Johannes Dörflinger

Mountain Figure


Not on display

Johannes Dörflinger born 1941
Graphite on paper
Support: 685 x 1014 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

T04899 Mountain Figure 1984

Charcoal on wove paper 685 × 1014 (27 × 40); watermark ‘T.H. Saunders’
Inscribed ‘J Dörflinger 84’ b.r.
Purchased from Fischer Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1987

This charcoal drawing depicts a recumbent figure in a mountain cleft. The figure's head is visible on the upper left and its trunk extends to the lower righthand side of the drawing. The form can also be read as an abstract pattern of delicately drawn charcoal lines with areas of shading. ‘Mountain Figure’ belongs to a group of approximately twenty-five drawings and pastels Dörflinger made in the 1980s in response to the landscape, in particular, to Gozitan Mountain (in fact, a low hill), which can be seen from his studio on the island of Gozo, near Malta. In conversation with the compiler on 14 May 1989 Dörflinger said ‘Mountain Figure’ was directly inspired by the mountain: a natural cleft suggested to him the image of a figure ‘lying underneath and rolling out of the mountain’. Dörflinger said he often placed figures in his drawings, although he never allowed them to dominate the composition.

Dörflinger's works are based on several stylised forms, in particular, wing, wave, tree and bird shapes. According to the artist, the group of works purchased by the Tate Gallery in 1987 (T04899-T04902, see following entries) are all related to the wing form. The drawings are not representational and their titles, given after the works were made, usually allude to a minor element in the compositions.

Dörflinger, who is normally based in London, has stayed on Gozo every year since buying a house there in 1980. He usually visits the island in the early summer and in October, and stays for several weeks at a time. ‘Mountain Figure’ was made during June and July 1984. In conversation, the artist said that he drew this work in his studio, looking out of the window. He rarely made full-scale drawings outside, because he felt ‘observed by nature’ and only produced little sketches before returning indoors. A photograph of Gozitan mountain, taken from the studio, was reproduced as the frontispiece of Johannes Dörflinger: Der Berg/Gozitan Mountain. Pastelle/Pastels, exh. cat., Galerie Harald Behm, Hamburg 1985, [p.1]. Dörflinger has collected a large number of photographs of the mountain, taken at different times of the year by a friend, the photographer Hans J. von Büdingen.

In conversation Dörflinger said that his continuing and ever deepening response to the mountain had had a significant impact on his work in the 1980s. At this period he was preoccupied with an ever-present existence he perceived as slumbering within the mountain. He said it was like discovering an archetype emerging from a ‘soup’ of images and finding a personal symbol that can become universal. Yvonne Friedrich, he believed, had aptly described the relationship between natural observation and inner vision in his work when she wrote: ‘His work is not about landscape, but rather about its mysteries, metaphors and meanings’ (‘Ein Mittelmeer-Berg, der schwebt’, Rheinische Post, vol.177, 2 Aug. 1991). The concept of metamorphosis based on the image of the mountain figure has been central in Dörflinger's work of the 1980s. According to Christopher Green:

For many years Dörflinger has been drawn to a range of subjects which in themselves act as metaphors for metamorphosis: alchemical symbols and figures, conjurors and magicians. For him, alchemy is a metaphor for a whole view of the world and of painting, a Heraclitean view according to which nothing remains the same. The mythical notion of a world created constantly through and in the transformations of the four elements, where earth is the birth of water, water the birth of air, air the birth of fire, has compelling force for him.

(Hamburg exh. cat., 1985, [pp.28–9])

The artist has called T04899 an ‘open drawing’, as it is less densely shaded than the others in the Tate Gallery's collection. He described his sensitivity to working with charcoal on paper as being, ‘like a seismic reaction, with more intensity’. In drawing he registered his own movements, while at the same time ‘holding on to something else’. Jill Lloyd described his drawing as a ‘focused and meditative automatism’ through which images evolve (Johannes Dörflinger: Pastelle und Zeichnungen, exh. cat., Galerie Döbele, Stuttgart 1989, [p.31]). In conversation, Dörflinger explained that he thought of drawing as being as important as painting, pastel and sculpture. He suggested that each medium had different possibilities and should not be placed in a hierarchy. In his work, he said, colour was itself a form whereas charcoal conveyed the idea of movement. Dörflinger began making sculptures in 1986, based on motifs developed in other media. He said that his drawings, lacking the ‘distracting element of colour’, were a more important stimulus to his sculpture than his paintings or pastels.

One of his earliest drawings of Gozitan Mountain was ‘Hill’, 1980 (the artist, repr. Johannes Dörflinger: Konstanzer Kunstpreis, exh. cat., Kunstverein Wessenberg Haus, Konstanz 1986, pl.8, as ‘Hügel’). In conversation with the compiler on 9 September 1991, Dörflinger said that a group of pastels he made between 1987 and 1990 developed ideas explored in works made shortly before. He suggested that ‘Living Rock’, 1988–9 (the artist, no repr. known) was closely related in composition and subject to T 04899. In addition to pastels and drawings directly inspired by the mountain, he made several paintings that related to the same subject, for example, ‘Flame’, 1988–90 (the artist, repr. Johannes Dörflinger: Bilder und Objekte, exh. cat., Galerie Holzwarth, Stuttgart 1992, [pp.2–3], in col., as ‘Flamme’).

Dörflinger said that the influence of the Gozo hill had been instrumental in loosening up the more angular pictorial forms in his work of the late 1970s and in helping him develop new poetic, associative compositions. He referred the compiler to reproductions of the stones of Maltese temple ruins (in Sigrid Neubert and Sibylle von Reden, Die Tempel von Malta: Das Mysterium der Megalithbauten, Bergisch Gladbach 1988, pp.46–52). These stones, he said, had influenced the textures of his charcoal drawings of the 1980s. Dörflinger added that he had been particularly inspired by the shapes of the stones, which had been worn smooth over the centuries. The stones had also inspired the sculptures the artist began making in the late 1980s.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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