Reality, imagination, avant-garde and classic past.

Study of Stephan von Reiswitz’s work.




Initial stages.-

    Stefan Freiherr von Reiswitz und Kaderžin was born on October 16th, 1931 in the German city of Munich, capital of Bavaria. His parents, Johann Albrecht (Lugano, 1899 – Munich, 1962) and Erna Bocks (Wetzlar, 1906 – Malaga, 1988) were married in Charlottenburg in 1926.

  Johann Albrecht, who was a Lutheran, always had a great love of history and archeology, he was also interested in botany. He fought, being still a very young man, in the First World War, where his head was seriously injured, up to such a point that he was practically given up for dead, and due to this he had to stand a long convalescence for two years. During the period between the wars he took part in an archaeological mission in Lake Ohrid, in Macedonia, a place where he would return during the Second World War, as among the destinations he had during the conflict one of them was Yugoslavia, where he fulfilled tasks related with the artistic heritage. Once the war was ended, he held a chair of History of  Eastern and Central Europe in Munich University. When he was a child, Stefan used to go for long walks with him and he remembered him engrossed in his study reading and revising the books of the large family library. It is quite likely that the growing interest shown by Stefan, as an adult and once his artistic career had begun, in the remains and ruins of the past, and, on the whole, in all past civilizations, until it became  one of his most enthusiastic passions, has in that father’s job a former and strong model he could later on imitate.

  Stefan’s mother, Erna Bocks, Lutheran as well, came from a family of industrialists. In her adolescence and early youth she had studied in a fashion design school. Erna’s father, who was an engineer, thanks to the money provided by his wife, coming, for her part, from a wealthy family, could carry out the project of building a factory of electric welding machinery, pioneer of its kind. This factory, which had about one hundred employees at the end of the thirties, and from which Stefan can remember how as a child he got fascinated watching the mechanical artefacts and the pieces of electric material, so recurrent afterwards in his works, was expropriated during the war by the National Socialist regime, as the lands were it was built in Munich, which included a small residential development, were declared necessary to extend the railway line and station to cope with the enormous movement of troops. Misfortune seemed to hover finally over the factory, since, besides the confiscation, Stefan’s maternal grandfather died before the war ended, and his chief engineer, who was Jewish and had been under his protection, ended up committing suicide, once his protector was dead, before being sent to an extermination camp. Nevertheless, thanks to the determination and right guidance given by another engineer of the firm, the factory, which an aunt of Stefan’s,  his mother’s sister, took charge of, could continue during the rest of the war, with the most of the workers, in a place rented in Munich. This permanence of the factory was not easy under those circumstances, not even before the war broke out, because this kind of small and medium firms were forced at a certain time by the Nazi regime to increase their capitals, being constrained to sell or disappear.

  From the years of his childhood, precisely some of Stefan’s  best memories are related to that mysterious and incomprehensible world of the factory, placed at a stone’s throw from the villa where his grandparents lived, in whose garden another remote source of seduction was found, a small house with hedgehogs and a great heap of junk and strange things. The drawings he made then were about machines, telephones, factories, trying to break these objects down and finding out what was inside, but with no intention to understand them. We could say that he was interested in these artefacts from an aesthetic point of view, just for what they themselves represented. School, however, meant a real nightmare. He can only remember with pleasure the art lessons, biology, music and language[1].

 Another of the most permanent memories of young Stefan’s comes from the time when he met, when he was 17 or 18 years old, the distinguished Spanish thinker José Ortega y Gasset, who at least since the thirties enjoyed great prestige in Germany. First of all, it was Stefan’s mother who had the chance to meet Ortega when this one gave some lectures in Hamburg. Afterwards, when Ortega visited Munich, Erna invited him at her home, a short stay in which the philosopher even dedicated one of his books to his young admirer.

  In 1952, Stefan, who was an only child, starts with his mother a long journey being Paris his first stage, there they both lived for about a month staying at the Saint André des Arts hotel, an old large house from the 17th century frequented by bohemians and at a stone’s throw from the Île de la Cité, in one of the most lively streets in the Latin quarter. Nevertheless, due to his German nationality, Stefan had to go regularly to the police station, he could manage without restrictions in the city, of which he loved some of the exhibitions he visited, as the one named Le portrait dans l’art Flamand, de Membling a Van Dyck, held in the Tuileries, in the Orangerie, as well as another one dedicated to the great Mexicans muralists. After a short stay in the French capital, Stefan decides to attend classes given at that time in their respective schools by the painters André Lhote and Fernand Léger, the first one particularly known because of the attraction he felt towards the cubist movement, his membership of the heterogeneous group of  the Section d’Or and because of his facet as a critic and theorist, especially by his well-known essay Treaty of landscape, while the second one, who was also a writer and a theorist, besides his relations with cubism, orphism and futurist poetic art, stood out because of his interest in everything related with industrial civilization, machines and the world of work. However, even though for a short period of the evolution of Stefan’s work we can observe influences from cubism, and notwithstanding being this one a movement for which he has sometimes been interested and recognized his importance, the fact is that those lessons bored him, showing him somehow the way not to be followed in the future.

  The works he made in Paris were mostly landscapes and scenes from everyday life, and we can observe in them features of a charming and naïve primitivism. Although long before he came to France he had been especially fascinated by Gromaire, Franz Marc, Van Gogh and Kokoschka, now he was particularly interested in Vlaminck and Raoul Dufy, he was attracted above all by their perfect combination between spontaneity and form construction. The watercolour named Luxembourg garden (1952) painted in a corner of this wonderful green shelter in the centre of Paris, is a work executed in a smooth and natural way, with a predominance of green colours and figures of an almost child simplicity.

  From Paris, mother and son went to the French Basque Country, where they visited Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Later on, and until they came to Madrid, they went to Pamplona, San Sebastian and Santillana del Mar, near this last town they could  observe The Altamira Cave. From the time he stayed in the south of France and on the Cantabrian coast, we can comment Bas Pyrinées and Landscape, both from 1952, the first one is a watercolour in green and blue shades where little plastic experience can still be observed, and the second one is an oil painting whose motif is the country house they lived in the French Basque Country and where Vlaminck’s influence is obvious especially in the use of the palette knife.

  In the winter of that year, short before Christmas, they come to Madrid, where they are going to stay for a long time, although now, due to their stay in Spanish lands, they do not have to stand regular controls by the police. Stefan stays at a private house in Diego de León street, where he met the one who later on was going to be his wife, the naïve painter from Avila Marina Barbado. Naturally, one of the first things that Stefan did in Madrid was to visit the Prado Museum, being the work by Goya the one he particularly liked there.  Just like in Paris, he wanted to have painting lessons in a famous local private school, that is why he went to the one held by the well-known artist Daniel Vázquez Díaz, who praised highly the few compositions that Stefan made in his school. In the capital of Spain, where he also had the chance to meet the great drawer and graphic illustrator Carlos Sáez de Tejada, Stefan spent his time with extraordinary interest in drawing gothic cathedrals, not, of course, directly from the original models, but in an imaginary way in which he sometimes distorted the shapes of famous Spanish gothic cathedrals, like the one in Burgos. Among the canvases he painted in Madrid we have to mention There is very little sun (1953), a female nude lying in which the face profile evokes some figures from Odilon Redon. The woman, painted in grey shapes, shows some outlines well drawn, although a moderate hieratic attitude can be observed in her.

  In Madrid, the severity of winter did not feel well to Stefan and it affected his chest, reason enough to leave the city, particularly if we consider that one of the main reasons of this journey to the lands of South Europe was to find a good place for his delicate health condition. They recommend them the town from Cadiz Arcos de la Frontera, from where, after a short stay, they would live for some time in Malaga, in the already disappeared Limonar hotel, and from there they will decide to stay in Marbella, where they are going to stay for almost two years, from 1955 until 1957. It will be precisely here, in the Marbella Casino, in August 1956, where, together with Marina Barbado, he had his first exhibition in his life. The works made in Marbella already offer some important progress. The making is still very simple in The white house (December 29th, 1955), an oil painting on board where we can see the house where they lived, as well as a small windmill. The composition is also very simple in Landscape of Marbella (1956), a watercolour of delicate shades in which mauve, green, and orange stand out. We can see a similar simplicity, likewise, in Free version about an oil painting from Corot (January 8th, 1956), a beautiful watercolour which recreates the Nymph lying on the ground, painted by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot in 1855 which is in the Art and History Museum in Geneva. The importance of Stefan’s  work lies in the fact that there is not previous drawing, but the watercolour is applied directly. Nevertheless, in Man sitting with hat (1956) the composition is much more structured, we can see a much more elaborate image of the beggar than in any other figures painted before. In this oil painting, with its earthy shades and a certain realist flavour, we could maybe say that it has a vague influence from Van Gogh from the period of Neuen and, in any case, from the painting of social content. Those developments are still more evident if we compare the two successive versions of a same design, Couple (1956), since in the second one the figures of the dancers, which as in the first version come from the decoration of a porcelain vase, have achieved more geometric forms, becoming the whole composition more synthetic, more structured.

