DIE STADT (La città) - Frans Masereel, 1925
Utilizzando la tecnica della xilografia del XIV secolo per diffondere le sue idee in un XX secolo insanguinato, Frans Masereel incise con talento sul legno la sua immensa tristezza di fronte alle due guerre mondiali. (OULALA.NET)*
Masereel was born in Ghent, Belgium, and began studying art at an early age. A committed pacifist, he moved to Switzerland at the start of World War One, working for the International Red Cross and the International Pacifist Movement. Shortly thereafter he began working as a political cartoonist, developing his powerfully distinctive black and white style, depicting shape and form as simply and dramatically as possible. Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s he produced mesmerizing woodcut novels, pioneering a form that still influences graphic novelists today.
His little woodcuts (approximately 3 x 4 inches) in The City are astonishing—dramatic, forcefully constructed Expressionist portraits of life in an unnamed European metropolis between the wars. None of his images had titles or captions, nor do they need them. The narrative for each image is revealed in the details.
Masereel’s portraits are totally lacking in sentimentality or nostalgia of any sort, and he didn’t shy away from showing the ugly realities of modern urban life: loneliness, death, prostitution, crime, overcrowding, poverty, political unrest, murder, and the various ways people seek to numb themselves from whatever troubles they face every day. These woodcut gems, taken together, are a mesmerizing vision of enormous power. No wonder author Stefan Zweig wrote, “Should everything perish, all the books, the photographs and the documents, and we were left with only the woodcuts Masereel has created, through them alone we could reconstruct our contemporary world.”
Masereel created a number of now classic woodcut novels, including Passionate Journey, The Idea, The Sun, Story Without Words. All of them feature the same variety of small, powerful images that characterized The City. Masereel’s books proved to be very popular, not only with the general public, but also with the leading European artists and writers of the time. In the Introduction to Passionate Journey, for example, Thomas Mann wrote:
Darken the room! Sit down with this book next to your reading lamp and concentrate on its pictures as you turn page after page. Don’t deliberate too long! It’s no tragedy if you fail to grasp every picture at once. Look at these powerful black-and-white figures, their features etched in light and shadow . You will be captivated from beginning to end: from the first picture showing the train plunging through dense smoke and bearing the hero toward life, to the very last picture showing the skeleton-faced figure wandering among the stars. And where are you? Has not this passionate journey had an incomparably deeper and purer impact on you than you have ever felt before?
(Thomas Ganzevoort - ineedartandcoffee)