–  Clemens Sels Museum Neuss

Self is the man!

Erich Bödeker and Josef Wittlich

Two artistic positions were presented in the spring exhibition: The painterly work of Josef Wittlich (1903-1982) and the sculptures of the sculptor Erich Bödeker (1904-1971). What both artists have in common is that they are considered so-called "naive" artists. They did not attend art schools or academies. As autodidacts, they acquired their skills themselves and created their works free from the constraints of content specifications. Both men did hard physical work for a living. Bödeker was a miner, but had to give up this profession at the end of the 1950s due to silicosis (pneumoconiosis). Almost without transition he devoted himself to sculpture. His work quickly attracted attention. Josef Wittlich began painting at an early stage of his life. However, he became known only after his accidental discovery in 1967.

There are parallels not only biographically, but also in the work of the two artists. They responded to a diverse world of images with their work. Photos of prominent people were to be found on illustrated magazines and served as models for the artists. So were pictures of the English royal family. Wittlich shows the figures in grotesque distortion. Bödeker sculpts six members of the royal family in cement. Also on display were several works that can be thematically assigned to only one of the two artists. The sculptor's oeuvre includes animal sculptures, for example, which were originally presented in Bödeker's home garden. Wittlich's oeuvre includes countless depictions of battles based on models from history books. In this way, both artists respond to their individual pictorial worlds and their surroundings.

The exhibition revealed the artists' free and experimental approach both in their choice of subjects and in the use and processing of the chosen materials. The unconventional working methods break with existing norms and lead to a new, individual artistic expression.

Numerous loans from public and private collections complemented the in-house collection of works by the two artists.

sponsored by Innogy SE, a subsidiary of the German energy provider RWE.


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