  From 1957, Stefan is going to settle definitively in Malaga, where he moves to stay in a house in the Pedregalejo neighbourhood, Villa Curro. The first exhibition held in the capital of the Costa del Sol, again with Marina Barbado, was in March in the Economic Society of Friends of the Country, being very well received by the public and the critics, and about which the painter and critic Luis Bono talked in highly favourable terms, the painter and restorer Luis Molledo having served as intermediary. For the exhibition, Stefan made some statements to a local newspaper in which , besides showing his admiration for artists like Juan Gris, Modigliani, Utrillo, Chagall, José Clemente Orozco, Cézanne, again Van Gogh, from who we can see some influence, Soutine and Gauguin, he declares: «Removing all kind of sentimentalism and excluding excessively picturesque motifs, I try to paint with the highest simplicity, making with colours and elemental forms compositions which have the aim to make clear that any object in this life has its original beauty and it can be useful as messenger of new pictorial, colouristic and aesthetic concepts, and that there is not anything lacking some significance, something inspiring a feeling of immense freedom and independence which the mind of man can reach one day»[2].

  Stefan’s first contacts in Malaga, besides the ones already mentioned, are with the German colony in the town, a relation made possible through his fellow country man Carlos Schroeder Mercken, one of the founder members of the Philharmonic Society and who bought him three watercolours in the exhibition held in the Economic Society. From the beginning Stefan also meets the painters Gabriel Alberca Enrique Brinkmann and Jorge Lindell, some of them members in that time of the recently named Group Picasso[3], heterogeneous group of artists and poets from which, according to Stefan, Lindell as well as the painter Pepe Guevara stand out because of their dynamism and creative capacity.  


Search of a language. Experimentation and stylistic changes.-

  The evolution of Stefan’s work from the exhibition at the Economic Society until the beginning of the sixties, is characterized by the quick assimilation of different languages, the short time of the different stages he goes through (the use of paper stands out among them, as it was on that support that  the best works of the period were made) and the brief but significant flirtation with abstractions. The two small watercolours from 1957 named View from Malaga, in which the place where the artist is situated allows him to see the Limonar area, the Sancha mountain and the Malagueta beach with the cathedral and the Lighthouse at the end, are distinguished by their light shades and the turquoise stains on the roofs, although the strokes are still very simple, according to the sketch nature they have. There is more determination and precision in the canvas called  Valley of gallants (1957), a view of the Pedregalejo upper area from Villa Curro, with the Esclavas del Sagrado Corazón school on top of the mountain, where the chromatic display, with the roofs of houses speckled with purple blue, makes us remember the cheerful Montmatre hill. The canvas Portrait of Diego (1957) was made in a similar way to the already mentioned Man sitting with hat, painted with palette knife in some areas and where the most characteristic lies in the contrast which in the mass of the figure is made between the white in the shirt and the olive face.

  During the late months of 1957 and the beginning of 1958 Stefan makes a number of  drawings with blue Indian ink which can be considered among the most interesting ones of the period we are studying.  If we choose as a prototype the one named Rauhreif (Frost), we can see that is full of simple forms, something like very primitive protozoan beings. Although there seem to be some fish and worms, it can be  described as abstract drawing, related maybe with a certain surrealism of no figurative source. However, the main influence may come, besides a trip that Stefan makes to Portugal in that time,  from the famous Delft tiles, a kind of ceramics which became to be commercialised at the beginning of the 17th century and which it is known by complicated ornamentation  made out of figures, garlands, foliage, etc., and by usually being made in blue («Delft blue»)[4]. The other drawings of this series -Strategy against the unforeseeable, Life below zero, Flowers of distraction, Troubled times- offer, with some differences, very similar features: it is almost always about a watery world, as an archaic seabed, where we can see rushes, backbones, sponges, anemones, seaweeds and some shapes similar in some way to sea urchins. In one of the last, even though blue is predominant, there are signs of black ink  and some light yellow spots.

              In the last months of 1958 and the beginning of 1959, Stefan continues investigating this new abstract poetic discovered universe, as three wonderful drawings in Indian ink. The first one, Parabolic landscape, with a huge opening in the middle mostly without intervention on paper, shows an appearance, with its filamentous spots of black ink spread over the surface area and other ones of brown and turquoise colour, as of cosmic landscape. Stormy landscape I is an equally abstract one, a work in black brown and blue shades which can be considered as «improvisation», with ink spots allowed to be spread freely over the paper, making filamentous shapes. This composition of watery setting, crossed also by a large white area coming from one end to the other, has probably been made with materials coming from an unconscious source whose elaboration makes us remember André Masson’s automatism. Richer in colur, in Stormy landscape III a well accomplished composition harmony is predominant in the middle of the apparent shapeless chaos of  improvised spots.

              However, more than a transitory enthusiasm for abstraction, the main reason of the research spirit, experimental nature and stylistic diversity of Stefan’s work during this period of the late fifties and early sixties, comes from the incessant search of a personal language. Nevertheless, it is unquestionable that non figurative grammar is an obsession for him in those years, in some cases with a redoubled presence of matter and an emphasis on the tactile dimension of surfaces, in other cases softening the prominence of texture and giving in return primacy to poetics through lightness and insinuation. Waste (1958) belongs to that concern for the use of matter, an important picture not only because it is the beginning of an intermittent incursion in informalism lasting until at least 1962, making clear the admiration shown by Stefan to Tàpies and other members of  this movement in the European field, but because there are for the first time stuck objects, small wheels and embedded buttons which are the furthest precedent of the innumerable variety of things, fragments and vestiges hidden behind the translucent surface of his most representative paintings. Strictly speaking, the interest for matter is a constant in Stefan’s works. Long after these initial examples, he does not only believe that «the most valuable experiences of this century have been cubism and informalism»[5], but also that pure and isolated matter has an importance and  value in itself as a subject, seen already in Rembradt, in Zurbarán’s cloaks, in the Dutch still lives or in Klee, but which bursts in with Tàpies and Baumeister, who «taught us that the most sublime thing in painting is shown through a little of matter itself». And he is even more explicit: «Although my painting has a permanent subject matter, let us call it parapsychological, magical or neo-dada, from Tàpies I give absolute preference to matter, to the accident led or integrated»; or, anyway, «if there is magic in my paintings, it has its roots in matter»[6].

              Stylistically related with Waste, and especially as last results of that matter informalism, we have Figuration 62 A and Figuration 62 L, two abstract oil paints from 1962 full of  gestural signs and resembling somehow Wilhelm Wessel’s paintings from the second half of the fifties. However, between 1958 and 1962, and without leaving the subject of matter, we have some other examples, as August (1959), a wonderful abstract oil painting on paper, painted in blue, black grey and pink shades, whose shapeless masses, more than the moderate density of the paste, link it to Figuration 62 L. Or as Obstruction and Ways to the north, both from 1960, two strange compositions in Stefan’s works where the most characteristic features are some rounded tiny spots which like a plot take up a wide areas of the picture, although the second, with that semblance of wintry snowy landscape, has a more lyric purpose, whereas the first one, executed with a considerable use of the palette knife and in brown and bluish green shades, with its geometric figures imitating the sides of a polyhedron, shows part of the author’s admiration and deep respect  towards cubism – since Stefan was very young he considered cubism as the most predestined school to help as a bridge with the painting of future, in particular «for having spiritually and technically the most solid foundations among all ‘-isms’»[7] -.

              As for the whole of the abstract works lighter in matter which we mentioned before, Lanzarote I (1959), in an overall bluish grey shade and sprinkled with irregular shapes which seem to be concentrated on the right side, is pregnant with a refined subtlety. From that one French garden I  and French garden II come, from 1960, works of greenish range variety, with some black and blue spots in which we can see silhouettes resembling heads. October (1960), on the contrary, with its dispersed shapes, open spaces and white paper areas used as background, would be related with aesthetic of Stormy landscape III, although the use of colour is soberer now. 

              In parallel with this exploration of abstract language, Stefan continues researching in the field of figuration. To confirm it we have  Canna indicates (1958), a wonderful watercolour in which the flower of this intense red plant which blooms in summer almost fills the whole composition. Or Water lilies(1959) a watercolour of a big format made in green, blue and yellow shades that offers a great freshness and spontaneity, and before which we can’t help remembering those aquatic plants so many times painted by Monet in his garden in Gioverny. Or Calypso (1960), an oil painting and collage on board which represents a moment of a Cuban ballet’s performance which took place in the Malaga Cervantes theatre. Made in a very light way, by means of black, white and pinkish spots, the ballet referred to a drought, and the piece of dance which impressed Stefan more deeply was when one of the dancers seemed to be consuming little by little over himself, resembling a small waste of skeleton from which there was only a small dancing head left. However the best figurative work of those years is the Portrait of Dª Modesta (1960), an oil painting on card which drinks from Oskar Kokoschka’s overflowing spring of art, especially in his famous portrait of Professor Forel, made by the Austrian painter towards 1910 and which it is kept in the Städtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim. Elda Fezzi has commented «the clairvoyance state» reached by Kokoschka, who painted the portrait of the famous sociologist while he was working in his study, back to the painter, concentrating all the expressive intensity on the bony hands and on the decrepit head[8]. Likewise, Stefan achieves a similar situation in his sharp description of that famous priest servant of the Pedregalejo neighbourhood, to whom he shows sitting, wearing a fox fur and holding in her left hand a thin golden walking stick, leaning on the floor, while her right hand, very expressive and very well formed, adorned with a shiny sapphire,  rests on her lap. Beneath grey hair, the isolated face is also very vivid with its small open eyes, fine lips and cheeks made up with rouge. The dotted plot used as background for the portrait, similar to the one we saw in Ways to the north, is a definitive evidence of the exchange of findings from one style to the other.

              In fact, the debate in Stefan’s works during those years, far from being considered an irreconcilable conflict between figuration and abstraction, remains limited to, as we have stated before, the discovery of an own language, and, hence, the fluid relation and mutual influence between both movements. Eduardo Westerdahl was the one who with a sharp critical look sensed that pre-eminence of experimentation and those concordances, and it was also him, who, on the occasion of the collective exhibition of Marina Barbado, Jorge Lindell and Stefan, the three members of Group Picasso, in the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Fine Arts Society, in June 1962, made the following comments about von Reiswitz: «[Stefan] to whom either figuration or no figuration does not seem to interest him, but painting in relation to his real personal time, not of a historic time. This way he reconciles the human figure with the body of an abstraction.  In all his paintings we can find the hand of a painter, a rationalized work which has as a base a formal invention, not avoiding exploration and experiment and which solves with dignity of resources the problems caused by each painting. The fact of not showing a number of paintings within a same style gives his works a certain anthological quality and it may minimize sincerity by wishing to respect the circumstantial pressure which the work of art arouses in this case. Thus, It can lead to «enjoyment». However, we have in front of us a painter who knows his job, the tasks of his profession and the sources of his creation and who does not want to build his personality by the exploitation of a thematic supply»[9].


The achievement of an iconography and the beginning of his work on glass.-

  Between 1962-63 and 1965 some important technical and stylistic changes are made in Stefan’s work, nevertheless, in contrast to the previous years, in which they lack continuity and take place at a fast speed, now the most important of these new changes are going to be part of the painter’s new style, whose work, both due to the unusual iconography which is beginning to come up, as well as to the kind of support used, is starting to acquire the familiar features which distinguish it today in the artistic field.

  The first radical changes of iconographic kind take place towards 1964 and we can already see them very clearly in a group of drawings made in Indian ink on card in which the strange beings and characters living there, born from the painter’s imagination, begin to have that influence simultaneously neo-expressionist and surreal which can be both interpreted dramatically or humorously, or rather, as a combination of both states of mind, because if something is starting to stand out in that time in Stefan’s plastic work is that strange combination between tragic fatality and ironic detachment from reality, between worrying omens and intelligent sense of humour, between machine and organic stuff, between living things coming from life origin and artificially created ones as impossible and ridiculous mechanic devices. We can as well come across deformed beings with alien appearance and absolutely inoffensive who seem to be talking to a stove, or, as in Encounter with centaur III (1964), with an incredible hybrid of centaur and Martian antennae whose equine part seems to be hollow and made with a solid metallic skeleton. In a similar line, although smaller in size and with very dilute ink, we have Pierot and  Merry-go-round, both from 1965 and in the case of the second one with the added novelty, relatively often in Stefan’s works from then, that it has not only a single position, since it can also be seen upside down, as the double signature confirms. However, one of the most beautiful and of the highest quality drawings from those years is Confidences (1965), with a structured dark background in rectangular areas over which the upright figures of two grotesque characters, masculine and feminine, stand out, telling each other their private affairs, and the face of a watch,  a very recurrent element in Stefan’s work and which must be stated here as it is one of the first times that he shows it.

  The change of technique and support in these paintings is made towards 1963-64, and  we can consider it completely consolidated towards 1964. Until that time the usual procedure had been oil painting on canvass, board or cardboard, but from that year Stefan will paint them, firstly, with gouache on glass, and later, without ever leaving glass, also on Plexiglas, depending on their size. Although Stefan had used the mentioned support before, in fact its use had been very limited and even exceptional. It is true that towards 1946 he sells his first small pictures painted on glass to a gallery in Traunstein, in High Bavaria, but this was only an ephemeral adolescence experience which for a long time was not continued. When is dinner coming? (1959) is an absolutely  unusual work and very valuable for the researcher, it is surprising due to the number of different elements which are together in such an early time. About half-way between the painting on glass and the object-painting, this work, of surrealist nature, is a prodigious germinal synthesis of painting, objet trouvé and collage. Again in 1960 we find another small painting on glass, Snails, a small work which, although it confirms that Stefan does not completely lose contact with that technique, it is only a mere isolated fact in the middle of the experimental phase. The angel of syringe is also made with a bordering aesthetic, from the very beginning of the sixties, where it is surprising how freely the artist has stuck on the painted canvass objects found (among them, a plastic submarine or a helicopter and the objective of a toy camera). Nevertheless at the exhibition of Group Picasso in the Hispanic Studies Centre in the Tenerife town of Puerto de la Cruz, in February 1963, most of the works  exhibited by Stefan are made of glass, from which Stefan himself states: «they are like lucky sentences, minor work of a painter’s clear wit»[10]. The new stage, whose grammar is extended until the end of the seventies and early eighties, is absolutely defined in the one-person exhibitions of September 1964 in the Classing gallery in Münster and of March 1965 in the Dom gallery in Cologne. The wide set of works on glass shown then, fits into three differentiated composition and iconography models. On the one hand, we have the works that, like Couple in full digestion (1963), Tarantas (1964), Blues (1964) or Woman from Cartagena (1965), synthesize different previous or contemporary elements – some of them were suggested in the drawings in ink of 1964 we have already commented -,  very compact and motley in general, with a tendency not to leave blank any area of  glass surface, which evokes the unusual fabulous schematisation and the underlining of the main points of the composition of Jean-René Bazaine’s works in the middle of the forties. Besides the marked quality as of a mechanical-organic construction of the represented shapes, which seem to grow by the accessory of small pieces like the ones of a Meccano, the iconographic interest of these paintings lies in the fact that we begin to discern, in those triangular shapes like heads with an eye in the middle, the heads and beaks so peculiar in Stefan’s works. A second group, in which Prelude and escape (1964), Difficult circumstances (1965) and Joy from Cádiz (1966) are included, offer a greater difference among the characters and the existence of more space among them, although the way they are made is very similar: the juxtaposition of areas with different sizes, forms and colours, but with a predominance of dark shades in general. The third group –Arrival of a disoriented being (1964), Ascension (1964) – is different from the other two because they are now solitary and threatening-looking  beings, coming maybe from outer space or ready to rise, the ones who fill almost completely the setting, leaning on his lower extremities, in contrast with the big size of their bodies. A dun and gloomy range is again dominant here, although in the first of the mentioned ones there are areas painted in red and blue. The stuck objects , like small wheels, are still scarce, but can be seen clearly. These last paintings are undoubtedly the direct precursors of the stunning It will fly soon and Arrival of a disoriented being, both from 1970, which are in the Queen Sofía Museum in Madrid, so majestic and golden, with their big spread out and translucent wings interwoven with very delicate nuances, whereas the voluminous hollow and gloomy body let us see the most hidden organic corners. 

  The limitations of oil painting on canvass could be one of the reasons for the change of technique and support made between 1963-64, as Stefan, in part also because of the acquired habits during the period of intense experimentation immediately before, is more used each time to incorporate objects found, showing somehow that third peculiar dimension of his work on glass, in which behind the transparent surface there is a hidden and mysterious world, like a thin camera between the glass and the wood or cardboard plate supporting the whole thing. That is Carlos Areán’s opinion, for whom «Stefan did not paint, even though he applied oil painting on canvass or boards. What he did was making unknown objects and that was the reason why he felt that oil painting limited him. His transition from canvass to glass (from there to Plexiglas) was not simply the acceptance of a difficulty, but the only possible way to take to its last limits all the qualities implicit in his work»[11].

  However there were other reasons for that change, important from the point of view of the painter’s formation and aesthetic inclinations. One of them is the influence coming from the time of his childhood and adolescence of his maternal aunt’s example, Cornelia Bocks, who painted small paintings on glass during her whole life. It is clear that paintings on glass made by Stefan at 14 and 15 years followed to a great extent that model, although that influence must not be either ignored, more or less consciously, during the artist’s maturity period. Among the small paintings from his aunt that Stefan has at home, we must mention The rape of Europe, of  bright colours, and Genoveva’s encounter, a naïve narrative sequence made in several scenes synthesizing the popular medieval legend of prince Genoveva of Bravante, famous example of pious and edifying story.

  Together with her, we must mention the also early and even more active influence of the painted glass of his natal Bavaria, a kind of popular art probably coming from India and two thousand years old which reached an extraordinary development in Bavaria, Bohemia and Silesia during the 18th century, coinciding in time with the building of glass factories in these regions, where the country people made use of the faulty glasses. Painted glasses from southern Germany became a lucrative business, many of them were set aside for exportation, among other places to Spain, where, from the port of Cadiz were sent to the overseas provinces. Either because it coincided in time with the decline of the production in those regions, maybe due to political agitation in central Europe, and whose consequence was to leave the exporters from Cadiz without goods, or because of the colonization in Sierra Morena – and the subsequent arrival of Germans – during the reign of  Charles III, the fact is that the production of painted glass was moved to a part of Spain, especially to Andalusia and to Extremadura, where it flourished during the end of the 18th century and most of the 19th, its decay began with the expansion of the lithographic stamping[12]. On his style, Stefan states in the mentioned catalogue that, according to «very rudimentary drawings taken from xylographs and medieval and baroque prints», the painted glass from Bavaria «reflects a whole philosophy of life and a chromatic richness which contrasts a great deal with the misery setting in which they sometimes were made». As for the technique, Stefan adds that «colours vary very much depending on the tastes and pigments available in each region», although in general terms «it was not an oil painting the one used in the best periods, but on the contrary a mixed technique and preferably with no grease employed. For that reason colours were kept with all their beauty, their amazing brightness and freshness». Thus we are not surprised because, although some of the main artists of the twentieth century have used glass as support (from Kandinsky, for example, the Lenbachhaus in Munich, to mention a very well known place by Stefan, has a big collection), von Reiswitz prefers the expressions of popular art: «Spanish and Bavarian glass from the 18th century were essential for me, from whose technique I have learned more than from all the present artists together»[13].

