Galerie Wagner + Partner

Josef Wittlich


1/24/2014 – 3/8/2014

With the exhibition Celebrities, Wagner + Partner is pleased to announce the premiere of the work of Josef Wittlich. 11 paintings will be shown from one of Wittlich's themes – celebrities – that of queens, potentates and aristocratic families.

Wittlich's paintings have been categorised as outsider art and recognised in countless exhibitions since the end of the 60s. Nevertheless his clear choice of colours and unabashed outlines are beyond this genre. The classification of his painting within 20C art history also requires a redefinition away from "marginal art" and "the Sunday painter". Not to mention the interpretation and appraisal of his manner of painting with respect to his personal life and living conditions, which also falls short. In fact, his manner of painting with its recognizable style is more akin to the work of Warhol or Lichtenstein. Wittlich developed his style before the Pop Art boom of the 60's and being removed from and uninfluenced by the art world, created a body of work that remained long hidden. Prof. Dr. Grewenig (Director, World Cultural Heritage Site Völklingen Ironworks) maintains that Wittlich is the new discovery of Avant-pop.

Wittlich, who never studied art, was born in 1903 in Gladbach, Westerwald and grew up poor. He worked as an unskilled agricultural labourer and then as a farm labourer near Höhr-Grenzhausen. There he painted in his sitting room and mainly at night under bad lighting. Whenever he finished a painting – often large formats – he would roll it up, lay it aside and begin a new one.

After Worldwar II he returned to Höhr-Grenzhausen, where he worked up until his retirement in a ceramics factory. Wittlich was unrecognised and ridiculed by his co-workers and painted tirelessly in his spare time. In 1967, the painter Fred Stelzig discovered Wittlich's paintings at his workplace in the ceramic factory. It is thanks to Stelzig that Wittlich's prolific body of work was exhibited for the first time, in 1967 at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart. Josef Wittlich died in 1982, unmarried and childless.
Wittlich's imagery essentially encompassed three themes: battle scenes and soldiers, portraits of queens and potentates as well as many paintings of women. Although his inspirations stemmed from magazine photographs, his paintings were far from photo-realistic and always abstracted, often focussed on specific details.

He worked terrifically fast, laying down his pencilled outlines, then blocking the ensuing areas with colour notations – red, green, blue – then painting his distinctive black lines and finally painting in the colour. This method is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's "Do it Yourself (Landscape)" of 1962. His intuitive and yet clearly defined manner of painting portraits incorporates decoration and abstraction in fascinating ways.

Wittlich's view of the "celebrities" of his time conjures up both admiration and alienation. His paintings provide an insight into a world that he himself never belonged to and was only ever privy to through magazine imagery.