Uwe Lausens work ranks among the most powerful, yet hitherto still little-known positions of figurative painting in Germany in the 1960s. On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of his death in 2010, the Schirn
devotes a major retrospective to the self-taught artist who took his ownlife. Within only nine years, Lausen produced an artistic oeuvre characterized by rapid thrusts of development, convincingly translating the influence of Pop Art from England and America setting in from 1964 on into a very personal language in keeping with the times. Lausen was not concerned with depicting the trite world of consumerism, but with unsparingly exposing human and sociopolitical dramas. Criticizing the social constraints of his time in a desperately aggressive manner, which manifested itself in his works cool realism, Lausen anticipated tendencies that would become evident in the German Autumn of 1977. At the same time, he developed a distinctive visual language rich in contrast, which, from todays point of view, is highly modern and fascinates both a younger public and Lausens own generation. The exhibition in the Schirn not only comprises fifty paintings and an equal number of works on paper, but also a room modeled on the artists living quarters. This room will provide an opportunity to listen to recordings by Uwe Lausen with the musician Hans Poppel and texts by the artist and to view photographs by Lausens wife, the photographer Heide Stolz.
Uwe Lausen was born the son of the later SPD politician and member of the Bundestag Willi Lausen in Stuttgart in 1941. A loner, he began to rebel against his surroundings very early on. He first turned against school and his family, later against the social and political circumstances prevailing in the sixties. Initially, Uwe Lausen wanted to become a writer. He already signed letters with Uwe Lausen (the author) as early as 1957, evincing that mixture of hubris and awareness of his own talent so typical of him. Highly gifted both artistically and intellectually, he, having enrolled for philosophy and law in Tübingen and, after, in Munich, dropped out of university after only a few months. For a short time, he worked for the literary magazine ludus he had founded with Frank Böckelmann, his friend from school, in Munich in 1961. However, Lausens interest soon shifted to focus on painting. His beginning friendship with the painters of the SPUR group of artists in Munich around Lothar Fischer, Heimrad Prem, Helmut Sturm, and HP Zimmer, active from 1957 to 1965, may have been responsible for this change. Through this group, Lausen got into contact with the Situationist International (19571972), which, headed by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn, was the most revolutionary and internationally active association of artists, writers, architects, and filmmakers in Europe at the time. Lausens early paintings from 1961 and 1962 clearly reveal the significance of this artistic milieu, particularly of Asger Jorns and the SPUR groups informally figurative approaches.
In 1963, a period of experiments commenced, which saw Lausen considerably extend his field of orientation by often employing other painters means of composition, which he uninhibitedly juxtaposed in his pictures. Thus, expressionist gesture was curbed by a fragile ornamentation modeled on Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Lausen remained fascinated by the human body andits capacity to express pleasure and torture and looked for inspiration in Francis Bacons work.
The first results of its intense study are to be found in the artists brutally mutilated Body Lumps from 1964 and 1965. Abstract biomorphic forms collide with realistically executed details. The canvases are divided into rectangular windows. Unexpected abstract ornaments on top of everything suggest that somebody might have tried to cancel the painting, as it were, by stamping it. The exploration of flesh and the body as subjects remained as relevant for Lausens work throughout different periods of production as for example the interest in ornamental structures, in violence, and in the interplay between figuration and abstraction. Relying on these approaches fathoming the painting as a field of tension to its limits, he developed a highly individual repertoire of forms.
In 1965/66, Lausen, always oscillating between intensive phases of work, drug excesses, and depressions, between sensitivity and aggression, broke with the pictorial language he had worked with until then and introduced a cool realism. His pictures reflect his critical attitude toward society and the attempt to disclose the contradictions and tensions of the German postwar world. They center on thematic complexes such as the artist as killer, the fascination of sex and violence, and the living room as a crime scene. The living room of modern German apartments repeatedly suggested by means of flowery wallpapers, seating furniture, and thick carpets figures not only as an odious substitute for the economic miracle petrifying in conventionality. From 1967 on at the latest it turned into a scene of crime, of murder, suicide, and rape.
Just a few months before the student Benno Ohnesorg was shot down by a policeman, Lausen was working on his Soldiers series. The pictures show uniformed mercenaries, contrasted in black and white, shooting out wildly in all directions with machine guns. His works of those days bear titles such as The German Killer, Hunting for the Last Flesh, or The Weeping General. Numerous photographs by Lausens wife Heide Stolz from the second half of the 1960s radiate the same in a twofold sense cool fascination with violence, which is to be understood as a fierce criticism of the states despotism and repression. Uwe Lausen based his works on his wifes photographs, both in terms of perspective and types of people. As for his choice of styles and colors, Lausen had his finger on the pulse of time by 1965. While a clear, Pop-Art-oriented visual language began to emerge which would become the younger generations trademark on an international scale, he already worked with its vocabulary as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The reduction to pure light and shadow painting makes the depicted subjects appear twodimensional, and unusual perspectives and distortions result in spaces that sway or dissolve in favor of monochrome surfaces. The various levels of the plot are rendered in parallel and often without any causal context. Combined with black and white, intense unmixed colors create a distance from reality.
In 1968, Uwe Lausen moved into a flat in Munich together with his wife Heide and their two daughters Lea and Jana. He had already given up his studio in the farmhouse they shared in Aschhofen near Rosenheim in 1967. It was in Munich where the last phase of his artistic production began. The painter increasingly withdrew from the exploration of the human figure that had been the focus of his interest until then. Objects such as tubes, pipes, faucets, toilet bowls, and washbasins now became the dominant motifs in his work. After he seemed to have come to an end as an artist in terms of flatness and reduction, Lausen gave up painting altogether in 1969 or even before to make music with the later childrens book illustrator and pianist Hans Poppel in partly meditative improvisational sessions lasting for hours. Yet, Lausens condition deteriorated increasingly, and after his wife had left him for good after several shorter spells of separation, his friends regarded the commission for the stage set design of Peter Steins scandalous production of Edward Bonds Early Morning (1969) at the Schauspielhaus Zurich as the last sheet anchor. After restless paranoiac months in Zurich, Sankt Gallen, Munich, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, and other places, Uwe Lausen, looked for by the police because of drug offences, committed suicide in hisparents house in Beilstein near Stuttgart in September 1970. Yet even if this suicide may have resulted from social deficits, personal emotional problems, and increased drug abuse, it was also the expression of an intellectual attitude which fascinates us today because of its radical character and would perhaps not have been committed had it not been anticipated by the artist in writing and picture countless times: my end as a person is as inevitable as the end of human society. and like mankind, I will also find my final confirmation in my final end
victory is inevitable.