First published: Summer 2013
For two years now, drawings by Ernst Kolb (1927– 1993) have been appearing on eBay. They are carefully drawn or scribbled, with ballpoint pen, felt-tip pen or pencil, and mostly fill the whole surface of the paper, dividing the subjects into different parts and filling them with delicate hatching suggesting woven, knitted, textured, grooved or braided material.
Kolb’s drawings are dominated by figures of great variety, that look as if they had been flying weightless or had been vigorously shaken and then thrown into turmoil before being instantly frozen. Humans, animals and objects are combined in strange manners. A glimpse at the details makes the artist’s urge to avoid repetition obvious. Just as children feel a compulsion to hop playfully from one stone to another, avoiding the joints in the pavement, Kolb deliberately varies and assembles the faces of his people in ever new ways.
The drawings are staged like masquerades, the laws of nature are outwitted and one imagines an amused artist, acting as the sorcerer of his own world: everything seems ambiguous. Large or small figures, which are arbitrarily curved, bent, or distorted in bizarre ways, join together and spatial and anatomical conditions are subordinated to the overall composition without scruple: one feels one’s self in an intermediate world where anything is possible.
A person’s arms can become zigzag elements, either attached anatomically correctly to shoulders or directly to her head. Kolb’s imagination knows no bounds: corpulent figures float around, having lost their weight, or small dancing figures circle round two dominant, agitated figures forged together in dialogue. Some drawings are simple, while others are more detailed.
Everything is reduced to the minimum. Kolb catches the universe of his creatures in his characteristic way, using his specific ballpoint pen hatching technique, leaving colour, light and shadow or perspective out, creating an oscillating irritating state of perception: Dream? Game or joke? Faces or masks? The work is reminiscent of that of the silent film comedian Buster Keaton, who brought his audience to laugh with a deadly serious face.
Everything seems in limbo, uncertain – each picture creates a mysterious and fascinating world of its own.