Artist’s work debuts in U.S.

March 31, 2008  *  Skaneateles Journal

SKANEATELES – When discussing the work of his father, the late German artist Otto Dunkelsbuhler, 81-year-old Peter Dunkelsbuhler becomes quite animated.

And rightfully so.

For years, Peter, of Mandana, stored in his attic numerous paintings by his father, an artist whose works were mostly created in the years surrounding World War II.

Otto Dunkelsbuhler, a half-Jewish man who composed a lot of his pieces while on the run from the Gestapo at the height of Nazi-controlled Germany, used shades of bright light to create “synthesized” works that appealed to a society overrun with oppression and torture. He was born in 1898 and died in 1977.

Otto’s paintings were banned in Germany from 1933 to 1945, but he has since gained recognition in parts of Europe.
But here in the United States, Otto’s art has been largely ignored – until now.

On Saturday, April 5, 40 paintings by Dunkelsbuhler will see their official North American premiere in a special “one-time-only” art show and reception at the Athenaeum of Skaneateles, 150 E. Genesee St.

The Skaneateles Area Arts Council is presenting the exhibit, and the Athenaeum and Cowley Associates are sponsoring it.

Peter, who moved to upstate New York from Germany in 1980, will serve as curator and unofficial “host.”
Peter is a friend of Steven Bowman, who is president of Peregrine Management, the Athenaeum’s parent company, and Bowman agreed without hesitation to host the exhibit at the facility.

“And I can’t think of a more beautiful place than this to show my father’s art,” Peter said from the Athenaeum last week, where practically every available inch of wall space was covered with Otto’s works.

After his father passed away from cancer in 1977, Peter moved from Germany to New Hope, and brought with him several moving crates filled with Otto’s paintings, which then sat in his attic.

“I had to insulate my attic very well, because the humidity can damage the art,” he said in a thick German accent, noting that he also insulated the attic of his home after relocating to Mandana several years ago.

His father’s life was a fascinating one, Peter added.

Otto fought for the German Army in World War I, and despite losing a leg, he received the highest decoration possible for his rank.

In the years that followed as the Nazi regime slowly gained power, Otto, who had been working as a graphic artist, began to paint landscapes using bright colors, which Peter said his father did “to lift the spirits of people who saw them.”

“My father was a brilliant man, good in mathematics, design, and he read like crazy,” Peter said. “When he painted, he only wanted to impress people with his artwork, and make them forget about their political surroundings.”

Even so, Otto was persecuted by the Nazis since he was half-Jewish, and forced to hide in the Black Forest, a wooded mountain range in southwestern Germany, during World War II.

Over the years, he developed a unique style that combined realism with impressionism with added elements of cubism, which at the time was a fairly innovative technique.

This synthesis is clearly evident in Otto’s artwork, especially in his later pieces, which mostly depict realistic landscapes highlighted by thick, angular lines.

As Peter prepared for Saturday’s show last week, his joy was evident, his face radiant with pride.

“It will be just a great pleasure to introduce my father’s work here,” he said, eyes gleaming brightly.