  In the case of Stefan, the technique used in his paintings on glass includes gouache (dilute), a similar process to watercolour, although of thicker colours and opaque shades, as well as tempera (distemper), a process in which colours dilute in water thickened with agglutinating agents and which can be retouched when dry.  He sometimes uses watercolour, which was in particular the technique more used by Cornelia Bocks. After the experience gained for many years, Stefan prefers English brands for watercolours and Indian ink, whereas he chooses German brands for gouache and tempera (black painted with tempera, for instance, are always made in Germany). His preference for German brands is due to the fact that they satisfy the requirements imposed by this kind of technique, in which glass needs an elastic paint, as its structure has a tendency to alter with the changes in temperature. Therefore, the refusal of oil by painting is because colours are altered. With regard to the possible difference between painting on glass and painting on Plexiglas, it is very difficult to appreciate; actually the qualitative differences between these works do not come from the support, but, naturally, by the execution carried out by the artist. There are still many unknown factors to be answered in the works made on glass or Plexiglass, as these are materials which allow a very wide range of unpredictable possibilities.

  When Stefan paints on glass or Plexiglass, he is doing so on the right side, and it is the observer who sees the work from the reverse side, although Stefan does not forget to turn the glass from time to time to check what he has made so far and to be able to examine it from the point of view of the future observer. Nonetheless, what is really original is the creation of a third dimension in his paintings, since a several centimetres width is what that kind of hollow and narrow in-between space, existing between the translucent painted surface and the wooden support which holds all the structure from the rear, usually has, where the painter prepares that strange world of tiny objects, golden and silver paper, collages and all kind of things, whose vision through the glass gives that reminiscence between mysterious and remote impossible to achieve only with colours. Antonio Abad has underlined the importance of this original creation what he calls «scene construction» in the maintenance of the «illusory nature» of the representation: In fact, each painting of Stefan is made up by other two. From the superposition of those two structures an illusionism is born methodically carried out so that all the materials added start losing their identity, decontextualizing to become at last part of the pigmentation»[14]. The result is the creation of a semitransparent atmosphere, almost opaque sometimes, a kind of nebulous vision where that particular microcosm acquire virtual properties, purely artificial, a suitable atmosphere, though paradoxical as it may seem, to express anguish and anxiety as well as calm and fantasy, humour and joy as well as seriousness and sadness, irony and parody as well as sincerity and truth.

  If there is a feature in Stefan’s work which links directly, in our opinion, with the historic dadaism, it is the mentioned incorporation into his paintings of insignificant things and waste, leaving things added to the composition as they are, without improving modifications, in their solid and tangible three-dimensionality. We prefer to talk about the link with dadaism instead of with the collage principle, because, although it is true that between the winter of 1911 and the spring of 1912, the invent of collage – a resource used by Braque and Picasso and that, in short, consists in sticking fragments of reality onto the canvass surface - was added permanently to the few really revolutionary victories of modern art, nevertheless, the dadaists were the ones who since 1916 generalized the use of all kind of materials, widening Apollinaire’s statement: «You can paint with whatever you like: with pipes, post stamps, postcards, cards, candelabras, pieces of oilcloth, detachable collars, painted paper, newspapers»[15]. Nevertheless, it would be too risky to denominate Stefan as neo-dadaist, because, even in the case that Werner Hofmann is right when he writes that the «main feature» of dadaism is «the renunciation, total or partial, to artistically transform reality» (which it is the same renunciation Stefan sticks to when he adds things to his paintings or sculptures), we have to consider that neither the reasons which caused this behaviour in dadaists – among them the historian from Vienna mentions the wish «to overcome the bordering line between a high artistic reality and a trivial profane reality»[16] -,  nor their wish for totality, nor their desire for union between nature and life, or, even more, the coincidence between art and life ( to put it properly: in the sense «of organizing, from art, a new vital praxis»[17]), with the consequent risk of artistic self-disappearance, nor their confidence in hazard and in the unforeseeable, nor, all in all, their understanding of the world, can be said to be in the same line with Stefan’s vital and aesthetic project, who belongs to a very different historic coordinates and, in any case, less radical. Although Stefan, besides that main feature, coincides also sometimes in adopting the evocation done by the historic dadaism from the elemental and original things, refusing as well (from an ideological perspective) developed forms (industrial and technological ones) of civilization, by no means can we consider him a heir or a continuator of the movement born in the Voltaire Cabaret in Zurich.  Anyway, in our opinion, the links with dadaism are more of method, procedure, technique in the object construction, than spiritual or philosophical ones.

  Likewise, it is difficult to specify Stefan’s relation with surrealism. Of course, situations and scenes are created in his work and juxtapositions of objects are shown evoking images of the historic surrealism, however, his comments on this subject do not help explain things either. Whereas at the beginning of the most experimental and changeable period he says that «surrealism is dying»[18], years later he remarks that «spiritually speaking I feel lightly linked to surrealism, in spite of not using its vocabulary»[19]. However, just as it would be inaccurate to reduce surrealism to the imprecise field of fantasy and taking it out from the field of reality to which it basically belongs, Stefan’s work is not either a kind of naturalism or fantastic realism, because, as we have seen in relation to his particular link with dadaism, there is almost usually in it pieces and documents of reality, naturally decontextualized.  Nevertheless, although we admit that Stefan shares with some nuances Breton’s view that «there is a certain point in human spirit from which life and death, high and low, stop to be seen as contradictions»[20], from his work we cannot observe an «omnipotence of psychic reality», nor an acceptance of dream as a basic instrument to understand reality. Nonetheless, Stefan is nearer to an aspect of the notion of surrealist object, the one related to the collection of pieces and elements coming from different contexts: «The objects this way collected -  Breton states – have in common the fact that they come from things from our surrounding and they are different from these because of the mere mutation of roles»[21].


The evolution of the work painted on glass and Plexiglass.-

    As we have mentioned the aesthetics which emerges in the work made on glass between 1964-65 will continue evolving and developing until the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, reaching towards 1977 its highest point of its technical and expressive possibilities. As for the density and compositional distribution, Stefan’s production during all those years includes works with isolated and solitary beings, others where space becomes much clearer and others where several stages appear simultaneously. The individualized beings are, generally speaking, big birds in golden shades, between majestic and threatening, sometimes with their wings spread, other times with bulbous bodies as some kind of open onion. The bird, intermediary between sky and land, is for Stefan an animal with a full personality owning as well something as very old and ancient. Without, of course, considering the reasonable scientific doubts   put forward in 1980 by Dr. Lee Spetner in relation with the authenticity of the specimens of Archaeopteryx kept in the Natural History Museum in London and Berlin, the thing is that the commonly considered first known specimen of this kind of animal was found in the second half of the 19th century in Solnhofen, a small town in Bavaria. Stefan was always vividly impressed by this organism  intermediate between the small carnivorous dinosaurs  from the Mesozoic period and the present birds, with a size between a pigeon and a small raven and which lived about 160 million years ago. Another explanation for the presence of birds in Stefan’s work, is, according to him, the revenge that he has taken with the passing of time against the obligation to come to meetings held  by the Nazi party in Germany gathered by symbols like the imperial eagles. Works like The power and the glory (1972), representing a big bird (similar to an eagle) of two heads, could be interpreted as an anti-imperialist and antimilitarist speech. Finally, there is the possibility that the sphinx of the bird is read as a translation of the own Stefan, who sees himself as one of these birds, not only because of the strange resemblance to the profile, but for his wish of freedom and his state intermediate between sky and land, without really belonging to none of the two regions.

  In addition to birds, tile floors, fans, propellers, Hebrew characters and Latin expressions, niches, horses, monstrous beings, female bodies lying, mannequins, light male people, butterfly-women, folding screen-like wings, quadrupeds, amphibious cars, turtles, heavenly bodies, uninhabited planets, etc. Among the objects and things stuck, we must mention watches and small figures brass laminated, silver or golden-platted. Horses, for instance, become one of the most usual motifs, but it is the Trojan Horse the one which offers more versions reaching a wider development in Stefan’s work. Represented alone or in couple (in this case, superposing both figures or confronting them in a symmetric way), the subject  of the Trojan Horse reveals the mechanical and artificial nature of the famous device, sometimes stressing the wooden material they were made of,  on other occasions giving them a hollow and machine-like appearance, that is why he composes and makes them with precision mechanisms (compasses, watches), although among the best achieved pieces we have the ones made with the cells where chocolates are placed in a box of chocolates. Returning to the other mentioned motifs, sometimes the only scene takes place within a circle floating amid the blackness of the background, as in the versions from 1969 and 1971 of The adventures of count Caralt, an extraordinary couple of pieces and almost similar where the upper half of the sphere represents the sky and the lower half a wonderful sea over which two of those brass figures float. The monstrous beings, as After the encounter (1973), show an enormous thoracic area leaning on thin lower extremities similar to some works by Paul Wunderlich, for instance the lithography from 1960 Trois messieurs sur un sofa[22]. Fatal rise (1977) is fascinating, mixing rusty with bored things and decomposed with organic ones. Absurd and incomprehensible, Who opened the Pandora box? (1969) with that strange antediluvian animal with a turtle-like shape going to a trunk on which there is a photograph frame with the picture of a cyclist wearing a bowler hat; unusual and fantastic amphibious car (1976-79), a collage resembling a vehicle made with scales and marine fragments which moves alone in the evening illuminated by an enormous oval moon; ironic and humorous Napoleonic scene (1976), with a small inoffensive Napoleon resting on an Empire-style couch with a pompously dressed Paulina Borghese; anguished and tormented Variation on a Beccafumi’s subject (1980), inspired in a composition made of rough outlines and sulphurous and sour colours from the Italian mannerist painter Domenico Beccafumi who recreates a well-known torture technique from the medieval Inquisition, in which the prisoner was hung by the armpits.

