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The “Peculiar Fascination” of the Drawings by Karl L.

Karl L.’s drawings show cephalopods (literally, heads with feet), as well as greatly abstracted fruits, trees, and animals. The graphic vocabulary is similar to that of a 3- or 4-year-old. However, the approx. 70-year-old L., with his extended practice, used these elements more tenaciously than a child would, and he dealt with the frequently complex coloration in a more conceptual manner than would be possible for a child. And this is precisely why his images convey a cheerful charm, exerting such a “peculiar fascination” (Kraft). L. had only been to kindergarten, was 16 when he was admitted to the psychiatric clinic, later sent to a home for the mentally disabled. Around 1980, when he was a long-term patient in the state hospital in Bonn, he received drawing materials as part of his occupational therapy. He drew a great number of pictures in his ward, where he would hide them in his closet. An intern discovered them and, together with Hartmut Kraft, rescued them from being destroyed by the ward staff.

Images: Karl L., drawings, untitled, undated, pen and wax crayons on paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg


 

„Little Bunny in Potato Heaven” by Bernd Wrobel

Bernd Wrobel (1954–1980) was on a quest, from 1970 on, to expand his consciousness through narcotics and transcendental meditation. In 1975, when the voices he was hearing became unbearable, he tried to commit suicide for the first time. Repeated suicide threats lead to his being admitted to the Rheinish Landesklinik Bonn, a psychiatric hospital. Following another suicide attempt, he began to regularly take part in the hospital’s occupational therapy, where he took up drawing, and even dreamt of learning the screen-printing trade. Early on, his drawings were stiff and bleak, and often featured war ships. However, when a new therapist began to work with the group, his images underwent a transformation, becoming brightly colored and livelier, downright cheerful. Late 1979, Wrobel’s mood darkened again. He stopped drawing. In March of 1980, his jump from the highest staircase in the hospital was fatal.

Image: Bernd Wrobel, „Little Bunny in Potato Heaven”, undated, wax crayon and pen © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg


 

Nazi Father Figures by Theo Wagemann

Theo Wagemann (1918–1998), son of an innkeeper in Venwegen, a small town near Aachen, became mentally ill in 1933, and had to end his apprenticeship as a tailor. In the National Socialist (Nazi) era, he fell victim to forced sterilization, but was allowed to stay with his family. In the 1970s, he began to draw, and became known by the name of “Theo”. A large part of Theo’s artistic work consists of depictions of bigwig Nazis, especially portraitsof Hitler. Their friendly faces, as well as the inscriptions on the front and the back of the drawings, leave no doubt as to the portraitist’s favorable attitudetowards these characters, despite the idiosyncratic spelling. Wagemann, whohimself had suffered under the Nazis, must have naively glorified them as father figures. However, due to their expressive stylistic vocabulary, these images would never have been suitable as Nazi devotional objects.

 

 


 

Flying Bicycles by Gustav Mesmer

Gustav Mesmer (1903–1994) was in psychiatric institutions from 1928 until 1964. In 1932, he took an interest in flying machines for the first time. In the Buttenhausen retirement home (Swabian Alb), Mesmer began to attempt to fly with his flying bicycles, which earned him the nickname “Icarus of the Lauter Valley”. In the last years of his life, his work began to be appreciated as Outsider Art. In preparation for his “Border Crossing” book, Hartmut Kraft visited the 80-year-old Mesmer in Buttenhausen. All day long, Mesmer showed his flying machines to the physician. He was not concerned with failure: “Maybe it’ll work someday. If not, at least I’ve tried everything possible.”

Gustav Mesmer, untitled, undated, watercolour and ink on paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg