In her introspective and often expressive self-portraits, Austrian artist Maria Lassnig depicted her body in various states of dislocation, fragmentation, and disguise—a style she called 'body awareness painting'.Read More
Maria Lassnig was born in Klagenfurt, Austria in 1919, and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during World War II. The body was already at the centre of her practice by the time she graduated in 1945. The expressive, rough-looking pastel drawing Expressive Self-portrait (1945), for example, depicts the artist shirtless, with her mouth slightly parted in concentration as she holds a drawing instrument in the air.
In the mid-1940s, Lassnig associated with artists who shared her interest in rejecting traditional art in favour of experimentation. In Vienna, she became acquainted with artists such as Arnulf Rainer, Wolfgang Hollegha, and Ernst Fuchs, who were practicing action painting and abstract expressionism. Travelling to Paris in 1951, Lassnig was introduced to Art Informel and Surrealism by Benjamin Péret, Paul Celan, and André Breton. This early expressionistic and Surrealist influence showed in her paintings and drawings, which render the body in twisted, misshapen, and indistinct forms.
The 1981 work Screaming Woman depicts a leaning, unclothed figure with hands covering her eyes and mouth agape in a perpetual cry. Lassnig often juxtaposed specific figurative details with bizarre and surreal elements. Double Self-Portrait with Lobster (Krebsangst) (1979) shows two seated, faceless bodies. One of the figures holds an enormous crustacean in its lap. The figures in this painting are rendered in Lassnig's characteristic washes of pastel colours, while the background is a glowing pea-green. The 1963 painting _Self-portrait as Animal _similarly shows two figures. This time, however, the human faces are replaced with what appear to be the heads of dogs.
Working in pencil, charcoal, ink, pastel, pen, and watercolours, Lassnig used her own body to explore themes such as sexuality, war, violence, and ageing. Her coined term 'body awareness painting' referred to the way in which she would only paint parts of her body that she felt while she worked. For this reason, most works show the artist without hair.
The 1981 artwork Screaming Woman depicts a leaning, unclothed figure with hands covering her eyes and mouth agape in a perpetual cry. Lassnig often juxtaposed specific figurative details with bizarre and surreal elements. Double Self-Portrait with Lobster (Krebsangst) (1979) shows two seated, faceless bodies. One of the figures holds an enormous crustacean in its lap. The figures in this painting are rendered in Lassnig's characteristic washes of pastel colours, while the background is a glowing pea-green. The 1963 painting Self-portrait as Animal similarly shows two figures. This time, however, the human faces are replaced with what appear to be the heads of dogs.
In 1968, Lassnig moved to New York City, where she studied animation, produced short films, and joined the feminist group Women/Artists/Filmmakers, Inc. Lassnig's watercolours and drawings from this time were exhibited in the 2020 show Ode to New York: Drawings 1968–1980 at Petzel Gallery in New York. They are light-handed, scrapbook-style sketches of buildings, figures, and quiet details of urban life. The 1979 watercolour Chelsea Hotel Window, for example, depicts a cluster of rainbow-coloured buildings, as seen through a curtained window.
In 1978, with the help of a grant, Lassnig moved to Berlin. It was only upon her return to Europe that she began to receive critical recognition. Alongside Valie Export, Lassnig represented Austria at the Venice Biennale in 1980 with emotionally charged figurative paintings. Other institutions followed suit and took notice of Lassnig's work.
Toward the end of her life, Maria Lassnig's paintings increased in psychological intensity. You or Me (2005) shows the artist nude, surrounded by a blue glow, and holding two pistols: one pointed at her own head, and one at the viewer.
Maria Lassnig's artwork has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions, including two breakthrough exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1995) and The Fine Arts Museum of Nantes (1999). Major retrospectives of her work were held at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 2008 and at the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (mumok), Vienna in 2009. She has also exhibited at MoMA PS1, New York (2014) and Tate Liverpool (2014).
In 1988, Lassnig was awarded the Grand Austrian State Prize, and in 2013 received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. Lassnig's works are included in the collections of contemporary art institutions including the MoMA in New York and the Albertina in Vienna.
Maria Lassnig died in Vienna in 2014 at the age of 94.
Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2021
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