Oskar Schlemmer Artist Biography

Oskar Schlemmer was born in 1888 in Swabia, Germany. Oskar Schlemmer was exposed to design theory at a young age, as an apprentice in a marquetry workshop. He took classes at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Stuttgart, and a scholarship allowed him to further his studies at the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Art (1906–10). He spent a year in Berlin painting and familiarising himself with new trends by artists associated with the ‘Der Sturm Gallery’. He then returned to Stuttgart in 1912 and became a master student of abstract artist Adolf Hölzel. Under Adolf Hölzel, he learnt to abandon the style promoted by the Impressionists and instead turned to the Cubists for inspiration. He was fascinated with their ideas of form and composition and the tensions between them. In his painting, sculpture and metalwork, he would try to explore new approaches to structure and perspective.

Oskar Schlemmer was wounded in action while serving in World War I and returned to Stuttgart in 1916. In 1919 he helped spearhead a movement to modernize the curriculum at the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Art—which also involved a staunch effort to have Paul Klee appointed to the faculty there—and, more generally, to bring modern art exhibitions to Stuttgart. He was integral to organising early exhibitions, which featured his own work as well as that of Klee, Willi Baumeister, and others.

In 1920, he went to work as a teacher at the Bauhaus school where he remained for nine years. His complex ideas were influential, making him one of the most important teachers working at the school at that time. However, with the rise of the Nazis at the end of the Twenties, his work was seen as degenerate and he was dismissed from his post.

After using Cubism as a springboard for his structural studies, Oskar Schlemmer's work became intrigued with the possibilities of figures and their relationship to the space around them, for example 'Egocentric Space Lines' (1924). His characteristic forms can be seen in his sculptures as well as his paintings. Yet he also turned his attention to stage design, first getting involved with this in 1929, executing settings for the opera 'Nightingale' and the ballet 'Renard' by Igor Stravinsky.

As well as leaving a large body of work, Oskar Schlemmer has also had his theories on art published and a comprehensive book of his letters and diary entries from 1910 to his death in 1943 is also available. “My themes – the human figure in space, its moving and stationary functions, sitting, lying, walking, standing – are as simple as they are universally valid. Besides they are inexhaustible.”Oskar Schlemmer.

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