Erich Degner or the gift of being a painter...
Erich Degner. Painter. Life and Work.
Erich Degner. The Painter’s Life.

Life and Artistic Career

Erich Degner was born in 1940 in the city of Hamburg and died in 1979 at 39 years of age, very young in years but leaving behind an extensive and substantial pictorial legacy, replete with variations, but never losing sight of his own well-defined and highly personal style. The son of a German father and a mother from the Navarre region of Spain, his work reached maturity at an age when many other artists are still learning how to pick up a palette.

Those who had the chance to know him when he was alive have no doubt that he was highly gifted because of his clear and subtle intelligence and gift for the arts. Those who witnessed how his artistic creation developed stress his unwonted precociousness and the voracious nature of his quests in the formal and chromatic treatment embodied throughout his works.

Erich’s works began with the influence of Vázquez Díaz and Benjamín Palencia, who were his teachers when he was no more than a young boy in short trousers, but he continued his painting with glints learned from international art, such as simplification and the liberal use of material and chromatic vividness of Kokoschka; the refined sense of balancing light of Cézanne; the expressive distortion of the figures and the rigorous treatment of reality of Manet; the near photographic perception of Degas’s interiors; the essentiality of the construction of still life works, enhanced by atmosphere and light, of Morandi; and how Mondrian flawlessly handles straight lines and the use of pure colours. The great attention paid to perspective and the tireless work with materials of Pisarro, as well as the formal freedom, a forerunner of Informalism, typical of Monet, are also some of the characteristics of Erich Degner’s artistic expression.

His life’s passion was painting. At first, purely using intuition, then following the guidelines of two unique masters of Spanish painting and, finally, based on the solid conviction, as tremendous as it was unconstrained, that he was born an artist. The young Erich had his own style from a very early age, which he shaped observing the works of other great painters. Two examples of this can be found in his works “Bailarines” (“Dancers”) and “Remeros” (“Rowers”), painted when he was just seven years old. It is quite possible that he had not even heard of Expressionism and yet, nevertheless, embodies embryonic characters worthy of a great painter of this movement.

Erich was a highly versatile author, hence his extensive body of work, which he produced in an, unfortunately, very short period of time. Five self-portraits from his early work are particularly remarkable. Here the painter reveals what he feels through his brush. On occasions he confessed that he used the same technique for the physical construction of portraits as he did for landscapes. For him, the model is a mass or a soul that needs to be set in the space. We could mention many of his paintings here, but there are unquestionably several that represent what we are trying to say to perfection:

 “El Pelafurri”, that old man lost in his thoughts appears seated, but, at the same time, we could say he is getting ready to stand up. We perceive that “El Pelafurri” is travelling through his life’s experiences and that makes him rise. His two huge hands are two plots of freshly ploughed land. Degner took seven days to paint “El Pelafurri”, one week when the brush never retraced its path. The background of the painting is an ochre landscape in Navarre. Below a small stream of water gently flows, fertilizing everything in its path. The hands, so rough and large, represent work, and the sad half-open eyes cling onto the memories. They can barely see but still brood over the passing of life. It is said that the old man is thinking about his own death.

“The Portrait of the Marquis of Lozoya”, leaning back on the chaise longue in a sitting room. The reds that predominate in the painting adorn it with the subtleties, the aesthetic concerns whose passion knows no limits.

Another beautiful portrait is “Mother”. He does not draw the features, what we feel when we look at this painting is a state of mind.

Picasso said that you should only paint what you love. Erich Degner unquestionably painted the landscapes he loved and those which made him fall in love with them. Those that most strongly attracted him as they were more identified with them, by understanding and shielding his states of mind. Those where he found himself.

In his landscapes, as with all his paintings, it would be impossible to define well-differentiated and exact stages, since his work is a collection of experiences and conjecture, increasingly better coordinated and more accurate as time went by. From his urban landscapes, we can highlight Erich’s preference or attraction for towers, due to their verticality, forms and skyward architecture, present in many of his paintings.

At times, the cities take on a spiritual bent to the point of being offered to us as landscapes in full bloom. A good example of this is “Atami by night”.

We can see the Erich’s evolution in urban landscapes, with Toledo, being a prime example of this. This city was a lucky charm for the painter, and was represented by him at various times over the years. Here we can see his change in style, his brushstrokes, his different ways of seeing the same thing. Erich painted “My first Toledo” where he was just 11, and he painted the beauty of this Spanish city a further nine times, the last in 1975, at the age of 31. In the twenty-year gap between the first and the last, we can clearly see the difference in Erich’s vision. Painted with the different feelings that only a genius knows and can depict, “Toledo by night” and “Toledo with rain” are some of these splendid city portraits.

Navarre, Andalusia, Castile, Madrid, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Japan are some of the places he drew time after time. Their landscapes, their people, their lights and signs..., embodying the most characteristic elements of each place, such as the organization of Central Europe, the magic of Japan, Germanic accuracy, as well as essential spaces such as the Royal Palace and the Casa de Campo in Madrid.

Erich Degner is in full charge of the drawing and shows this in his foreshortening of animals or in those figures depicted with the smooth flow of unwavering lines, sometimes relying on a denser line or using stumps or shading that give added strength to these lines. This demonstrates that he is a complete artist that can put his hand to anything.

From the painter’s many works we can highlight a dozen where he achieves unsurpassable qualities, possibly because Degner has allowed the grey, the colour of the soul, to drip, like fine drizzle, over his canvases.

As we mentioned at the start, Erich left us on 2 August 1979 leaving behind him a prolific catalogue of work and, most of all, a place in the memory of all art lovers. Thanks to the respect and affection of his family, today we can enjoy his works and avoid them from undeservedly sinking into oblivion.
Rowers. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
Dancers. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
The Pelafurri. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
The Pelafurri
The Portrait of the Marquis of Lozoya
The Portrait of the Marquis of Lozoya. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
Mother, thoughtful
Mother, thoughtful. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
Atami by night
Atami by night. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
My first Toledo
My first Toledo. Erich Degner. enlarge painting ›
Signature Erich Degner.
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