Fire Eater (81/200)

Fire Eater

I am pleased that an etching of the Fire Eater is available to see and purchase at our Gallery at Portland H.Q. This print has recently returned home to Dorset after being on display in the Royal West of England Academy show Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019. The Fire Eater was in good company there. The exhibition included works by J.M.W Turner, William Blake, Cornelia Parker, Jeremy Deller, Stanley Spencer, Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham, Eric Ravilious and David Nash to name just a few! It was a great exhibition covering the complex human relationship with this elemental force. I am pleased to say though, that it is also in good company here, hanging out with André Bicât, Thomas Bush Hardy RBA (1842-1897), Anthony Gross and many more.

Based on Weschke's painting 'The Fire Eater (First Version)' from 1984-6, this etching presents the human being as an alienated figure in a deterministic and seemingly meaningless universe. A fire-eater, half-naked, belches flame high in the air in a desolate street. The pose of the central figure, a street performer observed in Frankfurt, has echoes of a crucifixion.

The painting of ‘The Fire Eater’featured as the catalogue cover image for the solo exhibition of Weschke's work at Tate St Ives in 2004, Karl Weschke: Beneath a Black Sky, Paintings and Drawings 1953-2004.

Weschke's work transmits a raw energy, suggesting an often uncomfortable power in nature. There is a tension within the visual imagery. The natural energy and raw power of his surroundings at Cape Cornwall undoubtedly reflected his inner tensions; the tensions of an outsider. Both Cornwall and the human condition are laid bare, without the veneer of romanticism. His painted works are monumental, but this same energy of the epic is also captured in his smaller printed works and his drawings.

The owner of this print is his son, Lucas, a print maker of merit in his own right. You can see some of his work on his website. Growing up among the artistic and creative circle of friends and acquaintances, first at Zennor in the cottage once occupied by D H Lawrence, and then in the converted engine house that became the family home at Cape Cornwall, he inevitably has Cornish tales worthy of a novel that I hope he will write one day: stoic cats that died, cars that were crashed or never even started, wise words from the poet Sydney Graham, a battle of wills with a goat, John le Carré at the dinner table, his father's complex relationships with other artists working in West Penwith, dead dogs in the water and the cow that fell down a mine shaft, John Thaw staying for Christmas, diving with his father to free the lobster pots after a storm, smoking Alan Wood's green cigars through cognac, climbing through postcards, storms, gales, straw burning, and the harsh landscape which buried itself into his being and which he carries with him wherever he goes.

Karl Weschke was only recognised by the art establishment quite late in life (Nicholas Serota went to visit his studio after he died). Early exhibitions during the 1950s and 1960s, e.g. at the Grosvenor in London and the Arnolfini in Bristol, a series of exhibitions at the Redfern over a number of decades, and occasional exhibitions in other cities were interspersed by long and painful periods of tortuously slow painting and financial hardship, during which his work went largely unnoticed. Three of his works were eventually purchased by the Tate Gallery in 1994, and a show was put on at Tate Britain in 1996. A fine exhibition by Jonathan Clark Fine Art in 2016 put Weschke back on the map, and discerning collectors made the most of that opportunity to acquire pieces from the remaining estate, demonstrating the enduring strength of his work.

Former Director of Collection at the Tate, Jeremy Lewison, has written a book about him, and Ben Tufnell (former curator at the Tate) and Frank Whitford (Art Historian, critic and one of Britain's leading experts on 20th-century German Art) wrote essays for the exhibition catalogue for the exhibition at Tate St Ives. We just enjoy having a coffee, taking in the Fire Eater and the other works by Karl Weschke currently on display. I hope you will come along and take a look too, as this etching is packing quite a punch in my little gallery space!

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