Bodo Korsig: Making Peace With The Past

Bodo Korsig, Wir waren die neue Horde (We were the new horde, 2001), woodcut on canvas, two panels, 250 x 340 cm overall; and Körper (Body, 2001) woodcut on canvas, two panels, 250 x 340 cm overall.

The graphic forms in Bodo Korsig’s printed paintings and print-like sculptures hover at the edge of recognizability, like things flitting in and out of memory or a dream. Black and linear, like doodles or enigmatic emblems blown up to enormous scale, they may suggest bits of machinery, street trash or microscopic anatomical structures. Korsig, who views himself as a sculptor, makes his woodcuts as preparation for his sculptures and the same forms repeat across media: a three-armed calligraphic shape like a mutant starfish (or triads of neural ganglia) appears, for example, as an eight-foot wall sculpture of cast aluminum (Hidden Mind, 2006) and as a wall-to-wall Astroturf carpet (Can You Feel What I Feel?, 2006), and has near relations in woodcut-on-canvas works such as I Can’t Stop (2007). He admires Richard Serra’s black oil-stick drawings and acknowledges the influence of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner on his early work; the glyph-like look of his imagery owes something to Mark Rothko’s early surrealist works and to Native American cave paintings he saw in the Southwest in the 1990s. The titles—often in English though the artist is German—are allusive rather than descriptive. He keeps the works’ content open and does not insist upon any specific interpretation.

Korsig (b. 1962) grew up in Zwickau, an industrial town in East Germany. As a boy, he filled notebooks with his drawings and enrolled in weekend classes at the studios of local artists, where he learned painting, drawing and various forms of printmaking. He took to woodcut early on: it was “a technique I loved,” he says. “I don’t completely understand it…I loved Dürer [and] the German Expressionists.”1 As he began to have professional ambitions, he found that doors were closed to him because he would not join the Communist Party or serve three years in the East German army: “your whole development is limited if you don’t play the game,” he explains, and alludes to unspecified “hateful experiences” at the hands of the regime. In 1986, however, he entered the School of Advertising and Design (Fachschule für Werbung und Gestaltung) in East Berlin, where he studied sculpture and stone restoration. He made some figurative art at this time but preferred semi-abstraction, and characterizes his student imagery as “very aggressive.” He felt the bureaucracy imposed exhausting limits on his freedom, and the anxiety of this period is, he acknowledges, still visible in his work.

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  1. The author interviewed Korsig at his studio on 25 May 2017 and talked with him by telephone on 12 October 2017 (there were subsequent brief conversations). Statements by Korsig come from these interviews. Catherine Lee talked to the author about Korsig’s years in New York. []