Ernst Wilhelm Nay

“Colour is a design value for me. I not only give colour priority over other pictorial means, but the entire pictorial activity of my art is determined solely by the colourful design.”

Ernst Wilhelm Nay, 1952 (Das Kunstwerk, vol. 6, no. 2, p. 4)

When Ernst Wilhelm Nay moved from tranquil Hofheim im Taunus to Cologne a few years after the end of the Second World War, he achieved the final leap into abstraction. Amidst the destruction and ruins, but also full of the dynamism of reconstruction in one of Germany’s most destroyed cities, Ernst Wilhelm Nay experienced a completely new attitude to life: A freedom to which he immediately gave expression in his works.

The sheet shown here was created in 1952, the year in which Nay developed the “Rhythmic Pictures” (1952/53) in his oeuvre. Freed from any formal structure, the contours and lines appear to be overlaid, running into one another – they accelerate themselves. Musical influences, preferably the serial music of Boulez or Stockhausen, further expedite the artist’s ductus.

The intense ink colour of the left half of the picture continues throughout the entire composition, but changes form and expression as it progresses. Losing its opacity, it gains all the more speed as it moves into the right-hand side of the picture. This is underlined in particular by the rapid, fraying colour fields of red watercolour in the space on the right. Despite the restriction to earthy colours, these, sometimes applied more or less opaquely, testify to an incredible radiance. The eye jumps back and forth between the rich ink and the watercolour fields, and ultimately has to find its way around the work without instructions from the artist. With this idea of freedom, Nay’s work from that time represents the complete development of abstract art in post-war Germany.

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