Day 176: Outside August

originally published June 24, 2012

I love art. Not only does art enrich one’s soul and expand the boundaries of one’s imagination, it’s also a terrific way to look at boobs without the stigma of internet pornography. And of course, second to boob art is the fantastic realm of work by visionaries such as August Klotz.

Klotz was, like most great artists, driven to his craft by a crippling venereal disease. Around the turn of the 20th century, Klotz was living in Swabia, a region in southern Germany whose Wikipedia page inexplicably features a link to the entry for Schwab’s Pharmacy on Hollywood Boulevard. Klotz was a wine merchant, carousing with his clients and being generous enough with his free samples to attract a case of gonorrhea.

The STD (or STI, or whatever they’re calling gonorrhea these days) was coupled with a nasty bout of influenza. The illness fired Klotz into a spiral of pulse-deadening depression. We’re not talking about a ‘case of the Mondays’ here, or that feeling when Mad Men is done for the season, and you know you’ve got, like, months before you can find with whom Don Draper is going to have sex. Klotz’s depression led to hallucinations, and eventually self-mutilation.

The guy was 39. He was clearly schizophrenic and needed to be watched. The German authorities placed him in an asylum in 1903, where he turned to art as an outlet for what doctors at the time referred to as his “crazies” (probably).

Klotz worked in the field of fat-on-wallpaper, which I suppose must have been a huge movement in the German art world in the early 20th century, during that brief window of German culture between abstract expressionism and attacking the rest of Europe. Clearly his early work was a statement of some kind, as he considered his creations to be “Freemason signs”.

I hate to editorialize (though I realize that I probably don’t need to tell lies like this, because I love to editorialize. In fact, that’s kind of all that I do here), but I’m guessing when the doctors saw Klotz creating Freemason signs on his wallpaper using fat – which may have been handed to him for just this purpose, or could have been squeezed from whatever German sausages they had been feeding him – I think at that moment the doctors should have tossed away any paperwork that might have someday set Klutz free and back in Swabian society.

The above paragraph was a very long sentence, full of sentence-stretching punctuation. I make no apologies, and wish only that I had used a semicolon; I like semicolons.

Klutz also suffered from a strange type of grapheme-color synesthesia, in which “letters correspond to numbers, which when added up correspond to colors.”

 Whether or not this means that his color choices for his artwork were based upon some bizarre pseudo-math, and derived from some Freemason manifesto regarding world domination (which would be awesome), I don’t know.

This affliction, which in itself would make for an interesting kilograph, is a neurological condition that plays with the cognitive pathways. It’s more common (though still pretty rare) to simply experience a deep-seeded relation of certain letters or numbers with colors. Automatically associating ‘B’ with blue, or ‘A’ with red are frequent syntheses in this condition. In the way-out-there realm of synesthesia you have someone like Klotz, who does some sort of letter-number math to get to his colors. His doctors were probably a bit more pre-occupied with the hallucinations, self-mutilation and smearing of fat on the walls to really worry about any treatment for this, though.

Klotz moved on to watercolors, probably as the season changed and the asylum started serving more vegetables with meals, cutting down on his default art supplies. He was noticed by psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn. Prinzhorn had started a collection of artwork by mentally ill patients, and in 1922 he put a bunch of them onto bookshelves in the form of “Artistry of the Mentally Ill” – available on Amazon!

His fellow doctors were understandably hesitant about the exploitation of these patients’ work. The art world, however, which has no problem with exploitation as long as it’s either thought-provoking or profitable, went nuts over this book. The term ‘Outsider Art’ was coined to describe this style. A lot of the work was exhibited in Germany in 1938, but with the less-pleasant moniker of “Degenerate Art”. Leave it to the Nazis to take the fun out of everything.

Klotz’s work was not consistent, and indeed none of it appears to be online except for this one piece which turned up in my search results, but which is not labeled distinctly as one of his works. I suppose there’s no chance that his formative fat-on-walls art has survived the last century.

Prinzhorn loved Klotz’s art. Because it was so inconsistent, with few themes or techniques carrying over from piece to piece, he saw it as an example of the creative impulse at its most basic. Prinzhorn claimed that Klotz would create his work completely passively, like a spectator to the process, then analyze what it meant afterward. Given that the guy was prone to hallucinations, I would imagine his interpretations to be somewhat suspect, but I’m sure they made for some delightful conversation.

There’s no conclusion to this story. Almost every site I could find that referenced August Klotz did so by simply quoting the three-paragraph Wikipedia article. I suppose this means that I have, right here, concocted the most in-depth analysis of August Klotz on the internet, despite having possibly never seen any of his work, and filling space with references to sausages and boob art. I have no idea when or how Klotz died, or if he was ever relieved of his fat-ensconced room at the asylum.

I also have no idea how much money Prinzhorn made off Klotz’s work, and the work of the other mentally ill artists he threw into that book. But rather than end on a cynical note, I’m just going to fry up some bacon and cover my wall with a pretty bunny. An evil Freemason pretty bunny that will take over the world.

Categories: art

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