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Runrig (1962–72) by the German artist Joseph Beuys is a collage work comprising three separate sheets of coloured paper, each of which feature a grid of paint chart samples and a large square of brown oil paint. The sheets are stacked vertically in increasing size order with the largest unit at the bottom. The sheets’ three colours, from top to bottom, are pale green, yellow and pink. All three sheets have a torn left edge. On the reverse of the collage, the upper and middle parts are signed and dated 1972 by the artist, while the bottom part is signed and dated 1962, indicating a ten-year gap between various sections of the work. This collage relates to a live ‘action’ by the artist also titled Runrig that took place in 1973, one year after the collage’s completion. The term ‘runrig’ refers to a type of arable land maintenance, most common in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and characterised by its ridge-and-furrow appearance. As the writer and curator Anne Seymour has written:
Beuys sometimes refers to plants symbolically, as in several Rosicrucian references, they can also be incorporated in sculpture and in drawings as real things, as substances … On other occasions Beuys has planted carrots in sand dunes and potatoes in West Berlin, and he has demonstrated his interest in the primitive plant life of bogs, in peat and in the rotation of crops as in Runrig (1973).
(Seymour 1983, pp.13–14.)
In the collage the paint chart colours have been neatly cut out and glued onto the paper support, with their German names stamped above or below the corresponding colour sample. In each sheet, the grid of colours increases in size, from two rows of three on the top sheet, to two rows of five on the bottom. Various colours reappear across the three units of the collage, with Beuys’s Braunkreuz oil paint covering the top two-thirds of each coloured sheet of paper. The colours include white, green, pink, lemon yellow, blue, orange, buff, antique gold and grey. The middle chart has the most roughly applied Braunkreuz, in which paintbrush strokes are visible and the pale yellow paper shows through in places. The other two are more or less uniform and opaque surfaces. Beuys’s Braunkreuz is a type of common household oil paint first used by the artist in 1958, and which he named ‘Brown cross’ after the form on which he first experimented with the paint (Seymour 1983, p.21). Its reddish-brown hue is reminiscent of rust, dried blood, and dirt, while the name evokes symbols associated with such far-ranging ideologies as Christianity, Nazism, and occultism. It features in many of Beuys’s drawings of the 1960s, from small interventions such as the triangle in Play 17 (1963) to grand painterly sweeps, for example the main element in the drawing Felt Action (1963). As Anne Seymour explains of Braunkreuz:
Sometimes a colour may be chosen deliberately so as not to have any other connotations, especially with art … It has been used in drawings … mostly sculptural in large solid areas, more as substance than colour … The inference that this is very much a sculptor’s approach to working on paper is emphasised by the grounds Beuys uses for drawings and the way he incorporates collage or mounts several sheets together into a single image.
(Seymour 1983, p.21.)
In Runrig the Braunkreuz colour could also be meant to evoke the peat earth of northern Europe, given the title’s allusion to farming and land management. The sculptural qualities of the signature oil colour may also reflect Beuys’s experimentation with peat itself as a sculptural material. The curator Sean Rainbird has charted Beuys’s relationship with the Celtic world, in particular his great fondness for Scotland. Rainbird writes of Beuys’s first visit to the country in May 1970 that: ‘Loch Awe provided Beuys with found materials for Loch Awe Piece (1970), the first sculpture he made using Scottish materials. It consists of a lump of peat, a small piece of bog pine, into which the artist cut a notch, and a length of copper tubing that Beuys bent into a “Z” shape.’ (Rainbird 2005, p.44.) The artist’s ongoing interest in Celtic landscape, culture and mythology can be seen in another work in ARTIST ROOMS, Celtic Object 2 (1980), a mixed media relief that includes a fragment of jaw bone from a hare, which Beuys often claimed was his totem animal. The curator Ann Temkin has observed that ‘Beuys’s integration of past and present, of drawing and multiple, also took form in his practice of reclaiming several early drawings to initiate larger series or to convert into multiple editions.’ (Temkin and Rose 1993, p.64.) This statement explains why the Runrig collage was produced over a period of ten years, and why it combined repetitive readymade elements with handmade painterly gestures, a practice which was to foreshadow the artist’s focus in the 1970s on producing multiple editions of both sculptural objects and prints.
Anne Seymour, ‘The Drawings of Joseph Beuys’, in Joseph Beuys Drawings, exhibition catalogue, City Art Gallery, Leeds 1983.
Ann Temkin and Bernice Rose (eds.), Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1993, reproduced p.238.
Sean Rainbird, Joseph Beuys and the Celtic World: Scotland, Ireland and England 1970–1985, London 2005.
- Acc. No. AR00657
- Medium 3 works on paper, oil paint, on board
- Size 19.70 x 16.10 cm
- Credit ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Joseph Beuys (German, 1921 - 1986)
German artist Beuys believed that art was integral to everyday life. His own art was shaped by an experience early in his life. As a Luftwaffe pilot during the war, Beuys was shot down over the Crimea and was saved by nomadic Tartars. Barely alive, he was wrapped in felt and fat which preserved his body heat, and taken to safety on sledges pulled by dogs. This incident, and these particular elements, informed much of his art, which has a redemptive, mystical and ritualistic character. Central to his work were his 'Actions', which involved teaching, audience discussion and performance. The recurrent themes were social and political. Associated with the ecological movement - he was a founder member of the Green Party - he also had a strong influence on German politics.