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His Work is like his Life

Friedrich Gurschler

SHEEP REPRESENT GOODNESS, AND THIS ANIMAL HAS BEEN THE FAITHFUL COMPANION IN THE LIFE AND ARTISTIC ENDEAVOURS OF FRIEDRICH GURSCHLER.

For near­ly his who­le life, Gur­sch­ler has been car­ving his two enor­mous nati­vi­ty sce­nes, live pic­tures more than sta­tic works of art: the moun­tain of the nati­vi­ty sce­ne is as clo­se as you can get to the real deal, what with its war­ren of cor­ri­dors and caves, and the small, colour­ful­ly pain­ted figu­res look so rea­listic you could be for­gi­ven for mista­king them for actu­al peop­le and ani­mals. His craft of breat­hing life into inani­ma­te objects is his heri­ta­ge from his home, the Schnal­s­tal val­ley, and reflects his deep link to the cul­tu­re of the Vinsch­gau val­ley. The ‘con­nec­tions bet­ween hea­ven and earth, bet­ween peop­le and ani­mals’ (Ces­cut­ti, 1978) are the indis­pensable pre­mi­ses for Gur­sch­ler, who was born in 1923 in South Tyrol, in Unser Lie­ben Frau in Schnals.

Fried­rich Gurschler

In his natu­ral and, the­re­fo­re, unspec­ta­cu­lar encoun­ter with wood, stone, marb­le, plas­ter, bron­ze or cop­per he reco­gni­s­es the inherent chal­len­ge in the mate­ri­al and does jus­ti­ce to it in his work. 

Gurschler‘s sculp­tures can be expe­ri­en­ced in their dimen­si­on of clo­sed lines and com­pact volu­mes, of sen­si­ble con­ciseness and crea­ti­ve model­ling and thanks to his sen­si­ti­ve powers of obser­va­ti­on as well as always reaching out towards move­ment and sta­tic moments: both facets being part of the who­le crea­ti­ve pro­cess. Ensu­ring his crea­ti­ons are genui­ne on the insi­de and out­side has always been of para­mount impor­t­ance to him. Fried­rich Gur­sch­ler strug­gles with the­mes offe­red by natu­re in his pic­to­ri­al world, yet doesn’t deny the tight-knit rela­ti­on with the real world, deci­ding ins­tead to crea­te his very own language.

Loo­king back at the ‘Schmer­zens­mann’ (1969), the work repres­ents the foun­da­ti­on of his approach to art, the gui­de­li­nes for the reli­gious the­me, thrif­ty in for­mu­la­ti­on, expres­si­ve, as well as being mar­ked­ly redu­ced in later works such as ‘Die Mut­ter’ (1981), after which he starts repre­sen­ting child­ren and their stoo­ped pos­tu­re. Gur­sch­ler mani­fes­ted his shape canon the stron­gest in his reli­gious opus of works by focu­sing on the inner and holy mes­sa­ge. The soul­ful ten­si­on in ‘Schmer­zens­mann’ beco­mes visi­ble at a later sta­ge in the archaic rigo­ur of ‘Auf­er­stan­de­nen’ in Mar­ling (1999) or in ‘Gekreu­zig­ten’ in Part­schins (2002). In the­se repre­sen­ta­ti­ons of Christ, Gur­sch­ler expres­ses his faith, his hope for redemp­ti­on, his desi­re for a life that goes bey­ond rea­li­ty. His work streams utter con­fi­dence. With his sen­si­ti­ve joy in for­mu­la­ti­on he depicts a Pen­si­ve Christ and a Christ Reborn. In remi­ni­scing about the Roman sculp­tures of his home­town, he crea­tes new shapes. He suc­ceeds in deli­vering effec­ti­ve reli­gious messages in an abs­tract and expres­si­ve way.  This is pro­ven by the pain­ted woo­den reli­efs of the Church exhi­bi­ti­on in Rab­land (1997) or in ‘Pie­tà’ in the Engl mau­so­le­um in Bozen (2010). What beco­mes signi­fi­cant for this voca­bu­la­ry of ide­as is the ‘Crea­ti­on – the Fall of Man – Redemp­ti­on’ ste­le in Part­schins (1996). A sto­ry of pic­tures burs­t­ing with sym­bo­lism and rea­lism. The­se pic­to­ri­al works can also be found in woo­den car­ved reli­efs such as ‘Das Leben’ (2009) or even befo­re, such as the Sta­ti­ons of the Cross sculp­ted in marb­le in Katharinenberg/Schnals (2005): the­se sce­nes are easy to remem­ber, easy to read in the simp­le pic­to­ri­al lan­guage and the illus­tra­ti­ve model­ling of the details. The relief’s strong plasti­ci­ty is like an ans­wer to line­ar sto­ry­tel­ling. This varie­ty of shapes is also visi­ble in the cop­per work ‘Die Geheim­nis­se des Hl. Rosen­kran­zes’ in the cha­pel of Saint Freina­da­metz in Rei­schach (2009). This linea­ri­ty can also be found in his woo­den car­ving whe­re his the­mes, just like a sculp­tor, are car­ved right out of a block of wood.

