Previous exhibitions by the artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay, which took place in Galerie Fred Jahn regularly from 2002 on, presented an extensive selection of paper works from the œuvre of this important German watercolour painter. In the exhibition at Galerie Jahn und Jahn, the focus will be exclusively directed towards works from 1948 to 1951. This focus on three years allows for contemplation through a symbolic magnifying glass which paradoxically reveals the artist’s entire working method. The paintings, drawings, gouaches, and watercolours which will be on display were made in his secluded studio in Hofheim, Hesse, procured for him by Hanna Bekker vom Rath directly after the war.
Although Nay, as a ‘degenerate’ artist during the Second World War, could only proceed with his work to a limited extent, he used the time to further develop his ideas, the foundations of which had already been laid before his employment ban in 1937. Writing in a letter as early as 1931 he stated: “What I want: an interpretation of the supernatural world that exists within us as an organic law. This organic law develops the image-idea. As such, the ego becomes a puppet”. This holistic view, to which he felt artistically obligated, is reflected in his profound connection to nature. His pieces from the series ‘Hekatebilder’ (1945-1948) embrace the mythical without getting lost in content: his mythological protagonists, such as Hekate, the classical goddess of death, magic and transformation, or Sybille, known as a visionary or fortune-telling woman of antiquity, stroll and merge with Arcadian landscapes. Nay strives to “let the mythical itself appear, not as representation, but as an event of the image”. His struggle for inspiration reflects a fresh artistic start and his self-assurance as an artist after the extreme restrictions of the Nazi dictatorship. This is not, however, synonymous with a radical shift within his work, rather a recollection of the solid foundations that constituted his early career.
As a result of his affinity for series and variations on themes, “he increasingly moved away from recognisable motifs, reorganised the elements of an image and headed towards the border between ‘abstracted’ and ‘abstract’” . His ‘Fugale Werke’, created between 1949 and 1951, evoke the world of music, from contemporary classical music to jazz. Nay responded in visual form and transformed auditory experience. It seems as if a colourful interplay of forms full of rhythm, vitality, speed, and passion passes by, is paused for one, decisive moment and “continues to move forward in a wave-like manner from picture to picture” as a separate section “of the greater whole”.
Rather than paint the current events of his time, capturing the contemporary mood or themes of the post-war era, Nay invariably searched for signs of these events within himself. “Without stimulation from the visible world no image can emerge, but the aim remains the transformation of this beginning within the process of making”. Like a pendulum, he moves between inside and outside, between the conscious and unconscious, and lets it flow into his images, which he interprets “as a synoptic synthesis”.