The Galerie Wienerroither & Kohlbacher presents the twisted dreamscapes of Alfred Kubin

Austrian artist Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) once remarked that “life is a dream,” but if his work is any indication, it must have often been a nightmare. Deeply symbolic, his dark and macabre illustrations transcend our realm of reality, suggesting another perspective on the “other” side – also the title of his novel, Die Andere Seite, a feverish collection of twisted imagery and dream logic published in 1909.

on the left: Frau Welt (1912/15)

His bleak and idiosyncratic pictures granted him many admirers and membership in several prominent artist collectives, most notably Der Blaue Reiter alongside Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and his close friends Lionel Feininger and Paul Klee. And while Austrian contemporaries like Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka may be more prominent today, Kubin’s weird and uncanny visions have influenced generations of writers and artists since.

To mark the 60th anniversary of Kubin’s death, the Galerie Wienerroither & Kohlbacher is showing an eclectic collection of his work, paying special attention to his prized book illustrations. The exhibit guides you through the different phases of his long career, reflecting both major historical events and Kubin’s personal life. On the Shore (c.1918) conveys the despair and destruction of World War I evocatively, depicting a solitary silhouette in a barren land, while Castaways (c.1909/10) exemplifies the profound influence of fellow artist Paul Klee on Kubin. An illustration for Gerard de Nerval’s Aurelia, the latter shows two shipwrecked men in an desolate setting; together yet apart, their desperation is tinged with alienation. Delving into Kubin’s later work, there’s an assortment of 8 of the 41 illustrations he created for the 18th Century novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1932): the rich detail of his younger days has given way to sparse yet expressive lines, almost sketch-like in their simplicity but no less powerful.

Illustrations for The Vicar of Wakefield (1932)

Kubin’s work is yet another example of the inherent irony of art – of how pain and torment can inspire beauty and greatness. Heavily influenced by literature and artists such as Francisco de Goya, Kubin’s vivid drawings contain an underlying narrative of an envisioned reality, conceived in the mind and manifested on his preferred medium of paper or cardboard. Beneath the luminous lights and bright ambience of the gallery, his phantasmagorical isolation seem even starker in contrast. It is this interplay between the conflicting worlds of dream and reality and the accompanying emotions that gives Kubin’s work lasting appeal.

Through Mar 22, Galerie Wienerroither & Kohlbacher. 1., Strauchgasse 2. w-k.art