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Dirk Schindelbeck » Blog Archiv » Gerd Grimm (1911 - 1998)

Gerd Grimm (1911 - 1998)

Fashion - Young Women - Mega Cities

Life and works of a German graphic artist - Hommage to his 100 th birthday in Oct 2011

© 2010 Dirk Schindelbeck: text

See also the exposition of Grimm’s graphics from 13.11.2010 to 20.02.2011 in the kunsthalle Riegel/Kaiserstuhl. A catalogue has appeared and is available (12,80 Euro, ISBN 978-3-923288-73-1)

messmer_grimm_katalog_2010

German version of the following text klick here, please

Gerd Grimm: Modegrafik (1947)

Gerd Grimm: fashion graphic (1947)

Gerd Grimm was one of the masters in a very particular metier. Born in 1911 in Karlsruhe, he is - like George Lepape, Paul Iribe or René Gruau - one of  the outstanding graphic artists for fashion of the 20th century. He can be described as unique in German speaking countries. His colleagues and those knowing the field have always acknowledged: “We admired his dash, his elegance and his ease.” (Gi Neuert) But why did Gerd Grimm remain almost unknown to the public during all those years?

Gerd Grimm im Jahr 1954

Gerd Grimm in 1954

Modest but a workaholic

The answer lies in both, his personality and the historical situation of the 20th century in Germany. Gerd Grimm worked like a maniac, he drew and portrayed ten hours a day, whenever possible - for instance taking motifs from television, quickly portraying politicians or writers on a sheet of paper. He told his friends that he needed this in order to keep his fingers fit and to keep his dash. Grimm produced incessantly, still he never became pretentious. Living a modest and secluded life together with his family as an artist in his house in Freiburg, which also was his atelier, he usually took his commissions over the telephone. The only way he advertised his art  was via large-format calendars with his portraits of young women which he sent to 150 recipients. For 40 years - between 1960 and 1999 - these graphics, known as “Grimms Mädchen”, were highly desired. Again, these few activities prove his shyness to the public. His personal disposition was not only due to his shy character but was also the result of his experiences during the Nazi-regime. Gerd Grimm was a “Halbjude” (half jew). To hide by all means was his condition to survive - no favourable circumstances for an artist of his dimension.

gerd-grimm-maedchen-spiegel

Gerd Grimm: young woman in front of a mirror (1990)

Surviving as a “Halbjude” under the Nazi-regime

When the Nazis gained power in Germany in 1933, Gerd Grimm was aged 22. He had just finished his art studies in the academies of Karlsruhe, Nuremberg and Berlin (his professors were Wilhelm Schnarrenberger, Karl Hubbuch and O.W. Hadank), where he also had met his later wife Hildegarde van Gülick. Grimm’s appearance on the scene as an art-fashion graphic seemed to be very promising. He got first orders for front pages of great fashion magazines like “Silberspiegel”, “Die Dame” or “Elegante Welt”. However, after 1933 things changed very quickly. Jews were eliminated from public functions and driven out of cultural life. Only with the help of his “arisch” girlfriend Hildegarde and publishers like Ullstein Grimm could manage to get some of his drawings printed and payed - his name, however, had to be suppressed. In spite of this trouble, Hilde and Gerd did not leave Nazi-Germany. In those years Gerd Grimm developed his deep fear of public appearances which determined his life in later periods.

Grimm-Modegrafik aus "Der Silberspiegel" (April 1942

fashion graphic from "Der Silberspiegel" (April 1942)

Although Grimm was considered to be “nicht-arisch”, he still had to join the Wehrmacht in September 1939 (see Brian Mark Rigg: Hitler’s jewish soldiers), but got his demission in June 1941 as being found “wehrunwürdig” (not honourable to be a German soldier). But he never gave away his Wehrpass; he knew that this document would protect him from the Gestapo when travelling from Berlin where he lived to visit his relations in Freiburg and the Black Forest. He made this journey nearly a thousand times and he often hid for weeks in a small cottage in the Black Forest.

A new perspective after WW II - in the USA

When the Second World War was over, Grimm did no longer face problems with his “half-jewish” origin. However, other restrictions started to determine his life now. In Germany’s destroyed cites 25 million women only had rags for clothing. For a fashion graphic artist like Grimm very unfavourable circumstances. Would life ever turn back to normal here? It was only now, that Gerd and Hilde decided to emigrate to the new world in June 1950 - to New York.

Gerd Grimm: Modegrafik (1950)

Gerd Grimm: fashion graphic (1947)

If you let Grimm’s graphic works of this period - between 1945 and 1950 - pass by, you feel the will of a new start under unlimited conditions by any means. The urban flair, the vibrations of the monster-city, the great modern world: everything, that had been eliminated in his works during the Nazi-period is now back. And it finds an expression in hundreds of Portraits of grandes dames, and city-scenes. The demand for these graphics quickly increases. The result: Orders from Haarper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Esquire and other US-magazines. The question may be asked what would have happened with Gerd Grimm, if he had stayed in New York further on? But New York was not the right place for his wife. She felt homesick and so the couple went back to Germany in October 1950.

front page of women's magazin (1950)

front page of a woman's magazin (1949)

Being a graphic designer in economically growing West-Germany

Back in Germany the couple bought a house. In 1952 the (handicapped) son Sebastian was born. In Germany things have meanwhile changed to the better, although in comparison to the international standards and especially to the USA, the level in graphic design is still quite low. Nevertheless, Grimm draws for firms producing swimming-suits and nylon panties for Bogner, Valmeline, Chanel-Parfums, for Black-and-White-Whiskey. He also designs illustrations for book publishers as Fischer or Deutscher Bücherbund, producing cover motifs for novels of Thomas Mann, Arthur Schnitzler, Thornton Wilder or Boccaccio.

