Surrealist painter Richard Oelze, born June 29th, 1900 in Magdeburg, Germany to a conservative and well-disciplined family, proved to be artistically talented at an early age. After serving briefly for the military during World War I, Oelze attended the School of Applied Arts in his hometown and studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar from 1921 until 1925 under the direction of Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten, Oskar Schlemmer, and privately, Paul Klee. Encountering Surrealism for the first time in a Belgian magazine’s publication of work by Ernst and Magritte, Oelze “felt an instant connection” to the movement as “a confirmation” of the paintings he had already been producing. Following the war, Oelze spent the majority of his life retreating from one European country to the next—first from Nazi Berlin on the last train preceding the closing border to France, where he would shortly come to meet Loy. However, from Paris in 1936, he fled to Switzerland and then eventually back to Germany where he would again support the war efforts of World War II. Oelze was held captive by American soldiers until 1945 and did not return to his art until the 1950s. “Withdrawn into [his] own world,” Oelze continued to paint in his signature Surrealist style until he passed away in 1980 (Ubu Gallery).
Serving as a representative for her son-in-law Julien Levy, Loy first came into contact with Oelze in 1930’s Paris, where she had previously commissioned paintings from high-profile Surrealist artists like Dali, Ernst, and Magritte through her connection to associates of André Breton such as Duchamp, Cravan, and Man Ray. In her efforts as an art collector, Loy purchased the works of many of these men for Levy’s gallery, including that of Oelze. While Oelze’s paintings resembled the style of such artists, his seclusive, introverted nature and inability to speak any French prevented him from ever fully existing within the Surrealist group. Loy, having fought for her independence as a multi-media artist, respected Oelze’s separation from the others of his kind and soon found herself captivated by his being “organically surreal” (Arnold 175). This attraction to Oelze served as the inspiration for Loy’s only novel, Insel, in which he is the titular character. Loy, who “gravitated toward the rock bottom of human existence for her subject matter,” however, struggled to help Oelze to recover from opioid addiction and to distinguish her own reality within their hermetic affair (Arnold 171). “Flattered yet disconcerted” Loy once said of Oelze, “He greeted me with the relief of an object which, having fallen apart, should chance upon its other half” (Burke 382). Despite his elusive appeal, Loy left Oelze behind in 1936 when, due to the impending European conflict and her own financial difficulties, she moved to New York.
Perhaps Oelze’s most famous work, Expectation, was created during his time with Loy and was included in Levy’s 1936 Surrealism anthology. Composed from 1935-1936, the painting was housed in Loy’s apartment; she wrote of Expectation, “Whenever I’m in a room with it, I catch myself looking at that sky—waiting for something to appear…any moment it will light up” (Burke 385-6). Hidden behind the bowler hats and furs, Loy saw the premonition of an inevitable Second World War.
Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1997.
Hayden, Sarah. Curious Disciplines: Mina Loy and Avant-Garde Artisthood. University of New Mexico Press, 2018.
Levy, Julien, ed. Surrealism. New York: Black Sun Press, 1936.
Loy, Mina. Insel. Edited by Elizabeth Arnold, Melville House Publishing, 2014.
Oelze, Richard. The Expectation. 1936. The Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78518?artist_id=4376&locale=en&page=1&sov_referrer=artist. Web.
Oisteanu, Valery. “Richard Oelze: Paintings & Drawings from the 1950s & 1960s.” The Brooklyn Rail, May 2007, https://brooklynrail.org/2007/5/artseen/richard-oelze-paintings-drawings.
Pincus-Witten, Robert. ” Richard Oelze: Michael Werner.” Artforum International, Biography in Context, Apr. 2017, https://link.galegroup.com.authenticate.library.duq.edu/apps/doc/A491256519/BIC?u=pl3834&sid=BIC&xid=bc31e08d.
“Richard Oelze: Paintings & Drawings from the 1950s & 60s.” Ubu Gallery Limited, 2007. https://www.ubugallery.com/exhibitions/richard-oelze-paintings-drawings/
Stauder, Ellen Keck. “Forging the dusk of chaos: the modernity of Mina Loy.” Modernism/modernity, vol. 4 no. 3, 1997, pp. 141-159. Project MUSE, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/23182.