John G.F. Von Wicht

1888 - 1970
Johannes Von Wicht was born in Malente, Germany on February 3rd, 1888. His mother moved the family to Oldenburg when John was in elementary school and he began to visit with the artist Gerhard Bakenhus. Bakenhus helped familiarize John with old masters and taught him rigorous nature studies in a strict manner. John's mother arranged for him to apprentice at the studio of master painter F.W. Adels shortly thereafter. There he learned to prepare paints with linseed oil and later commented on the lasting impression of colors throughout his career. "Interior of a Farmhouse"was his first painting, completed in 1907. Gerhard Bakenhus was able to include the painting to in the Bremer Kunsthalle exhibition in 1908. Due to its critical success, John was accepted to the private art school of the Grand Duke of Hesse in Darmstadt. Fundamental values of simplicity, nature and poetry were instilled in students, which continued to be lasting themes in Von Wicht's art. John continued to pursue the arts with a three year scholarship to the Royal School of Fine & Applied Arts in Berlin. There he was influenced by the city's avant-garde art scene. In 1911 his work was included in the Free Berlin Secession exhibition.

In 1923 Von Wicht moved to the United States, leaving a post-war Berlin and its economic hardships. He found his place at the Ardsley Art Academy in Brooklyn and secured a job at the U.S. Printing and Lithography Company. Later he moved on to Ravenna Mosaic in 1925. While working for the mosaic company, John designed a vestibule for the St. Louis Cathedral in a typical Byzentine manner. After a few more years work, he established enough contacts to become an independent contractor. He set up an office on Park Ave to handle private commissions and a studio in Brooklyn Heights.

Von Wicht's first attempt at the abstract in artwork was not until 1937 when he created the "Force"series in watercolor. Kandinsky's work had a clear influence in this series. Von Wicht was accepted into a show in 1941 at the Whitney. His status in the art world was quickly recognized following this exhibition. He was now an abstract avant-garde artist. Although he was challenged by Cubism and Surrealism, Von Wicht had yet to find his own personal style of abstraction. However, by 1950 painting was Von Wicht's sole activity. He was able to explore his personal expression of abstraction as a mature artist, returning to drawing in order to solve problems of content and composition. Far Eastern calligraphy was another major influence for Von Wicht as he moves into a draws upon the vertical format in nature. In 1951 Von Wicht has his second solo exhibit at the Passedoit Gallery which drew critical attention. His paintings of this time use a mature language applied through vertical design. "Indian Cliff" (1952) is a prime example of this style.

Now an established abstract artist developing a mature style, Von Wicht began to experiment with a variety of media. He held another show at the Passedoit in 1954 with works based on musical symphonies, using abstract art elements in a spiritual analysis of music. He created innovative works on rice paper while spending a winter at the McDowell Colony, an artist-in residence program in New Hampshire. He attempted automatic sketching as a direct translation of inner movement to find equilibrium.

Towards the end of the 1950's, Von Wicht finished his contract with the Passedoit Gallery and signed with the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, signaling a move in his professional career. His first European show was held in 1959 in Paris. Twenty seven works over the past two years were exhibited with overall success. Throughout 1959, his work was also shown in Brussels, Liege and Belgium. In 1960 Von Wicht returned to the artist colony to complete five large canvases in the first 4 weeks he was back which include "On Black""On Red""Silanus"and "Vertical Abstraction". These paintings created a feeling of space through various concentrations of color material with a sense of immense freedom. Von Wicht also began over-painting, in which he took older canvases and reworked them, sometimes completely changing the content. These works became heavier, with more surface texture such as "On Blue"which became entirely different than its original form. "Innovations" presents viewers with a borderless landscape with no center, front, or back but yet the eye wonders through the horizon, finding a never-ending depth.

During his last years as a painter Von Wicht varied his compositions with themes of the Four Seasons. This work was quite similar to Impressionistic techniques, observing different light and form under various circumstances. However, Von Wicht was unable to finish the Winter scene due to associations of old age. The rest of his works from these years were prints. Von Wicht marked his distinguished career with many awards, recognitions and memberships, such as the American Abstract Artists. The decisive geometric elements that held up Von Wicht's earlier work later felt a release of associations, depicting an inner struggle with subject matter. His works were gestural yet carefully composed allowing for an individual touch upon spiritual and natural realms of being. As an abstract artist, Von Wicht wanted color to reach viewers emotions directly though pure form. Von Wicht died of pneumonia on January 20th, 1970 in Brooklyn. He left the majority of his artwork to the Syracuse University Art Collection.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
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