Gerd Grimm: illustration for a book title (1965)

Gerd Grimm: illustration for a book title (1965)

As time went by, Grimm’s capabilities and dimensions as the only German fashion graphic designer working on an international level became very well known. The Faller-calendars with Grimm’s portraits of young women mentioned before were indeed an excellent means to spread out his fame. In about 1960 the style of his models began to change. In the late 40ies and 50ies he had focussed very intensively on “dames en grandes robes”, nowadays he preferred a younger, fresher type of model.

Gerd Grimm: young woman (1962)

Gerd Grimm: young woman (1962)

However, Grimm always refused to work with professional models. He didn’t like their artificial way to move and to behave. He preferred female students  from the Freiburg University or the Paedagogische Hochschule as his models. It was, however, not himself who recruited the dozens of young ladies. His wife Hildegarde was the one who went on the campus, asking young women weather they liked to do the modelling job with her husband. Since the early sixties, Grimm’s portraits of young women looked fairly like a graphic manifestation of what is well known as the “Fräuleinwunder”.

Gerd Grimm: two young women

Gerd Grimm: two young women

So on this background the situation of the Grimm family improved, although the conditions for advert-graphics in general and especially for fashion-graphics became more and more difficult. In the first half of the 20th century graphics had been a basic means to visualize a certain idea of fashion. Nowadays, in the sixties, the photorealism began to dominate not only the cover-titles of fashion magazines but also their stories, their illustrations, their ads and anything else.

The Reval Connection and its consequences

gerd-grimm-ad-graphic-reval-1974

Gerd Grimm: ad graphic for Reval (1974)

In this situation Grimm was lucky enough to get a powerful client and not to loose him for the following 23 years: the Badische Tabakmanufaktur in Lahr near Strasburg, for whom he worked continuously between 1959 until 1982. The design and the style of their cigarette brand “Reval” totally speaks the graphic language of Grimm. His Reval topics, published as well in journals as on billboards, were chosen into the top ten items nearly every year. Working for Reval, Grimm created the modern, urban human being of the western world in every day consumption situations as a graphic vision. In these years Grimm developed a sense for life style types, for their way to move, to behave, to look, to contact. At the end of the sixties, he also adapted pop art elements or collage techniques, when young people with blue faces or green hair appeared in his graphics.

ad graphic for Reval cigarettes (1970)

ad graphic for Reval cigarettes (1970)

But there were certain issues Grimm never liked to discuss about. For example, he never corrected a drawing once it was done. Either it was perfect or it was rubbish. The subject thrown on the paper in one breath had already to be the final version. The paper itself was always the cheapest he could find: Saugpostpapier, which he had got used to in bad times. But even later when he easily could have afforded better qualities of paper Grimm estimated and loved this paper’s capability to absorb the Indian ink.

Journeys around the world and the face of mankind

Thanks to the continuous Reval orders, Grimm’s economic situation became quite comfortable and he started travelling all around the world from the mid-sixties onwards. Often he came back to the USA, especially to New York where he had already lived for five months.

Gerd Grimm: South Africa (1985)

Gerd Grimm: South Africa (1985)

It is not exaggerated to claim that he was a New York junkie. The breath of this city, the noise, the smell, the atmosphere fascinated Grimm all of his life. But he also visited California, Alaska, Antigua, South-America, Africa, the Middle and the Far East. And the result of all these journeys were hundreds of graphics in which Grimm strived to fetch and to fix the human creature in it’s special way of being and appearing. This part of Grimm’s works seems to be the most intense and expressive one; However, hardly any of all these graphics have ever been published.

Gerd Grimm: New York (1982)

Gerd Grimm: New York (1982)

They show and they prove that Gerd Grimm was a cosmopolitan as well as a sensitive observer of human conditions; not only taking part in the rich side of the world, but also looking at the backside. Grimm had what can be called a social look, when he drew streams of passengers in the subway exit, dustbins in courtyards, street musicians, suburb bars and neon ad-signs. He banned slums in Bolivia or skylines of American mega cities on paper,

Gerd Grimm: bolivia (1973)

Gerd Grimm: bolivia (1973)

he documented the hopelessness of black youngsters in Johannesburg or Antigua as well as the abundance of a deserted village in Alaska - all of this with the same spirit of truth. Grimm’s intention was to show the conditions of the modern human being in its search for contact, its loneliness.

Gerd Grimm: San Francisco (1983)

Gerd Grimm: San Francisco (1983)

Gerd Grimm - the man who always hid himself in his real life - was a cosmopolitan in his graphics. Twelve years after his death it is high time to discover them.

further reading: sonnets on graphics of Gerd Grimm

Schlagworte: »

Autor: Dirk Schindelbeck
Datum: Mittwoch, 29. September 2010 7:08
Themengebiet: Reklame & Werbung