Joseph Beuys Brightly-Lit Stag Chair 1957–71

Artwork details

Artist
Joseph Beuys 1921–1986
Title
Brightly-Lit Stag Chair
Date 1957–71
Medium 2 works on paper, oil paint, graphite and masking tape
Dimensions Support: 1390 x 963 mm
Collection
Acquisition ARTIST ROOMS
Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Reference
AR00697
Not on display
ARTIST ROOMS

Summary

Brightly-Lit Stag Chair is a large-scale collage on paper by the German artist Joseph Beuys. The collage is comprised of two pieces of stained, cream-coloured paper joined together. Onto the main, lower section was painted the outline of the titular ‘stag chair’, while the much smaller, roughly square sheet of paper is positioned at the top, containing the outline of what appears to be a light bulb, providing the ‘brightly-lit’ conditions for the stag chair. The work is signed and inscribed on the reverse of the paper ‘stark beleuchteter Hirschstuhl Joseph Beuys’, which is the title in German together with the artist’s signature. Despite the crumpled and haphazard appearance of the collage – with its rough edges and irregular pieces of masking tape glued along the bottom edge (which suggests the support had been recycled from some previous use) – there are faint pencil marks that indicate careful measurement and planning of the composition. The painterly medium used in both sections of the collage is a dark grey oil paint. The two sections reverse the figure-ground relationship: the light bulb shape is the bare colour of the paper against the coloured background, while the stag chair is painted dark grey against the plain paper background. The semi-abstract, biomorphic silhouette of the ‘stag chair’ is not easily relatable to the animal itself, with perhaps only the curve of the chair’s legs suggesting a pair of antlers.

Beuys claimed in 1984, towards the end of his life:

The only thing which interests me in a way is to work with big drawings, very big drawings … Until now I have found the size of my drawings is precisely the most effective thing. To be completely normal, sometimes even a cheap piece of paper is drawn on, an actual piece of paper, and I try it, and I know it is down. It is a kind of notation. A big thing immediately has a decorative impact, and that is exactly what I try to avoid. Nevertheless, I sometimes think that I will start again with a more systematic kind of drawing when I find a solution for the problem, to make bigger sizes.
(Quoted in Rose 1993, p.22.)

This comment illuminates the artist’s complex thought process regarding his works on paper, which are rarely simply preparatory sketches for a finished work in another medium, but rather are continually in development and in negotiation with his work in other media. The stag is a recurring motif in the artist’s iconography, heavily featured in his sculpture and large-scale installation works such as Monument to the Stag 1958–85 (Tate AR00602) and Lightning with Stag in its Glare 1958–85 (Tate L02180), both begun around the same time as Brightly-Lit Stag Chair. Rather than being a figure or icon that is represented identically and recognisably in every work of art, for Beuys the stag is a mutable entity that takes different forms across the artist’s eclectic range of media and materials, and that can form a hybrid structure with other components, such as a chair in this instance. Hybridity is also achieved through the material construction of the collage, where two separate sheets are taped together, a common strategy in Beuys’s drawing practice. Both sections juxtapose near black and white tones as positive and negative areas of space, relating to Beuys’s wider interest in duality and the symbolism of light and dark in nature.

In a study of the artist’s drawings, the art historian Maja Naef highlighted:

Beuys’ interest in cyclical processes, which runs through his entire oeuvre. Such a reading helps to elucidate the multi-layered forward and backward flows that traverse his drawings. This nonsimultaneity is also manifest in the fact that Beuys reworked certain of his early drawings at a later time (for example, by stamping them, or by mounting several drawings on a backing and thus making them suitable for presentation).
(Naef 2010, p.341.)

This helps to explain the long time period for the production of this work; it is dated 1957–71, a span of fourteen years.

Further reading
Bernice Rose, ‘Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys’, MoMA, no.13, Winter 1993, pp.16–23.
Maja Naef, ‘Beuys, Drawing’, in Marion Ackermann and Isabelle Malz (eds.), Joseph Beuys, Parallel Processes, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2010, pp.336–48.

Stephanie Straine
February 2011

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