A fourth historical expressionism: Neue Wilde

What am I working on? Still studying expressionism through the years. This time I am looking into the last officially labelled form of expressionism before XP20/20 (Expressionism 20/20): the Neue Wilde (The New Wild Ones).

In the ’80s figurative painting, which had become obsolete in the mind of most artists, museum directors and art experts, suddenly came back. A new generation rebelled against op art, formal asceticism, intellectual abstraction, minimalism, rectangular form and conceptual art. They came up with a kind of art characterized – as all expressionist movements – by expressivity and emotion.

So after the first expressionism (’20s and 30’s) abstract expressionism (40’s to ’70’s) and CoBrA (’50s) this is the fourth ‘official’ expressionist movement. It is interesting to note, that this movement was figurative again and that it shot up in Germany, the home of the first expressionist painters.

The most striking feature however, at the time, was that the Neue Wilde painted at all. Painting people on canvas with oils. That was the revolution. This new subjectivity had a wide diversity of styles, but generally a powerful brushstroke and a strong color palette.

Rainer Fetting, Crazy Face, 1984. Oil on canvas. 162 x 153 cm

The Neue Wilde came together in loosely organized groups. One of the large centers was Berlin, represented by artists like Rainer Fetting and Helmut Middendorf, who also founded the Selbsthilfegalerie (Self-help gallery) in 1977. They were inspired by the spirit of the city, revolving around the Berlin underground, the punk scene, and New Wave culture.

Helmut Middendorf, Big City Natives, 1979 

So with the Neue Wilde, figurative expressionism was back. The style was a bit looser, depictions a bit less realistic and the colors a bit more primitive. But otherwise the Neue Wilde style was a lot like the first expressionists like Beckmann and Kirchner. It was as if, indeed, Beckmann and Kirchner had been resurrected and had gone a little – or maybe even a lot – wilder in their form.

About the Author JAAPH

JAAPH is a visual artist living in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.