propel him to notoriety throughout his native Germany.
Nüsslein was born on 20 April 1879 in Nürnberg, where he trained as a typographer and bookbinder. Yet extreme near-sightedness, almost a form of blindness, meant this predominantly visual individual did not complete the National Art School in Nürnberg.
Séances after the war stimulated a revival of his creative practices. Automatic drawings and clairaudience (an auditory form of clairvoyance) led Nüsslein to the realisation that art demanded no physical subject or visible presence to give licence to his inner visions.
The Dadaists in Paris and Switzerland had followed a similar trajectory. Yet if their motivation was intellectual, inviting change to guide creativity, Nüsslein’s was propelled by belief and need. Spiritualism had opened up a practice denied by ocular disability.
In common with other Theosophic artists, such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint, Nüsslein was interested in the depiction of the other. Yet for him, this was not to be found in the abstraction of time and space, but in the depiction of an alternate fantastical reality.
Inspired (perhaps) by his employment at Trenkler & Co, a Leipzig company specialising in photographic postcards of Greek landscapes, Nüsslein commenced a series of astral travels: glazed quasi-biblical oil paintings, depicting ancient Germanic and Mexican peoples.
These iridescent desertscapes looked like little else of the period. They shone with otherworldliness, harbouring ghost-like figures under their monumental cloudforms. Moreover, each seemed to have been finger-painted in the dark in less than fifteen minutes.
As his practice continued, Nüsslein became convinced that the Nürnberg painter Albrecht Dürer was guiding his hand. This denial of authorship, common among spiritualist artists, was central to Nüsslein’s practice, describing himself as an artisan or a psychical picture-writer.
Nüsslein made a living from his production. In several series, known as Karmaschauen, the artist offered patrons the opportunity to purchase visual investigations into their past lives, with explanatory Nüssleinian text on their reverse (for a rare example for sale, please click HERE).
Nusslein experienced considerable fame before the war and exhibited in London, Paris and at his home at Schloss Kornburg, Nürnberg. Yet with the rise of Nazism, his output lessened. His work was classified as Entartete Kunst (or degenerate art) and seized by the authorities.
Before his death the artist claimed to have painted over 20,000 paintings. It is more likely that he realised several thousand, of which only a few hundred remain today.
Artist Focus: Heinrich Nüsslein is accompanied by a digital installation of artworks. To view the exhibition, click HERE.