August 2, 2014

Adolf Wölfli

Adolf Wölfli (Switzerland)


Born in Bern, Switzerland on February 29, 1864, Adolf Wölfli was physically and sexually abused as a young child, orphaned at the age of 10. Growing up in state-run foster homes, Wölfli became a farm laborer as a young man, and briefly joined the army. Later, however, he was convicted of child molestation, for which he served prison time.

     In 1895 he was admitted to the Waldau Clinic in Bern, a psychiatric institution, where he would spend the rest of his adult life.

     On admission is was already quite disturbed, suffering bouts of violence, which resulted in his being kept in isolation for long periods of time, when he suffered further psychological problems, leading to intense hallucinations.

      Wölfli begin drawing with colored pencils in 1904 and over the next two years produced 50 pencil drawings. A doctor at the clinic, Walter Morgenthaler, took notice of Wölfli’s art and, contextualizing it within the patient’s psychosis, published a book, Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist) which, in 1921, brought Wölfli some attention in the art world.

     The artist produced a huge number of further works during his lifetime, working with whatever materials he might obtain, while Morgenthaler continued to observe his methods and obsessions with his art.

     As the doctor noted in his work:

Every Monday morning Wölfli is given a new pencil and two large sheets of unprinted newsprint. The pencil is used up in two days; then he has to make do with the stubs he has saved or with whatever he can beg off someone else. He often writes with pieces only five to seven millimetres long and even with the broken-off points of lead, which he handles deftly, holding them between his fingernails. He carefully collects packing paper and any other paper he can get from the guards and patients in his area; otherwise he would run out of paper before the next Sunday night. At Christmas the house gives him a box of coloured pencils, which lasts him two or three weeks at the most.

     Within these highly intense works of art, filled with words and images caught within the frame of the materials upon which he worked, where musical notations, poetry, fiction, and other semi-autobiography observations. The artist would play the musical notations on a paper trumpet. The music was released as a long-playing record by Graeme Ravell as "Necropolis, Amphibians & Reptiles: The Music of Adolf Wölfli,” in 1987.

     In 1908 Wölfli set out to create an epic which ultimately stretched to 45 volumes of over 25,000 pages and 1,600 illustrations, filled with elements of his own life, fantastical stories, and sound poems. In 1912, moreover, the artist wrote a series of nine bound books titled From the Cradle to the Grove; Or, Through Work and Sweat, Suffering and Ordeals, Even through Prayer into Damnation, Manifold Travels, Adventures, Accidental Calamities, Hunting and Other Experiences of a Lost Soul Erring about the Globe; or, A Servant of God without a Head is More Miserable Than the Most Miserable of Wretches, published in German in 1985.

     Wölfli died in 1930, having created the Art Brut movement and influenced artists such as Jean DuBuffet.


[Poem without Words]

G'ganggali ging g'gang, g'gung g'gung!
Giigara-Lina Wiiy Rosina.
G'ganggali ging g'gang, g'gung g'gung!
Rittara-Gritta, d'Zittara witta.
G'ganggali ging g'gang, g'ung g'gung.
Giigaralina, siig'R a Fina.
G'ganggali ging g'gang, g'ung g'gung
Fung z'Jung, chung d'Stung

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