              The extensive stage we are commenting let us refer properly to a Stefan indifferent to the intermittent changes imposed by fashion, and, however, worried by the private interests of his spirit. In this sense, he states that together with mediocre artists «another aspect is the one of artists who have their nucleus within themselves, and who almost always are painting a same work, although this does not exclude the fact that they are aware of art development in their surrounding»[23]. This opinion is complemented with what he says years later: «I can perfectly imagine an art made of light, or air, or changing colours, which means that we are transitory in our present way of being, but eternal in the essential thing[24]».

 Presently the artist has a huge amount of means at his/her reach, contacts, and possibilities. There is an excess of theory. As Malraux stated, an important work sometimes gives rise to a later theory, but not the other way round. As opposed to disastrous fashions, Cézanne commented before that we must be again «the primitives of our own way»[25]. Regarding the subject matter, in addition to what it has been said we could add the analogy of some scenes with the Kafkaesque universe, with its oppressive and alienating atmosphere.  In relation to the works of the first half of the seventies, Carlos Areán states accurately that they reflect the «sumptuous rottenness of matter», this statement is also confirmed with other comments made by Stefan in that same time, when he recognizes that everything he touches becomes old, making the object he manipulates to get corroded, since «rotten things, almost broken down, come up to me (…) I see rottenness everywhere (…) Things have their decay written on them, that is to say, their history. I express them»[26].

            On certain occasions, the criticism than can be observed in Stefan’s work against outdated institutions, abuse of power and bureaucracy, acquires a more daily dimension, reflecting specific situations happened in the field of art and culture. One of these situations is referred to in his strong statements made to a local newspaper due to the controversy provoked when the prizes given in the 6th Winter Hall in Malaga were known. Through them von Reiswitz accuses the members of the jury of incompetence and reactionaries and supports a greater professionalism and independence of the organizing entities: «I wonder if there is somebody who can agree with any decision of a jury like that one, whose incompetence has already been shown in six long years (…) In Malaga art is still seen officially as something which can decorate the branch offices of the Savings Bank in the province (…) The value of a medal given by an incompetent organization is nil»[27]. We have to bear in mind that this kind of statements fits in rightly with the turbulent political and social climate of the last years of the Franco regime. That is confirmed by the opinions of other great artists from Malaga, concerning both the controversy of the mentioned awards as well as other aspects of the situation and social assessment of art and of its creators in the city[28]. Some setbacks and disappointments explain maybe the tone of melancholy and scepticism of some paragraphs of Letter to the Wind, which it is perhaps the most genuine of all the writings of Stefan: «After all almost everything is unimportant. The only thing that matters is a few dreams still to be dreamt and, particularly: silence (...) I feel sick. Radios, cars, insects. I repeat: The only thing that matters now is getting a bit of the last silence[29]. In spite of the incident of the awards, these last words fit in better with the aesthetic idea and the social role that Stefan gives art. On this issue it is significant his answer (and Jorge Lindell’s) to a journalist who ask them if they can be called painters or social artists. «We consider that art does not belong to the masses. Painting has not any social function»[30].

            Between 1980-81 a kind of works which deserve a different observation emerge from Stefan’s production. Shown in a great number in the exhibition of October 1980 in the Group Palmo headquarters in Malaga, strictly speaking they are objects made mainly with tiny mechanical and electrical pieces, small cables and small engines of hard plastic toys, to which key rings are added, small heads and plaster extremities, columns and letters. Placed theatrically in wooden boxes with the bottom usually painted in black, these tri-dimensional objects, in which those aspects of his work coming from dadaism and surrealism converge with revived wit ingenuity, have in general an ironic and humorous tone, although there are also other ones which stress the dark side of human passions. The differences with Joseph Cornell’s boxes and collages are greater than the similarities, as the cultural evocations, used elements as well as the compositional structure of both artists’ works are of a different nature.

            The last period in Stefan’s painted work, whose ramifications spread out until the present time, starts to be perceptible with the stylistic and iconographic changes appeared towards 1981-82. Now, and in a more evident way each time, the shades start becoming lighter and softer (notice the progressive use of pale blue), the pigments very often are applied quite diluted, atmospheres become more respirable and the spaces of the paintings more open. Birds, in fact figures of human appearance with head and beak, are still the more frequent represented beings, although they have a less threatening appearance, even familiar, as if they share the planet with the rest of humans. Another common subject of this new stage is the one of heads, on many occasions profiles; on some others very thick, full face ones, as if they were busts. Precisely heads and grotesque figures are going to be the most frequent motifs of the series of drawing in gouache on feinkarton (sometimes also with collage, watercolour and ink) made between 1983-84, very illustrative on the beginnings of this last period: heads with circumspect faces of business men together, still lives with bottle-like figures and heads with beaks, human figures with appearance of buildings, skulls looking at each other, Arab dignitaries who talk in conferences and political summits. Grey and earthy colours are complemented now with sky blue and pinkish ones - «that magical pink colour that I have only seen in Rome»[31] -; «Roman pink, that colour in danger of extinction»[32] -, frets and geometrical decorations with white paper collages as the one used on plates for cakes (doilies). Other drawings of the same series deal with subjects of the German mythology, as the wonderful one named Lohengrin and the swan (1984), whose elements – on the one hand,  a niche, a medieval knight, a swan, a water course; on the other hand, a bold use of collage – refer to a famous passage of a German legend linked to the roman courtois cycle where the hero Lohengrin comes riding on a swan to get princess Brabante rid of her enemies.

            Among the paintings made in the decade of the nineties, we must mention. In the first place, the three wonderful oval shaped collages from 1992, so poetic and nocturnal, a strange combination of symbolist reminiscences, mysterious narrations and pictures from the German late Romanticism. Likewise, we must point out Behind bars (1988), one of the best examples of the use of tile floors and where Stefan carries out an outstanding metaphor about deprivation of liberty; The diver from Elche and his long-suffering wife (1998), a funny criticism of marital life, with a wonderful use of collage, contrasting a Byzantine face with a flamboyant wheel-shaped headdress inspired in the one of the famous Iberian sculpture; Fontainebleau school (1999), original interpretation of very plastic and pictorial effects of the famous Louvre museum painting dated to the end of the 16th century representing Gabrielle d’Estrées, lover and favourite of Henry IV from France, naked accompanied by her sister; and Ophelia (2000), again with splendid pictorial qualities, and where we can see the beautiful girl lying sunk into an eternal sleep over an intense blue background.


The graphic work.-

At the beginning of 1958 a Colombian settled down in Malaga, Guillermo Silva Santamaría, teaches Stefan and Jorge Lindell the printing technique in a small workshop of his own in the Santa Inés neighbourhood. Stefan’s first prints were hand-printed linoleums, we can see a great number of them in his first one-person exhibition, held in March 1958 in the Ministry of Information and Tourism Local Office in Malaga. Making an excellent use of the properties of this relief printing technique which uses a material that is a cheap substitute but very effective of wood in a xylography, Stefan, in line with that evolutionary moment of his work, made then some lino-printings on customs and manners subject, which, with their marked contrast between white and black areas, turned out to be very expressive. The obstacle to draw fine lines or to stress the details, imposed by the own fragility of the material[33], is reduced, nevertheless, in the wonderful hand-printed linoleums on Japonese paper that Stefan makes towards 1960, one of the best examples is the named Pedregalejo beach restaurants, with distinct and precise volumes and an enormous constructive concern.

            During the decade of the sixties Stefan’s graphic work has still an sporadic nature, although we can see a gradual interest and knowledge of chalcographic art, leading, at the end of the decade, to the organization of monographic printing exhibitions, and to the setting-up of El Pesebre workshop. In fact, between June 1969 and December 1974, Stefan organizes in the Antequera Savings Bank art gallery, in that time under the management of poet and academic Alfonso Canales, eight exhibition of International Graphic Art[34], from which 6th and 8th were for El Pesebre printing workshop, while in the remaining six ones we could see works, in many cases for the first time in Spain, from some of the most famous European artists of the printing art. There they hung etchings, lithography and  serigraphy works and all kind of prints from Hans Bellmer, Paul Wunderlich, Horst Janssen, Henri Moore, Fritz Hunderwasser, David Hockney, Friedrich Meckseper, Ernst Steiner, Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Lorenzo, Francisco Peinado, Vera Haller, Lothar Fischer, Rainer Küchenmeister, Costa Pinheiro, Ernst Fuchs, Klaus Rost, Erich Brauer, Horst Antes, Tom Wesselmann, Max Ernst and many other artists, most of them Central Europeans, although in this short list we can see that Spanish, British and American artists also exhibited. Among the galleries which helped these exhibitions be carried out, we must mention the Wendelin Nieldlich gallery, in Stuttgart, and the galleries Dorotea Leonhart, Friedrich, Thomas, W. Ketterer and Avant Galerie Casa, the five ones in Munich. The exhibitions were always held  with great precision and professionalism, taking care as much as possible, and within a limited budget, of each one of the catalogues edited for the occasion, some of them wonderfully made and with long critical and well researched texts from Stefan himself. von Reiswitz’s admiration and deep respect for the graphic work in those years, when a lot of people considered it as an artistic production of lower level, is reflected in the words he wrote for the catalogue for the penultimate one of those exhibitions: «As in the times of Rembrandt’s “The three crosses” today’s printing is still very often the most sublime and personal aspect  in a painter’s work, and it even sometimes overcomes his/her drawings. For that reason it will continue being a kind of art forbidden to the understanding of minds who can only see in it a mere means of socializing  art (or making it cheaper)».

