Can the realistic expression of trauma ever be considered real in the literal sense? The Hitler Nazi regime destroyed many of Otto Dix’s( 1891-1969 ) paintings after the 1937 exhibition, ”Reflections on Decadence” which in Dix’s case were ruthless and harshly realistic depictions of Weimar society which in particular attacked Germanic national myths which had been sculpted on the ideals of militarism and human sacrifice for country, which stood in contrast to the Weimar Republic’s response of hedonistic escapism in the face of impending social chaos and economic doom.
In effect, Dix paintings showed the toxic waste water of war overflowing over a society imbued with the politics of a military economy. the stated realism was so extreme it could be interpreted to be imaginary and illusory, almost of animated proportions given the exaggerated grotesqueries in the figurative representation. Art so tragic it borders on the comic. Its the surreal and fantastic looking, finding aesthetic form within an idiom of graphic depiction.A visual representation bordering on the burlesque. of Straddling a new art zone between the romantic and reproductive, the product of modern warfare and its unlimited power to depersonalize and defigure the human spirit.
Dix had entered the first world war as an idealistic conscript and served under Eastern and Western fronts. he suffered shrapnel wounds and was decorated soldier. However, he was traumatized by the experience and suffered from dissociated and repressed memory. The suffering took the form of chronic nightmares which artistically were articulated in works of the shadow lands of the mind’s capacity to recall ;with the symbols and iconography of sexual murder amdst the bleak and despairing backdrop; a society as dimemebered and morbid as the legions of walking dead veterans on German streets; a mental and social pollution that received scant recognition in a society, laced with taboo and repressed emotions as the medication to deal with a changing world now increasingly dominated by dangerous military toys and fiat money expansion.
” GH Hamilton describes Dix’s … as ‘perhaps the most powerful as well as the most unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art… It was truly this quality of unmitigated truth, truth to the most commonplace and vulgar experiences, as well as the ugly realities of psychological experience, that gave his work a strength and consistency attained by no other contemporary artist, not even by [George] Grosz…’it has become a commonplace to see this cycle as an admonition against the barbarity of war. And there is no doubt that as a human document it is a powerful cautionary work. At a psychological level, however, its truth goes deeper than this. Dix was both horrified and fascinated by the experience of war.”
”Paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail, which indicates that there was perhaps, in Dix’s case, an almost addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war.”
Dix’s hallucinatory qualities and stark realism were consciously modeled on Goya’s ( 1746-1828 ) ”The Disasters of War” series which de-fantasized any remnants of illusion concerning armed conflict based on his account of the Napoleon invasion of Spain and the Spanish war of Independence ( 1808-1814 ).