It is not by chance that Katharina Fritsch’s lexicon drawings call to mind illustrations in books from a past era. The inspiration for these screen prints was in fact an old, illustrated encyclopedia—published by Duden in the 1930s—that had fascinated the artist as a child, because words and concepts were explained there not only in words but also in images.
In Fritsch’s screen prints there are no words, but the copied scenes retain the somewhat old-fashioned style of illustration used in the encyclopedia. The figures are reduced to outlines as they were in the Duden pictures, where maximum clarity and legibility were always the aim. Fritsch’s interest here was in the fundamentals of drawing: “I was interested in this kind of standard drawing. What is a drawing? For me a drawing is first of all a sheet of white paper with black lines on it that represents something, and a frame.”(1)
In fact, without accompanying texts these scenes appear all the more concise: it seems they have no need of explanation. Obviously the naked young woman on a broom is a witch flying to a witches’ Sabbath. There is also something witchlike about the older woman reading another woman’s hand. And of course this interior would not be complete without the skull and the cat with its arched back. In another picture the warlock has drawn a magic circle in order to strengthen his spell. In short, ideas are pictured here that we all know from the fairytales we were told as children.
The situations appear realistic, but the scenarios are fictitious and ahistorical, and the style of the drawings could hardly be definitively ascribed to any particular era. The subjects call to mind the Middle Ages, albeit a romanticized Middle Ages that was invented in the 19th century. In some respects the outline drawings are reminiscent of a style that was in fashion in the early 1920s—as testified by the slim figures, and the elegant footwear of the woman seeking advice from the fortune-teller.
Both in their form and content these lexicon drawings highlight central themes in the work of Katharina Fritsch. She focuses on familiar, popular motifs—monks, Madonnas, and fairytale figures, but also rats, octopuses, and cockerels—motifs that we know and recognize from stories and pictures, but that also arouse a wide range of associations and emotions. The familiar often comes up against the uncanny. But even when Fritsch’s figures are charged with numerous personal and collective memories, they are always presented in a state of undercooled perfection. Fritsch often works with series, because she also has a particular interest in the reproducibility of motifs—whether as sculptures that are meticulously replicated or in the lexicon drawings that shaped the imaginations of many thousands of little readers.
(1) “Matthias Winzen in Conversation with Katharina Fritsch,” in Katharina Fritsch, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel 1996, pp. 68–84, here p. 72.
Further works by Katharina Fritsch in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0780, Lexikonzeichnungen, 4. Serie, Aberglaube. Geisterbeschwörung, 1996, Screen print on paper, 74 x 52 cm
Inv. no. 0783, Lexikonzeichnungen, 4. Serie, Aberglaube. Wahrsagerin, 1996, Screen print on paper, 74 x 52 cm
Inv. no. 0784, Lexikonzeichnungen. Weihnachten, 1996, Screen print on paper, 64 x 84 cm