Wols and Smallness

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This paper examines the work of the German-born artist Wols in relation to questions of scale. It focuses upon the very small, intricate drawings that Wols made in the mid-1940s, but also bears upon his close-up photographs of kitchen detritus from the late 1930s, as well as his poems and aphorisms. Situating Wols within the artistic and intellectual climate of post-war France (and with particular reference to the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and Gaston Bachelard), I explore how the teeming detail of his drawings, by encouraging very close looking into unfamiliar pictorial worlds, induces a sense of proximity and exposure. This, together with Wols’ obsessive, agitated facture, can usefully be analysed in terms of what Eric Santner has called ‘creaturely life’. In this respect, Wols’ work aligns not with the gestural abstraction of the New York School, but rather with, for example, the mescaline drawings of Henri Michaux and the microscripts of Robert Walser. Furthermore, I argue that the dramatization of the human rendered ‘creaturely’ not only has a particular purchase on the conditions of life in France in the 1940s, but also on the fate of the artwork unmoored from the form of life from which it emerged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-264
Number of pages10
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Wols
  • Drawing
  • Art Informel
  • Robert Walser
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Smallness
  • Art
  • Krcma
  • Bachelard
  • Eric Santner

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