The biographical details of Ascher’s early life, his persecution under National Socialism, and then his later years, emerging from the shadows of his trauma, are critical to think about how and why Ascher created what works he did, and in the manner in which he did. But, that being said, Ascher was not a passive mirror of his surroundings, and he displayed an abiding interest in exploring not only the visualization of the inner life, but also extended self-examination. Such an interest connects his potential interest in the Bajazzo themes, as a form of self-identification and exploration, as well as his adoption of Expressionist techniques and ideological color to grasp at feelings and thoughts hidden from the naked eye. It also circumscribes his several self-portraits from before and after the War, as well as his poetry.

While in hiding from the Nazis, Ascher was unable to create as he once had, but he did write much of his extant poetry. These poems are meditations on the self, on war, on life, on works of art or artists and writers that moved and inspired him, in short—on those aspects of Ascher’s being that either consumed his thoughts while in isolation or were inaccessible to him as affecting mediums while in hiding. These poems are, in some senses, the purest expression of Ascher’s sense of self while he tried to survive during the most fraught and dire of moments.

Comparing Ascher’s self-portraits from before and after the War equally proves instructive and offers insight into how Ascher’s psyche and his self-conception evolved as a consequence of his persecution. For an artist, the self remains a compositional subject infinitely in play as something to explore, avoid, grapple with, or deny. In this regard, Ascher’s multi-medium and multi-faceted study of himself and the representation of the inner life prove to be a consistent thread throughout his career.

DigiFAS Quick Clips

Fritz Ascher’s Poetry

(Vor eigenem Schaffen)
So hocke ich,
in dumpfem Schweigen; –
gebannt = verwirrt =
vor meinem Eigen.

Erschuf Dich
in verschwiegener Nacht, –
peitschend angefacht.
Gedrängt, gepresst, –
„In tiefer Not!“
Erstandest Du mir
: ein Gebot.

Blick ich auf Dich,
mein Angesicht –
Und lausche
„Einem fernen Ich.“

Was sich begreift –
: Ist nichts als Staunen –
Drob eines Wesen
Launen Geist.
(Gedichtsband  1, undatiert, S. 40)

(Before my own creation)
So I crouch
In heavy silence;
enchanted = bewildered =
before my very self.

I created you
In the unspeaking night,
whipped by flame.
Pushed and pressed, –
“in deep necessity”
You stand before me:
a Command.

I look at you,
my countenance –
and listen to
“a distant ‘I’.”

To grasp oneself –
: is naught but astonishment
In this way is a being’s
capricious spirit.
(Poems Vol. I, undated, p. 40)

Selected German Modernist Self-Portraits

Explore Further

All Fritz Ascher Images © Bianca Stock.