Artist presentation

As part of week 7, we had to complete an artist presentation on an artist that we selected from a hat. We had picked

Joseph Beuys

The presentation can be seen here: joseph-beuys-presentation

German FLUXUS artist 1921-1986

What does the artist explore in their practice in general?

  • explores the themes of suffering, empathy and atonement
  • Grimy aesthetics contrasted with Nazi art.
  • One of Beuys’ main influences was WW2. He was shot down in 1943 when serving as bomber pilot in Luftwaffe, but was found by nomadic Tartars. They treated him with animal fat and felt, which Beuys would then go on to use with wax in his future work, using them as symbols for ‘the human struggle for survival’. (Canada 2016).

“Creation – whether it be a painting, sculpture, symphony or novel – involves not merely talent, intuition, powers of imagination and application, but also the ability to shape material that could be expanded to other socially relevant spheres.”

The piece we are focusing on in this presentation is ‘The Torso’ (1951).

  • Simply refers to the subject matter of the piece; a headless female torso. (However doesn’t specify if female or pregnant).
  • Materials used; iron, gauze, wood, and lead paint.
  • Work consists of a corroded female torso, with a tightly bound, knotted and pressurised hard iron and wood structure, seemingly becoming looser round the edges with bound gauze. Could be referencing his plane crash ordeal – putting Beuys in the role of rescuing the woman?
  • The fact that it is headless distances the viewer from it; provides feeling of the unknown.
  • The matte, dark grey paint that covers the front (centre) of piece, provides a stony, solemn, flaky effect. Texture is rocky, splintering, clay-like.
  • The overall composition is blocky yet curved; irregular and organic; adding to the gritty and gravelly, down to earth texture/atmosphere.
  • The torso appears to be under stress; tense and cracked; either pregnant or swollen. This brings forward the question as to whether the torso was intended to look pregnant, or if this is just the projection of the viewer.
  • The piece shows fragility; such as a woman seems, such as anyone seems, when they are ill or being looked after by another being. (shown by) Particularly prominent crack down the sternum/collar of the torso, coupled with what appears to be hand-prints on ribcage and tendrils of gauze hanging off the figure.
  • This brings about the question as to whether Beuys meant for it to look like it is crumbling away or, whether it was never a whole form to begin with.
  • Making the connection between felt, nurturing and death all that more explicit.No true definition for this piece has been found (neither in English nor in German, his native language), so all we can do is presume, however by also looking at the other pieces in the exhibitions, we are able to make these assumptions about this piece of work. – show examples in powerpoint (theme of fragility, femininity, female figure)

“”Usually when we talk about ‘student work’ we’re not seeing anything that reflects the artist’s later, more mature style,” says Welch. “However, it’s really quite interesting to see in Beuys’ early work – the way he handles materials, the way he’s found and readymade wire, plaster and bitumen, for example – something that speaks to what he would develop over the course of the 60s and 70s.”” (Naidoo, 2016) –to go in powerpoint

People who have influenced him:

  • James Joyce wrote Ulysses and the stream of consciousness relating to the human nature of figure
  • John Cage did work similar to Beuys’ later work
  • Rudolph Steiner was a philosopher
  • George Brecht was a fellow Fluxus artist.

Political/historical/social references

  • Possible influence from the war going on whilst this piece was created, the decay of the torso representing the bodies of those slain in war.

Other influences

  • Abstract impressionism, postwar trauma, and the fact that Beuys was a Fluxus artist all left their mark on ‘Torso’.

Artist influences;

  • Robert Morris – similar materials, work displayed in a similar way to Beuys
  • SigmarPolke–images appear decayed like the torso
  • Jenny Saville – female figure portrayed in a similar way

Finally, opinions …..

  • The crumbly mix of materials leaves the viewer questioning as to how it was made.
  • Makes one think of maternity, protecting the young.
  • Reminiscent of rot and decomposition; the narrative of the maternal female figure alongside the decaying materials could depict the nature of pregnancy.


  • Adriani, G., Konnertz, W. & Thomas, K., 1994. Joseph Beuys. Köln: DuMont Buchverlag.
  • Bastian, G., n.d. Joseph Beuys Publications. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 February 2017].
  • Beuys, J., 1949/51. Torso. [Art] (Gallerie Bastian).
  • Beuys, J., 1991. Joseph Beuys Natur Materie Form. Düsseldorf: Schrimer/Mosel.
  • Canada, N. G. o., 2016. Beuys Introduction. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 February 2017].
  • Canda, N. G. o., 2016. Joseph Beuys Artist. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Feburary 2017].
  • Naidoo, A., 2016. Beuys: Unwrapping the Enigma. [Online]  Available at: [Accessed 10 February 2017].

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