            However Stefan’s closest relation with printing was when El Pesebre workshop was set up. It is still to write the history of the origin and intense although short activity of this pioneer and unusual production unit of graphic art which El Pesebre printing workshop represented, founded in Malaga in 1970 by Jorge Lindell, Robert Mc Donald and Stefan von Reiswitz[35]. Nonetheless,  in different talks and small introductory texts of catalogues, Lindell as well as Stefan have referred to the germination of the workshop which dates back to the first months of 1970, when, with the acquiescence of Manuel Casamar, director of the Provincial Museum of Fine Arts in Malaga, both of them set up in one of the rooms of Condes de Buenavista Palace, at that time headquarters of the presently closed down museum, a press which Guillermo Silva Santamaría had made build, and with this one they spend their time on the production of graphic work. Shortly after, the three mentioned artists found El Pesebre, which is going to be placed at a house attached to the one Stefan lived in Bolivia street in Pedregalejo neighbourhood, bought by the painter for that purpose. Of the three founder members, the less famous is the American Robert McDonald, son of a gallery owner from New York, bohemian and peculiar artist, novel writer and sporadic journalist, who, like many other foreigners, settled down in Spain, where he died on March 3rd, 1981[36]. Besides the founders, Marina Barbado, José Faría, Felipe Orlando, Jorge Campbell and Francisco Peinado also printed in the workshop. The prints edited in El Pesebre (etchings, Monotypes, lithography and serigraphy works) were exhibited in galleries in Malaga, Madrid, Germany, France, United Kingdom, and Ireland, drawing attention to the famous magazine Art International, which in June 1971 published an article by Robert McDonald about the activity of the workshop.

            Stefan’s graphic production evolves, obviously, in a parallel way to the rest of his work, showing similar compositional concerns, iconographic elements and symbolic elements. Among the most significant ones, we must mention The bullfight, an etching from 1968 where there is a dramatic scene which evokes Picasso as well as Hans Bellmer: A bullring with a bullfighter lying dead and a kind of Minotaur which convulsively catches the head of an enormous doll naked and cut into pieces; Wonderland, a meticulous etching from 1970 divided into parallel areas lightly coloured or dotted; Another one leaving, from the same year as the last one, with a background as a kind of archaeological waste and with a typical figure of Stefan’s iconography, an automated alien, placed diagonally in the centre of the print, Pssst, also from that year, with an ingenious use of sugar aquatint and of resin, and where we can see a little friendly foreigner who could symbolize the arrival of Progress; Venus’s fertilization, a wonderful serigraphy from 1976 which, as far as its circular composition and use of black is concerned, announces some of the objects from 1980-81, and, because of its subject,  is ahead of the oval collages from 1992. Napoleon and Pauline, from 1976, modified version of the homonym picture painted on glass; The day of the earthquake, also a splendid serigraphy from  1979 with hand-made modifications where an architectonic drawing is represented in quadrature (illusionist architecture) as the ones from High Roman Baroque, with a bold perspective, whose central area is taken by the imaginary portrait of Alfonso Canales; My modest homage to Valdés Leal, from 1981, with an articulated and mechanized skeleton of a figure with a human shape and bird head which makes us recall the bishop in his coffin from one of the paintings by Valdés Leal in the Hospital de la Caridad church in Seville; Clairvoyant people from Cartago, from 1985, made in pink shades, pistachio green and black shades and whose origin is in one of the gouaches from 1983, particularly the one named Interior portraits in memory of Mrs Edison, Lamb and Sutherland, a good example of the grotesque head drawings; Air attack, Monotype from 1999 where a naked woman is attacked by two monstrous pterodactyl-like birds with innumerable wings.


Wire drawings, collages and manipulated photographs.-

Among the numerous activities and artistic techniques researched along his long career by Stefan von Reiswitz, wire drawings are particularly remarkable, they probably may be considered the most elaborate expressions of his passion for matter manipulation, they are named like that because, in contrast with sculptures made in wire by Alexander Calder, absolutely three-dimensional and free-standing, as Negresse, from 1929, Stefan’s works are two-dimensional and they are shown slightly stuck onto a card or thick paper, so that they keep well fixed. Made of wire or of copper thread or of both materials together, one of their more visible features is the great amount of turns and folds, as the artist does not uses a long metal wire (as Calder used to) but several short fragments which have to be properly tied from their extremes. This gives them a very especial appearance, where the great amount of curved and waved lines of the whole contrasts with those darker spots where the knots are concentrated. When they are reproduced for a printed edition, as for example the exhibition catalogue Beings and goods (1972) and the well-made volume Ars combinandi (1988), they may be resemble ink-made drawings, but all at once we can see the knots and interlacements of the thin copper threads. It is also usual to see in a same drawing parts made with a thicker thread, generally the exterior outlines, and in others, the interior ones, with a thinner thread, a means which gives the work a greater consistency and solidness. Provided with a great plastic and expressive quality, these drawings, which achieve the effect of  volume and of creating the impression of shape with a minimum of elements, are usually circled by a wide empty surrounding area, stressing this way their peculiarity and mystery. The iconographic subjects are the usual ones in Stefan, although naked female bodies, mermaids and Minotaurs stand out. Once made, the drawings can be combined in innumerable ways, exchanging with one another, although, of course, showing them in pairs, making the accidental «encounter» between the figures.

            In spite of the fact that the use of collage as an element of reality incorporated to the work (painting on canvass or painting on glass) dates back in Stefan to the end of the fifties, collage as a technique and autonomous means, that is, the work which is wholly only collage, is not in his production until the beginning of the seventies. Perhaps collages are the most genuinely surrealist chapter of Stefan’s whole plastic production,  the one which makes us recall better the famous statement by Max Ernst: «It is irrationality. It is the magisterial irruption of irrationality in all fields of art, poetry, science, in fashion, in the private life of individuals, in the public life of people. Who says collage, says irrationality»[37]. Max Ernst, one of the most admired artists by Stefan, is unanimously considered the creator of surrealist collage. Ernst himself, who in the mentioned double number of Cahiers d’Art declares to have discovered by chance the collage technique «a day in 1919 (…) in a city on the banks of the Rhine»[38], reproduces some pages before a paragraph from a text by Louis Aragon saying as follows: «When and where does collage come from? In spite of the attempts made by several dadaist pioneers, I think that we must render homage for that to Max Ernst, at least as far as the kinds of collage far away from the beginning of papier collé: photographic collage and illustration collage (…) The use of collage was limited soon to a few people, and unquestionably all the atmosphere of collages in that time turned out to be from Max Ernst’s thought and from Max Ernst’s alone»[39].  Although the «atmosphere» of Stefan’s collages has enough originality as to be aesthetically different from Ernst’s works, the definition that this one makes about collage is still valid to catch the spirit of the suggestive creations of our author: «It is something similar to the alchemy of visual image. The miracle of total transfiguration of beings and objects with or without modification of their physical or anatomical appearance»[40].

            Not only Stefan’s collages do not seek to hide the technique and means used in their elaboration, but they even seem to stress the superposition of roles and of stuck figures drawn in outline, fleeing from the tendency of other authors to avoid the added parts to be seen, integrating everything very carefully as if it were an only original picture. In them, much more than in glass work, Stefan makes plentiful use of architectures, of lineal perspectives and of drawings and geometrical sketches. Taken out from ancient compendiums about perspective and of very old handbooks about geometry, the architectonical elements drawn in outline and used by Stefan, usually corresponding to Renaissance examples, reproduce arcades, loggias, squares, arcs, stairs, balustrades, fountains, courtyards and plants, cross sections and elevations of buildings. Over this architectonical and geometrical dotted line background which joins the different parts of the buildings, forms and figures drawn in outline are displayed, multiplying this way the contrast between rationality and irrationality, between that thing which has order and sense and that other inexplicable and absurd one. Shapes, animals, figures and objects are taken form illustrated magazines, newspapers, books, anatomy handbooks and scientific treatises, photographs and any kind of reproduction on paper. The gouache, tempera or watercolour spots applied to different areas, disguising and hiding objects sometimes, extending and reconstructing them other times, give unity and coherence to the whole[41]

As for the manipulated photographs, they represent another original aspect of the diversity of techniques rehearsed and explored by Stefan. They involve retouching and altering with ink, watercolour, gouache or tempera, newspaper and illustrated magazine photographs, so that the picture, very often referred to a serious and respectable subject, acquires an ironic, satiric or humorous connotation. The alteration usually lies in partially hiding or blurring some areas of the picture, painting at the same time beaks and bird eyes over the photographed human figures, or extending fictitiously an object with added parts of that kind and transmuting it into a bird. This last thing is what he does in one of the most remarkable pictures, where he turns the huge bag of a hot-air balloon fallen on the snow into a gigantesque bird head, likewise he completely changes the appearance of the two men surrounding it by adding or turning their heads into beaks. Another surprising and successful example is that one where he paints half-open beaks over the circumspect faces of a group of monks wearing their pointed hoods sitting and singing in a choir church. Or that other one where two groups of men pulling a thick rope in opposite directions, achieving a perfect integration of the painted bird heads with the original photographed bodies. Or, finally, the expression of subordination and tiredness, on the one hand, and of superiority and indolence, on the other hand, which two people filmed by a camera in the stand of a book fair convey and who show their heads changed again into other ones of birds.   


His sculptures.-

The oldest samples of Stefan’s sculpture production go back to the second half of the decade of the fifties, when he still lived in Marbella. The pieces kept from that far-away time, Woman leaning with pitcher between her thighs as well as Small jug with beak, are made with mud, their subjects are still very naïve and cannot hide that inexperienced making typical of a beginner. These early examples, far from having an immediate continuity, will suddenly be interrupted, and it will not be until the end of the sixties – when the work painted on glass is already technically consolidated – that he starts again with sculpture, although not yet as an activity subject to regularity, which does not take place until halfway through the eighties. In any case, and independently from the specific time in which Stefan starts to spend his time systematically on sculpture, from the view of the inner and spiritual evolution of shapes, the main thing is that those pieces made with glass – from which we have stressed the fact that they had real physical three-dimensionality, because of the collages and objects taken from reality that like a half-way layer stand between the painted glass itself and a back panel which supports the whole – contain in posse the future sculptural work finished and complete, free-standing and surrounded by space, free from the narrowness of that gloomy microcosm and half hidden, although in permanent metamorphosis.

            In the one-person exhibition of 1971 in the Antequera Savings Bank gallery, some important pieces made two or three years before were shown, among them several versions of Cibeles, a wonderful work in which the first smelter Stefan worked with takes part and which represents a very original recreation of the great goddess in Phrygia, riding on her traditional carriage pulled by lions, but the whole subject to the most absurd transformations: the towers, usually crowning the goddess head, have been substituted by a piece of engine, a handle which operates the rotary axis of the body sticks out from the breast and  the pole to harness the team looks like a projectile. Other works shown in that exhibition were Pair (Romeo and Juliet), a piece over one meter height which has never been melted and which has experienced successive modifications, the last one the removal of the figure heads and their substitution by small round golden crushed pieces, and Bird-fan, of unquestionable parallelisms with a more recent one, Woodpecker. From the seventies as well we have two small sculptures full of grace and charm, Mechanical Pegasus, a tiny sewing machine with antennas which afterwards the artist has made in big format, and Canned Iberian, very similar in appearance to a small sculpture from the 12th century, Kleine dose mit thronender Justitia, which is in the Bayerische Nationalmuseum in Munich.

            In September 1986 Stefan starts a long stay of about three months in Villa Massimo, headquarters of the German Academy in Rome, thanks to an appointment of distinguished guest given by the German government through their Embassy in Madrid. The study tour to the Eternal City coincides in time with the discovery in Munich of a modelling paste very suitable for his purposes in the art of sculpture. This paste, sepia colour, is a mixture of rye dough and synthetic plastics, and among its characteristics we have to mention that it does not dwindle nor shrink, it sticks easily to wood and other materials, it can be turned thin like paper and cut like wood. Both reasons will finally be decisive in Stefan’s systematic commitment to sculpture from that time. The material invariably chosen by the artist is bronze, although in the works of the seventies he uses also iron and aluminium. The melting process consists of the following stages: 1. Delivery of the original sculpture to the smelter, made with the mentioned modelling paste, and hardly ever with plaster or with mud. This sculpture has usually found objects stuck (small plastic wheels, earrings, pieces of toy and mechanical devices …), something very typical of Stefan. The smelter makes from that sculpture a mould from silicone.3. The silicone mould is covered with plaster, getting a bigger size. 4. Some ducts are opened and very hot pure wax liquid is poured. 5. Afterwards, the mould is opened carefully and the wax figure, exact replica from the original, is taken out. This is the time to correct mistakes, as well as for the artist to make some additions or changes in the figure. 6. The wax figure is covered with mud in the best possible way and it is left to dry very slowly. Once dry and after having opened a number of ducts to use in the melting process, some for introducing the bronze and other ones to let the air come out, the figure is introduced into the oven and it is baked at high temperatures, as if it were a brick. Once baked, it is left to get cold and the liquid bronze is poured, taking a lot of care there is not any hint of humidity. 7. The mud covering it is broken and the finished sculpture of bronze turns out.

            The Roman period will precisely define the iconographic subjects typical of Stefan up to now in sculpture: male and female centaurs, Minotaurs, busts, mermaids, metamorphosed animals, etc. Among the most remarkable pieces of the Roman stage we have to stand out some male figures with long tunics and which sometimes are shown with a snail shell instead of  a head, whose general appearance evokes the enchanting shapes of the Boeotian terracotta figurines in Tanagra. Together with these ones, Compound Lady, one of the first sculptures where two different elements are combined, not necessarily coincidental with each other, in this case a torso and a female bust; Mechanical bishop, made with the sand melting technique; Monument to progress, which is represents a bull whose head has turned into a half-open hand and which seems to make the sign of farewell, and Mountain Testaccio mermaid, referring to the famous artificial hill in Rome whose origin is due to the regular waste of oil amphora-like bottles which took place there (testa = flowerpot)[42].

            From all the techniques used by Stefan, sculpture is undoubtedly the one in which what we have called somewhere else «Mediterranean seduction» is shown more clearly, that is, where we more obviously perceive the origin and influence of the Mediterranean ancient cultures in his work, from the Cycladic and Minoan to the Mycenaean, from the one of Pharaonic Egypt to the Phoenician and Punic one, from the Ancient, Classic and Hellenist Greece to the Republican Rome and the one from the Empire period. Tireless traveller all over the remotest corners of the Mare Nostrum islands and coasts, Stefan has travelled over this endless area of the civilization in all direction, from the Pillars of Hercules to Crete, from Tunisia to Liguria from the Nile delta to the Dalmatian coasts, and everywhere he has effortless admired and has been captivated by the refined vestiges of remote times of that favoured region, mother of so many countries and civilizations.

This particular devotion of Stefan to the old Mediterranean and Near East cultures, is, moreover, in his case strengthened because he was born and lived in Munich, where he still lives for a great part of the year, sharing the nice breeze coming from the Alps in summertime with the gentle weather of Malaga in winter. In fact, Munich, called rightly «Athens from Isar», is a beautiful city where the extensive  stretches of urban layout from the nineteenth century, some of its best buildings and public monuments and part of the immense wealth of its artistic collections, reflect the passion of several members of the Wittelsbach dynasty, among those we must mention Maximilian I, Joseph, and, particularly his son Louis I from Bavaria, for the Greek Latin civilization and culture, for the Greek sculpture and architecture and the Italian one from the Renaissance, for the Roman and Greek antiquities, although without leaving aside either the wonderful carvings and sculptures made in Germany in the late Middle Ages centuries and the Flemish and German painting from the 15th and 16th centuries, just to name styles and artistic periods especially appreciated by Stefan, as the Bayerische Nationalmuseum, the Alte Pinakothek, the Staatliche Antikensammlung and the Glyptothek stunningly exhibit.

            Among the most peculiar sculptures made by Stefan from his Roman stay in Villa Massimo – and within their main distinctive features, besides the iconographic interests already mentioned, we must point out, on the one hand, the unusual greenish patina and the rusty texture of many of them, as if time had passed slowly over the metal surface, although in fact caused by the secret alchemy of the melting process and the combined action of wind and rain, and, on the other hand, the monumental vocation, so strong that the works, which make us get confused in relation to their real size, are numerous, imagining them, when we see them in photographs, much bigger than they really are -, we must mention the medium format horses, the different versions of the Trojan Horse as well as a battle horse with a shell-like snout and a fatter one with white spots, pieces in which undoubtedly famous relieves and friezes coming from the ancient classic sculpture are present, but also Marco Aurelio’s equestrian statue in the Capitol square in Rome, the famous gothic rider in the Bamberg cathedral, Leonardo’s sketches, some prints by Durero, Donatello’s Gattamelata and Verrocchio’s Colleoni, some of the equestrian statues spread through the centre of Munich, as the one of Maximilian I from Bavaria in Wittelsbacherplatz, by Bertel Thorwaldsen, and even wonderful bronzes with an academic making as Horse by Bernhard Bleeker’s (1960), also in a Munich square; Mermaid riding a centaur, whose way to be sitting inevitably evokes, from one hand, some prints of ancient statues, from the 18th century, especially one representing a  Sea horse and Oceánide, drawn by Jean Baptiste Wicar and printed by N. F. Masquelier[43], and, on the other hand, the Justice hieroglyph by Pierio Valeriano, as it appears in his book Hieroglyphic, published in Brasilia in 1556[44]; Triumphal Tank without content, name referring to the fact that the tank driver has not got a body but there is only his uniform: he is an empty hero; the different versions of the Minotaur, sometimes winged, others sitting, lying or thoughtful, with gestures, postures, and expressions astonishingly human, with an always unusual poetic inspiration; Tisbe with root hair a work of a great imaginative and at the same time disquieting power, of a strange surrealist substratum which remotely evokes Staggering Woman (1923) oil painting from Max Ernst, and where Stefan replaces the head of Piramo’s  unfortunate lover by a trunk with roots like hair standing on end, allusion perhaps to the oldest known version of this love story according to which Tisbe, once dead, turned into a fountain; Skeleton of sea bull, Carriage and Winged Dragon, the three of them perfect examples of versatile and interchangeable works, although forming somehow pairs or homogeneous groups, a way of acting a posteriori typical of Stefan’s sculptural production; Saturnine, a representation of a suspended world which is in full metamorphosis, a bored and rough heavenly body which is slowly acquiring a bird appearance; Cardinal Ratzinger, who with his angelical and doglike appearance represents a sharp, even scathing, critical view, invulnerable guardian of the Catholic orthodoxy; Monumental ox, among the biggest sculptures of the artist this is perhaps the one which has been made with a greater number of found objects and waste, as for instance the coarse sacking used for the back and the thick legs of a solemn mahogany table for the extremities and horns of the docile and vigilant animal, which as it is usually in the artist’s house garden, seems to be pleasantly grazing, and, finally, the very recent Unicorn, emulation because of its size of the lifted Great Flame, likewise so slender and with the body covered with unusual sharp scales.


