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.
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).