With a focus on ‘extreme expression’ in this two-day studio workshop we took our inspiration from the excellent Messerschmidt and Modernity exhibition currently on show at the Getty Center. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was a German artist who was obsessed with human expression and his striking kopfstücke (head pieces) created in the 18th century have amazed and inspired those interested in the complexities of human emotion.
During the sessions we had the benefit of studying two live models who both had an amazing ability to pull and hold acute expressions. We worked with oil clay, (one of my favourite mediums) to create high reliefs on board supports, and had fun studying proportion and distortion as faces contort in various expressions. Our instructor Jonathan Bickhart was a pleasure to work with and his enthusiasm and admiration for Messerschmidt was infectious.
The workshop tied in very well with the exhibition, on both days we studied the busts on display in the gallery, noting the fine detail, surface textures, design elements, and artistic licence which made the artist’s work so compelling. We discussed the notion of the fine line between artistic obsession and mental illness – Messerschmidt many believed was a genius plagued with schizophrenia. The compulsion to study and create scores of intense expressions frozen in time may have stemmed from the impulse to ward off malevolent spirits which disturbed the artist.
This unmissable exhibition continues until October 14th and features a number of Messerschmidt’s intriguing character heads from all over the world, including one from the Getty’s permanent collection. Interesting contemporary responses in a range of media are also on display from artists such as Tony Cragg and Tony Bevan. An ‘Expression Lab’ next door cleverly brings the sculptures to life through mirror responses from the public – a photo booth set-up allows us to indulge ourselves in gurning Messerschmidt style and share the extremely unflattering results!