At the same time, I am still thinking about the dots and short brushstrokes that Ascher added to some of his early paintings in 1945. That’s why I want to share here Elizabeth Berkowitz’ insights into Ascher’s monumental work: “Ascher’s Beethoven (1924/1945), a painted portrait bust of the composer was one of the artist’s works created through a hybrid style of an identifiable subject blurred or concealed by an overlay of abstract form. In keeping with his preference for vibrant, non-naturalistic color, the artist rendered Ludwig van Beethoven’s face through a mixture of red, green, peach, black, and yellow tones. Yet, like his paintings Golem (1916/1945) and Bajazzo and Artists (1924), among others, Fritz added multi-colored dots and dashes atop his more identifiable rendering, consequently almost obscuring Beethoven’s features. In Beethoven, as in his other uses of this technique, Ascher’s dots and dashes were neither extraneous details nor constituted mere painterly flourishes. Instead of indiscriminately coating the surface, the small dots clustered on the contours of Beethoven’s face, while the dashes loosely outlined the composer’s shoulders. This deliberate application of the dots and dashes suggests that they were integral to the painting and critical to the work’s overall interpretation. By way of explanation, I believe this technique constituted Ascher’s attempt to illustrate emotional states or creative mediums typically outside the purview of painted representation. While Ascher’s overt subject was Beethoven’s likeness, the abstract overlay perhaps depicted other qualities of the composer and his life, such as Beethoven’s music, the impetus for Ascher’s depiction. The vibrancy of color and the quickness of the dash lines could indicate the array of feelings engendered by Beethoven’s music, or the sound of Beethoven’s work. While conclusive evidence for Ascher’s exploration of these ideas may remain forever unknown, situating his juxtaposition of abstract form with identifiable subjects aligns his work with a broader avant-garde effort to use visual media to capture non-visual sensory states.”
The painting is one of about 75 artworks that safely arrived in New York, already hung for “Fritz Ascher: Expressionist” at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University. Thank you to the fabulous team at the Grey for their vision, competence and hard work! This is an amazing space that lets many of Ascher’s works communicate with each other, and inspires new insights into his work. Please join me at the exhibition opening on January 8, 6:00-8:00pm!