Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet

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Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet of the 1920s is one of the more famous products of the Bauhaus movement, a radical reinvention of the medium which encased the dancers in cumbersome costumes. The outfits and stage designs are familiar from Bauhaus histories but you’re less likely to see an actual performance, something that’s possible with this 30-minute film made in 1970. The ballet is in three acts: yellow, pink and black. Erich Ferstl wrote the music for the filmed reconstruction by Margarete Hasting, the original score by Paul Hindemith being lost.

The ballet has additional interest for me in having influenced part of the Reverbstorm book. Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus logo is reworked in the opening and closing pages together with other Bauhaus-derived graphics, but I also looked at Schlemmer’s ballet costumes when I was planning the final section which required a stylised transformation of Lord Horror. In the end I used a sketch by one of Schlemmer’s pupils, Klaus Barthelmess, for the Horror figure but the Barthelmess drawing was also of a dancer, and is very similar to some of Schlemmer’s designs, especially the silver-headed robot-like figures that appear in the black section of the ballet.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror

Weekend links 214

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Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror

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Lord Horror (after Klaus Barthelmess).

(No, not Pete Murphy and co.) Now that the Reverbstorm book is at the printers I have an excuse to discuss a few of the art and design appropriations that run through the narrative. I wanted to use some Bauhaus-style design back in the early 1990s when we were putting the first of the comic issues together but that idea got buried under conflicting demands and the need to actually finish all the drawing. It was only when I started designing the opening pages in 2008 that I was able to return to some of the original intentions. There were two reasons for this choice: one was that the minimalist graphics of the Bauhaus style worked well in black-and-white, and also provided an effective counterpoint to the very dense and detailed drawings that followed. The second was that the Bauhaus design school found itself in the early 1930s in opposition to the fascist forces which the figure of Lord Horror represents. (Many of the Bauhaus architects and designers eventually fled Germany for Britain and the United States.) This combination of antagonistic elements yielded another of Reverbstorm‘s collisions of counterposed philosophies and aesthetics.

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Reverbstorm title page.

The title page is the most flagrant Bauhaus appropriation, a swipe worthy of Peter Saville at his plundering height. Joost Schmidt’s famous Bauhaus-Ausstellung poster is reworked with a Neville Brody typeface (Industria) and with Oskar Schlemmer’s face logo turned into a scowling profile.

On a typographic note, Industria was used right from the start with Reverbstorm since Brody designed it in the Thatcherite 1980s as a deliberate harking back to the authoritarian 1930s. It also has a very appropriate name. The other typefaces used in the book—Morris Fuller Benton’s Empire and Eric Gill’s Perpetua—date from 1937 and 1928 respectively.

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Joost Schmidt (1923).

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The reworked Oskar Schlemmer face/logo as it appears on the Appendix page. The lightning flash in Reverbstorm has multiple associations: adapted initially from the symbol used by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (a symbol also appropriated at various times by David Bowie and Throbbing Gristle) it can also relate to storms, radio broadcasts and electricity in general. Here it becomes a minimal cipher representing Horror’s outrageous plume of hair.

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Oskar Schlemmer (1923).

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Reverbstorm, part 8.

In part 8 of Reverbstorm Horror ends up naked inside “a Soul” (don’t ask), and we see his figure juxtaposed against a series of backgrounds that recapitulate earlier aspects of the narrative. It was always the intention to end the series with a change of style so I did this by creating a kind of digital maquette figure using vector shapes that could be posed in a variety of ways. The origin of the figure was a sketch by Klaus Barthelmess, one of the students in Oskar Schlemmer’s drawing class. The sketch below appeared in a slightly altered form in issue 5 of the original publications but I always felt more could have been done with it: a posable figure turned out to be the perfect solution. By coincidence, while I was working on the final pages, Clive Hicks-Jenkins had been running a maquette exhibition on his blog. I was tempted to offer my example but a combination of too much work and a reluctance to throw Lord Horror’s obscene and reprehensible presence into the mix put paid to that. Besides which, my figure is a digital creation, not a bona fide paper cut-out.

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Drawing by Klaus Barthelmess (1922).

For those who want more Bauhaus design, the Barbican in London is currently staging a major exhibition, Bauhaus: Art as Life, that will run throughout the summer.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview