Master of Silence - Drawings and Etchings
An artist dreamed of remembrance
Born on September 4, 1936 in Hagen, Germany, Rolf Escher began his career as an artist at the Düsseldorf Art Academy before studying German philology at the University of Cologne. The fact that both of these possible paths of life seem to have favoured the artist's path is demonstrated by the early establishment of his own studio, initially in his home town of Hagen, later in Düsseldorf. As early as 1968, Escher set up an etching workshop in Essen-Stadtwald, which was extremely productive from the very beginning and over the years brought the artist enormous experience in working with the etching needle. Between 1967 and 1978 he was rewarded for the ingenuity of his motifs and his skillful handling of printing techniques with various medals of honour and prizes. In 1967 he received the Medal of Honour of the 4th International Graphic Artiennale in Frechen, in 1977 the prize of the 12th International Graphic Biennale Ljubljana and in 1978 the Hans-Thoma-Medal Reutlingen. In 1988, the prize of the 5th International Portrait Biennale Tuzla was also awarded. The success Escher had with his prints and drawings is testified by the many solo and permanent exhibitions of his works, among others in large museums such as the Kunstsammlung des Landtages in Düsseldorf, the Bibliothèque Royale Albert I. in Brussels, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rhine State Museum Bonn and the Museum Folkwang in Essen. Since 1965 Rolf Escher has also been an art teacher, first at the Grashofgymnasium in Essen-Bredeney, later as professor in the design and graphic design department at the Münster University of Applied Sciences. He quit his employment in 2000 after 36 years in order to devote himself entirely to art. Long study trips to Italy, France, Turkey and Germany led him to the many places he sketched on paper in intensive sessions, which he later used as a scenery in his work cycles, such as Schauplätze - drawings from Italian cities (1983), Venice (1996/97), Istanbul (1993-1998), Drawn discoveries (1990-2004) or A ghostly breakfast in Paris – impressions from France (2009). Not least in the series of drawings created between 2010 and 2013 The life of the king, Frederick the Great between Brandenburg and the Lower Rhine and Poet places – Places of work, places of inspiration the elegant combination of Escher's artistry and lifelong occupation with German culture of the 18th and 19th centuries manifests itself. How else could he have portrayed the study rooms with so much sensitivity and sense for the nature and beauty of the poets? Not least through his knowledge of the biography and the works, Escher manages to breathe life into the creations of the poets, even if they actually show no persons.
The eloquence of emptiness
In his graphic works Escher also favours the depiction of places and objects that report or remind us of human influence, but in the rarest cases really involve people. The depicted rooms and props tell about the events and the course of the story up to the moment when the artist personally enters the rooms. In 1977, Escher himself still rationally distanced himself from this idea: „When I repeatedly deal with old, worn things and people in my drawings and etchings, this does not happen out of nostalgic interest, which sentimentally or ironically addresses the relics of an alleged ‚Belle Époche‘. What I am looking for in the chairs, clothes and entrances that I put into the picture is to show the decisions that time has brought to things, their alienation, their loneliness.“ (Rolf Escher catalogue Gelsenkirchen 1977, p. 10, quoted after Georg Reinhardt (ed.): Rolf Escher. Drawings and Etchings, Albstadt 1982, p. 30). Yet the series DichterOrte, created almost 25 years later, cannot be seen as a sentimental reminder of the time in which the poets themselves walked through these venerable spaces and regions, creating the great works that still accompany the school canon today? In the series Bücherzeiten, Escher shows insights into the libraries of ancient monasteries and universities from all over Europe, which have collected knowledge in bound form for centuries and now seem like a relic from old days in the age of online research and e-books.
The preference to show traces of age and wear and tear on objects fits into a rather conservative scenery that sensitively introduces the mood in the poet's house or in the magnificent architecture of the libraries. Unlike photography, which is able to create realistic images of objects and spaces, but always remains documentary, Rolf Escher, trained through many years of artistic activity and attentive consideration of his works, is able to reproduce the atmosphere and character of space and at the same time use objects to tell a story. Often not without processing a huge portion of humour, for example by turning the bibliophile users of the collections into insects or skeletons.