* * * * * * * * * *


            At his recent 70 years old , Stefan is still fervently devoted to his work, either walking with footsteps of different intensity by paths already tread, or researching and investigating new results and aesthetic possibilities. Whether we talk about that strange capacity to offer different shades of a same subject, or we refer to that endless innovative faculty, in both cases poetic inspiration is always combined, child astonishment at world issues and ironic detachment before reality and human actions. The child fascination for mechanical devices, strange beings, and manufactured objects, is still intact, although the long time passed since then, the vicissitudes of life and the gained experience, without taking away the deep and intelligent sense of humour of his work, have at the same time given him a critical and melancholic look. Likewise, we are sure that the terms used to entitle this text, are still valid to examine Stefan von Reiswitz’s present production: fruitful alliance between the contingency of reality and the deliriums of imagination, between the brave formal break of avant-garde and the everlasting beauty of the Greco-Latin classic past.


Traducción de José María Valverde Zambrana

[1] ROBIN, C.: «Auf der suche nach der verlorenen kreidezeit», in AA.VV.: Stefan, paintings in glass and Plexiglas. Malaga, 1976. [Spanish Transl.: A la búsqueda de la era cretácea perdida, published in the same catalogue].

[2] La Tarde newspaper, Malaga,  March 19th, 1957.

[3] About Group Picasso , see CLAVIJO GARCÍA, A.: «The visit to Picasso made by a group of painters from Malaga in 1957», in Picasso and the Picassian in the Malaga  private collections. Malaga University, 1981, pages 103-108, and PALOMO DÍAZ, F.J.: «On magic. The avant-garde painting in Malaga», in AA. VV.: Picassian studies. Madrid, Culture Ministry, 1981, pages 51-54.

[4] About these tiles, see the small book Kacheln aus Holland. Ramerding, Berghaus Verlag, 1981.

[5] GARRIDO, J.; MART´N ARROSAGARAY, M.: Interview to Stefan von Reiswitz» in Our Time, number 200, Pamplona, February 1971, page 140.

[6] Statements made by Stefan to Spanish National Radio in the summer of 1975. The typed transcription is kept in the artist’s records.

[7] La Tarde newspaper, Malaga, 19th March 1957.

[8] See, FEZZI, E.: Kokoschka. Barcelona, Noguer –Rizzoli, 1973.

[9] WESTERDAHL, E.: «Group Picasso», Santa Cruz de Tenerife,  El Día newspaper,  June 6th, 1962.

[10] The critic by Eduardo Westerdahl, published in El Día newspaper from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, was reproduced partially in a Sur newspaper article on  April 10th, 1963

[11] AREÁN, C.: «Stefan, or fifteen years of a pictorial evolution» in AA.VV.: Stefan. Paintings on glass and Plexiglass. Malaga, 1976.

[12] The information on popular German and Andalusian painted glass has been taken from BORJA, E.: «Stefan von Reiswitz. Introduction to a new art critic», in Subjects on architecture and town planning, number 144, Madrid, June 1971, pages 7- 42, as well as from the introduction text written by Stefan von Reiswitz for the catalogue of the exhibition Andalusian popular painted glass, held in Economic Society of Friends of the country in Malaga in December 1993.

[13] GARRIDO, J.; MARTÍN ARROSAGARAY, M.: «Interview to Stefan von Reiswitz», in Nuestro Tiempo, number 200, Pamplona, February 1971, page 140.

[14] ABAD, A.: «Stefan, a junk  iconography», Malaga,  Sur newspaper,  April 2nd, 1982.

[15] APOLLINAIRE, G.: Aesthetic meditations. The cubist artists. Madrid, Visor, 1994, page 43.

[16] HOFMANN, W.: The fundamentals of modern art. Barcelona, Peninsula, 1992, pages 329-330.

[17] BÜRGER, P.: Theory of avant-garde. Barcelona, Peninsula, 1987, page 104.

[18] La Tarde newspaper, Malaga,  March 19th, 1957.

[19] GARRIDO, J.; MARTÍN ARROSAGARAY, M.: «Interview to Stefan von Reiswitz» in Our Time, number 200, Pamplona, February 1971, page 140.  

[20] BRETON, A.: «Second Manifest on surrealism». Barcelona, Guadarrama, 1980, page 162.

[21] Quoted in HOFFMANN, W., op. cit., page 346.

[22] On this contemporary artist so admired by Stefan, see, RADDATZ, F.J.: Paul Wunderlich. Litographies et peintures. Paris, Denoël, 1972.

[23]. GARRIDO, J.; MARTÍN ARROSAGARAY, M.: «Interview to Stefan von Reiswitz» in Our Time, number 200, Pamplona, February 1971, page 141.

[24] Comments made by Stefan to Spanish National Radio in the summer of 1975

[25] Ibidem.

[26] BAYÓN, M.: «Interview to Stefan von Reiswitz», in Subjects on architecture and town planning, numbers 169-170, Madrid, July-August 1973, pages 4-8.

[27] Sol de España newspaper,  Malaga,  February 12th, 1970.

[28] See the copy of the same newspaper mentioned before and the corresponding to  May 17th, 1970, in which, among others Gabriel Alberca, Manuel Barbadillo, Enrique Brinkmann, Eugenio Chicano, Manuel Jurado Morales and Jorge Lindell gave their opinions against the official views.

[29] REISWITZ, Stefan von: «Painter Stefan’s letter to the masses», Sol de España newspaper, Malaga, May 29th, 1971. With the name Letter to the wind, some mistakes having been corrected and a few modifications made, it was published in the catalogue of Stefan’s one-person exhibition held in the Antequera Savings Bank gallery in September 1972. On the other hand, in an interview published in Sol de España in the same date of  May 29th,  1971, Stefan says: «In Malaga, any attempt to show art, ideas and concepts, falls into the most absolute emptiness».

[30] Sol de España newspaper, Malaga,  November 21st, 1970.

[31] MAYORGA, J.: «Interview to Stefan». Malaga, Sur newspaper,  February 1st, 1987.

[32] Stefan expresses himself with this melancholy in a letter addressed to Dr. Anton Dieterich in January 1987, published in the same catalogue.

[33]   KREJČA, A.: Printing methods. Madrid, Libsa, 1990, page 48.

[34]    The eight exhibitions were the following ones:1st, June 1969; 2nd, October 1969; 3rd, November 1969; 4th, February 1970; 5th, June 1970; 6th, November 1970; 7th, March 1971; 8th, December 1974.

[35] For more information see GUERRERO VILLALVA, C.: «Jorge Lindell’s graphic art», in PARRA, A. (ed.): Lindell. Anthology (1950-1997) . Malaga, Pablo Ruiz Picasso Foundation, 1997, pages 35-50.

[36] See the articles which, for his death, José Mayorga, Jorge Lindell, Stefan von Reiswitz and Guillermo Silva Santamaría, among others, wrote in Sur newspaper March 29th, 1981

[37] ERNST, M.: «Beyond painting (1936)», in Writings. Barcelona, Polígrafa, 1982, page 208. This article from Max Ernst, named «Au-delá de la peinture», was originally published in avant-garde magazine Cahiers d’Art, number 6-7, 1936.

[38] Ibidem, page 203.

[39] Ibidem, page 197.

[40] Ibidem, page 198.

[41] The most complete and careful edition up to now of Stefan’s collages (40 pieces) is the one published with the name of «Perspectives», first volume of the bookcase Perspectives for an unmentionable Melilla. Autonomous City of Melilla, Local Ministry of Culture, 1997.

[42] «However a day when they tired him very much he turned to them saying:

- What do you want from me, boys, stubborn like flies, dirty like bedbugs, cheeky like fleas? Am I, by any chance, Mountain Testaccio in Rome, to throw so many flowerpots and tiles at me?». CERVANTES SAAVEDRA, M.: «Graduate Vidriera», in Exemplary Novels, Madrid, Castalia, 1992, volume II, pages 118-119.

[43] COLINAS, A.; LLEDÓ, J.: Classic mythology. Madrid, Álbum Letras Artes S. L., 1994, pages 38-39

[44] See, KLOSSOWSKI DE ROLA, S.: The golden game. Alchemic prints from the17th century. Madrid, Siruela, 1988, page 15.


Publicado originalmente en el catálogo de la exposición Stefan von Reiswitz 1952-2000, celebrada en el

Palacio Episcopal de Málaga en noviembre de 2001