Because my father's practice as an artist encompassed several diverse stages, some have found the task of presenting his life's work to be a challenging one. Is this because change is confusing? If an artist moves through more than one form of creative expression, is there something wrong?
If continuity is what audiences and critics desire, then one characteristic that flows through Xanti Schawinsky's work is his constant desire to create paintings without paintbrushes. He was a pioneer in exploring alternative methods of mark-making, working with materials such as cork, leaves, grass, the tires of an automobile and even his own feet to produce images. One such method that resurfaced throughout his career was the exclusive use of airbrush to create a painting.
As Hans Heinz Holz wrote, my father Xanti Schawinsky was "a forerunner and Avant-Gardist to the art of the second half of the century." He was also a teacher who, along with Walter Gropius and Herbert Bayer, attempted to spread the ideologies of the Bauhaus throughout Germany, Europe and eventually the United States. He integrated ballet, stage design and architecture into the experimental theater program he inherited from Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus until it was closed by the Nazi government in 1933. Several of his theatrical productions, such as "The Circus," traveled throughout Europe. He left Germany for Italy in 1933, introducing Bauhaus graphics there, as evidenced by many of the advertising posters he produced during this period, particularly Olivetti (1934) and Illy Caffe (1934).
When he emigrated to the United States in 1936, he joined Bauhaus instructor and painter Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and continued to push the boundaries of theatrical stage design, photography and painting. After moving to New York City to raise a family and open a graphic design studio, he eventually turned whole-heartedly to painting, developing a number of in-depth series of works including Cityscapes, the Sphere series, the Eclipses and the Nudes. Though these works are often diverse in form and content, Schawinsky maintained his interest in the formal qualities of light, shadow and contrast as well as the conceptual issues of science, technology and unconventional tools and methods for making art.
One of the few unchanging aspects of modern life is, paradoxically, change itself. One thing we can rely on is the changeability of the weather, politics and personal relationships. Is it a surprise, then, if the life's work of an artist reflects this shifting reality?
Xanti Schawinsky was a dynamic artist whose commitment to expression entered every facet of his life: from cooking a meal, to inspiring "The Happening" when teaching John Cage at Black Mountain College, to translating an impression of tire tracks on wet New York City Street into a series of performance-based paintings, to using his experience of a lunar eclipse to develop his "Sphere" series. I leave the rest to curators.
I encourage people to embrace the challenge of presenting the work of an artist who had the courage to explore a range of styles, techniques and ideas; who spent his life experimenting, never settling into a comfortable sameness. My father is this type of artist, but the through lines in his creative process are there to be found. Here is a body of work certain to stimulate the viewer.
INTRODUCTION TO XANTI SCHAWINSKY
by BEN SCHAWINSKY
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