Material pictures represent a small but intriguing part of Rolf Nesch’s oeuvre. The first three, executed in 1934, were inspired by the pictorial qualities he saw in the plates for the print series he had created while living in Hamburg and during his first winter in Norway. For his next material pictures he subsequently expanded the relief depth and his choice of materials.
In Peace the two figures have been formed with contours of zinc inlaid with burnt wood, mirrors, and brass, while the underside is of blue zinc. The picture shows a German and a Russian soldier who had killed each other in hand-to-hand combat, a situation Nesch himself had witnessed in 1915 in the trenches on the Eastern Front. Twenty years later he created this simple, emotive anti-war monument. The sense of pain and tragedy is conveyed through the figures’ condensed positioning within a long, narrow frame and their tense postures and dissimilar faces: the one without eyes, like the blind mask of an executioner, the other with the staring eyes and gaping mouth of a person in the throes of death. Unlike for instance Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters, who in their collages often used recognizable objects, Nesch always refashioned the materials he employed.
In his subsequent material pictures, Nesch further refined his colouring, style, and choice of materials, such as in Herring Catch (1938/1965, House of Industry and Export, Oslo). With its rhythmic composition, dominating format, and rich interplay of pottery shards, coloured glass, and tinsel, the picture remains a principal work in Norwegian postwar decorative art.
Text: Sidsel Helliesen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0