The ‘ani­mal’ the­me has accom­pa­nied Gur­sch­ler his who­le life in his sculp­tu­ral work. The ten­si­on bet­ween the most­ly smooth sur­faces and the expres­si­ve short lines high­light the per­sis­tence in sta­tic move­ment, but also the indi­vi­du­al cha­rac­te­ris­tic move­ments of the body. ‘Pferd’ in Schlu­derns (1990) awa­kens from its pure, heroic sta­tic moti­on; the ‘Göt­tin der Musen’ (1992) with the dain­ty flu­ting of her strands of hair and the wing span of ‘Pega­sus II’ (1998) are model­led in an illus­tra­ti­ve man­ner without being deco­ra­ti­ve. Goa­ts, sheep, ibe­xes, deer, roe deer, ground­hogs, foxes, cats and dogs were the models used from the ani­mal king­dom as well as pan­thers and leo­par­ds back when he stu­di­ed in Nuremberg.

Ano­t­her the­me is ‘women’: he inter­prets the figu­re of women in a sweet, fra­gi­le body as seen in the intro­vert ‘Tän­ze­rin’ (2012), he sur­rounds them in a nar­ra­ti­ve pic­to­ri­al lan­guage such as in the ‘Lau­ten­spie­le­rin’ (1988) or the ‘Musi­zie­ren­den Frau­en’ (2005, 2010) and finds a still, yet con­s­tric­ti­ve pre­sence in the ‘Lie­gen­den Akt’ (2010). In Gur­sch­ler we feel a trans­ver­sal deter­mi­na­ti­on to move from hand­craf­ted mas­te­ry to an artis­tic cha­rac­te­ri­sa­ti­on. In his natu­ral and, the­re­fo­re, unspec­ta­cu­lar encoun­ter with wood, stone, marb­le, plas­ter, bron­ze or cop­per he reco­gni­s­es the inherent chal­len­ge in the mate­ri­al and does jus­ti­ce to it in his work. He tri­es to rein in his shapes and for them to beco­me one with the mate­ri­al. Moreo­ver, he always stri­ves to find some­thing new when ‘cas­ting the mould’ to reach an even stron­ger reduc­tion of plasticity.

Fried­rich Gurschler’s work is his life, and many of his works are open to the public. Such open­ness goes hand in hand with the tra­di­ti­on of his home regi­on and he says, ‘It may very well be that some­ti­mes it loo­ks like as though my work is inspi­red by media­eval works of art, but even if the Roman art hadn’t been the­re, I’d con­ti­nue doing my figu­res just the way they are now.’ (das Fens­ter 1989). In his sac­red sculp­tu­re, hope comes to light, a for­mal figu­ra­ti­ve expe­ri­ence, con­stant­ly breat­hing life into the naked body or por­trait. The inner con­nec­tion of Gur­sch­ler to his ori­gins in the Schnal­s­tal is and remains a true bed­rock for his works, espe­cial­ly in the humi­li­ty he shows befo­re crea­ti­on: ‘Becau­se Gur­sch­ler, with his unwa­vering faith, doesn’t trans­po­se the divi­ne into what is human and earth­ly, but lea­ves it whe­re it is, cele­bra­ting the vast­ness and eter­ni­ty of life’ (Ces­cut­ti, 1978).

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(* 1943 in Bregenz) ist ein österreichischer Kunsthistoriker. Ammann habilitierte sich 1983 für Österreichische Kunstgeschichte. Er war von 1985 bis 2005 Direktor des Tiroler Landesmuseums Ferdinandeum Innsbruck.

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