Klaus Liebig (* 1936 - † 1996) studied at the Art Academy in Stuttgart and lived in the Black Forest from 1957 to 1970. It was here that his artistic career began with restless, rhythmically structured landscapes and figurative paintings using a high degree of abstraction and structures reminiscent of cubism. Little by little, Liebig left the influence of Cubism behind him and found his own representational imagery.
KLAUS LIEBIG BY KARINA ABDUSALAMOVA
Despite his unmistakable style and prolific output since the 1960s, Klaus Liebig‘s name remains unfamiliar to the international art community. European audiences may recognize Liebig‘s works from the successful group show titled “Let‘s Mix All Feelings Together,” which took place at major museums in Europe, including the Musée d‘Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Louisiana Museum at Humlebæk in Denmark, during the late 1970s. The exhibition brought together the works of four artists whose experimental creative practices were conceptually aligned with the aesthetics of American Pop Art and comics: Gianfranco Baruchello, Öyvind Fahlström, Erró, and Klaus Liebig. All four incorporated elements of appropriation and collage into their works, and employed fragmented imagery and nonlinear structures to construct complex visual narratives, reflecting the chaotic and interconnected nature of the modern world.
However, what sets Klaus Liebig apart from the rest of the group is his unique approach to the exploration of themes and symbolism. Liebig‘s artistic process is underpinned by his collection of images and texts from literature, ethnography, psychology, mythology, and anthropology. Carefully organized into approximately 200 folders, these materials form Liebig‘s personal encyclopedia, providing him with inspiration for both the thematic content and formal elements of his work. His sophisticated canvases are populated by historical figures, celebrities, whimsical beasts, and mystical characters who traverse the metaphysical sceneries, making cameo appearances across multiple paintings and adding layers of complexity to the visual storytelling.
Klaus Liebig’s artistic journey began in the Black Forest, a picturesque mountain region in Germany, where the painter moved after finishing his studies at the Art Academy in Stuttgart. There, at the source of the Danube and Neckar rivers, the artist began painting his first landscapes. The cubist-inspired compositions of his early works evolved into enigmatic dreamscapes, imbued with profound personal significance. Liebig‘s deep connection to nature is evident in his distinctive visual language, which deftly interweaves landscape elements with abstract forms. Symbolizing fluidity, the rivers in the German artist’s paintings act as conduits, seamlessly linking narratives that are in constant motion, perpetually transforming and transcending. “Zu Luxemburg am Rhein” [To Luxembourg on the Rhine] (1973) transports the viewer into a Lewis Carroll-esque realm of recurring gestures. The distortion of space within the painting engenders a captivating timelapse, wherein Luxembourg morphs into an uncanny valley teeming with duplicates. Mountains, dunes, and houses melt into one another, resulting in a kaleidoscopic amalgamation infused with private symbolism tied to the specific site. In Liebig‘s 1973 painting “Die Geigerin” [The Violinist], a river emerges from the woman‘s vagina, while her head is substituted by a mountain. The extensive application of pastel hues, phantasmagorical imagery, and hypnagogic superimpositions enhances the oneiric quality of the piece, enveloping the viewer in a world of whimsy.
Liebig’s panoramas possess an eerie familiarity, as if emerging from the depths of a long-forgotten dream, evoking a strong sense of déjà vu. These inherently psychological landscapes are filled with multifaceted expressions of eroticism, where naked corporeality takes on various forms: a psychological state, a mystical vision, or a coveted commodity. In Liebig‘s works from the early 1970s, nudity is closely linked to notions of innocence, which invoke Jungian archetypes like the “naked self” or the “divine child,” inviting viewers to embark on a journey of self-exploration.
However, Liebig‘s relationship to the body undergoes a transformative shift within the same decade. In paintings dating back to 1976 and 1977, corporeality becomes fragmented, alluding to dark sensuality and engaging with the shadowy realms of the unconscious, often repressed or disowned. Physicality becomes enigmatic—a puzzle to unravel, offering tantalizing glimpses into sexuality. In the painting “Am Flüsschen” [By the Little River], a kissing couple is superimposed—like cut-outs from a magazine —with the image of a naked woman, creating the illusion that her body is emerging from theirs. They find themselves amidst a nocturnal landscape filled with hauntingly mysterious elements: a collection of tropical butterflies painted as if pinned to the canvas; a black figure in a white bridal gown flying a kite shaped like a koi fish; a contemplative boy with a surrealistically deformed body sitting upon the riverbank. The radiant blue hue of the river enhances the contrast with the dense, earthy, dark green tones of the land, intensifying the unsettling silence of this ethereal realm.
In works like “Pour Piazzolla” and “Tatou,” the enchanting color palette, also dominated by blues and greens, amplifies the sense of disconcerting eroticism. Humanoid bodies crowned with giant insects, female legs clad in stockings and red high-heeled shoes, and body parts adorned with dragon tattoos depersonalize and fragmentize the notion of the erotic. The image of a decapitated female figure against a shifting background reminiscent of de Chirico‘s metaphysical landscapes evokes an emotionally detached, dreamlike atmosphere. Fragmented body parts convey a sensation of voracious lust, echoed in the turbulent flow of the river that carries us through various dream sequences populated by mythic creatures. Perspectives are distorted, disoriented, and often inverted in a captivatingly chaotic manner, heightening the phantastic allure of Liebig‘s works.
Another erotic work, “How to Express Your Feelings” (1980), stands as a turning point in the artist‘s stylistic trajectory, displaying a shift from intricate mental landscapes to a more pro nounced incorporation of pop-art references. This new expressive language retains its symbolic nature but draws upon images from the realm of mass culture, a universal consumerist code that is effortlessly recognizable. Here, the erotic becomes a commodified entity. We still witness bodily fragmentation, as seen in the earlier paintings, but the style becomes bolder, appropriating visual elements from advertising and comics. Here, Liebig employs a diverse array of references, ranging from traditional Western cartoons to Japanese manga. The artwork is organized into multiple panels, each featuring distinct color palettes. Within these panels, the viewer encounters a vivid tapestry of aliens, robots, humanoid figures, breasts, penises, and vaginas — all drawn with meticulous attention to detail. Sexual scenes are presented with explicitness, deliberately adopting a vulgar yet humorously erotic approach. The piece unveils a pictorial orgy where invented and well-known characters, including Pope and Bugs Bunny, traverse sequences in an indulgent frenzy. Speech balloons and thick, solid letters add a dynamic visual element to the composition.
Through his inventive approach to pictorial storytelling, Klaus Liebig establishes a dynamic interplay between the individual and collective unconsciousness, merging the realms of the real and the imaginary, and pushing the boundaries of traditional art forms. The fragmented yet fluid nature of his works holds particular relevance in today‘s world, where the motley fabric of reality, often perceived through social media, resembles a collage of cut-ups. Liebig’s visual flow of consciousness guides viewers through complex psychogeographic narratives, venturing into the hidden realms of the mind and leading us to the places that we are hesitant to explore alone.