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Horst Janssen was a German draftsman, printmaker, poster artist and illustrator. He had a prolific output of drawings, etchings, woodcuts, lithographs and wood engravings.
Janssen was a student of Alfred Mahlau at the Landeskunstschule Hamburg. He first published in the newsweekly Die Zeit in 1947. In the early 1950s, he started working in lithography, on an initiative of Aschaffenburg paper manufacturer Guido Dessauer, using the technical facilities of a coloured paper factory. The first retrospective of Janssen's drawings and graphic works was shown in 1965, first in the kestnergesellschaft Hanover, then in other German cities and in Basel. In 1966, he was awarded Hamburg's Edwin Scharff Prize. International exhibitions followed. In 1968, his graphic art earned the Great Prize at the Venice Biennale; in 1977, his works were shown at the documenta VI in Kassel.
The Horst Janssen Museum in his hometown of Oldenburg is dedicated to his legacy. His work is shown internationally in major museums.
Janssen was born in Hamburg. His mother, Martha Janssen, was a dressmaker from Oldenburg; he never knew his father. Janssen was brought up by his mother and grandparents at Lerchenstrase 14, Oldenburg. He was adopted by his grandfather, and following his death, he was adopted by the Guardianship Court in 1939.
In 1942, he became a student at the National Political Institute of Education (German: Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalt or napola) in Haselünne, Emsland, where an art teacher, Hans Wienhausen, encouraged his artistic talent. His mother died in 1943. In 1944, he was adopted by his mother's younger sister, Anna Janssen, and he moved to Hamburg, where she lived. He lived with his Aunt Anna on Burchardstrase for the remainder of the war and the postwar period. They later moved to Warburgstrase (Harvestehude). In 1946, at the age of sixteen, Janssen enrolled at the Landeskunstschule (regional art school) in Hamburg, where he studied with Alfred Mahlau, proving to be an outstanding pupil from the outset.
Janssen's first publication was a drawing in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit in 1947. The following year he published his first book, the children's book Seid ihr alle da, with Rolf Italiaander. In 1950 his first child, son Clemens, was born and he wrote and illustrated his second book, Der Wettlauf zwischen Hase und Igel auf der Buxtehuder Heide (The race between the hare and the hedgehog on the Buxtehude Heath), for the birthday of a little girl called Friederike Gutsche. It was published in a facsimile edition in 1973.
Janssen produced his first woodcuts, influenced by Edvard Munch. Dominant themes were animals along with man and woman. In 1952, he received a Lichtwark scholarship in Hamburg. Around the same time, he was forced to leave the Landeskunstschule. The following year, he was arrested after a drunken brawl and tried for murder. He was found innocent of the charge but received a suspended sentence for drunkenness. His life was marked by numerous marriages, outspoken opinions, alcoholism, and selfless dedication to the art of printmaking.
In the early 1950s, he received a commission from the paper manufacturer Guido Dessauer for a portrait of his father-in-law, the diplomat Friedrich von Keller, followed by other portraits of family members. Janssen was able to create his first lithographs using the technical equipment of the Aschaffenburger Buntpapierfabrik. His early lithographs were shown in 2000 by the Hamburger Kunsthalle.
In 1955, he married Marie Knauer and in 1956, had a second child, a daughter, Katrin (nicknamed Lamme). During this period, he worked on a series of large-scale color woodcuts that were displayed in his apartment in 1957. Janssen gained recognition and had an exhibition in Hanover in the Hans Brockstedt Gallery in 1957. After this successful show, he suddenly switched to etching, becoming a pupil of Paul Wunderlich, whom he later considered a rival.
His marriage to Marie ended in divorce in 1959. His art was now influenced by art brut and Jean Dubuffet. A new marriage, to Birgit Sandner, was followed by a separation a few weeks later. The following year, 1960, he married Verena von Bethmann Hollweg who, in 1961, gave birth to his third child, a son named Philip.
In 1964, Horst Janssen was awarded the Darmstadt Art Prize. In 1965, a retrospective of his drawings and graphic works appeared in the kestnergesellschaft in Hanover. Wieland Schmied, the director of the kestnergesellschaft praised him as "der gröste Zeichner außer Picasso. Aber Picasso ist eine andere Generation" ("the greatest draftsman besides Picasso. But Picasso is a different generation"). His works were seen in the tradition of Goya, Ensor, Klinger, Munch, Redon and Kubin.
His position as a respected artist was bolstered by winning Hamburg's Edwin Scharff Prize in 1966. The following year, two of the most important people of his youth died, his Aunt Anna and his teacher Alfred Mahlau. Janssen moved to Mühlenberger Weg in Blankenese. The following year, he was divorced from his third wife. His art now dealt with the losses of these years. He won first prize for graphic art at the 1968 Venice Biennale. He began a love affair with Gesche Tietjens. A trip with her to Svanshall, Skåne County, in southern Sweden led to many beautiful drawings of the coastlines. His concentration on landscapes was supported by his return to etching. In 1972, he separated from Tietjen, then pregnant with his child, Adam. In 1973, he had a love affair with Bettina Sartorius. In 1975, he won another prize, the Schiller Prize of the city of Mannheim, where his large drawing retrospective was organized in 1976. In 1977, his work was shown at the documenta VI in Kassel, in 1980 at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1982 at Vienna's Albertina.
In 1990, the balcony of his house collapsed and he suffered injuries to his eyes. The city of Oldenburg made him an honorary citizen in 1992.
Horst Janssen died in Oldenburg on 31 August 1995 and was buried there in Gertruden Cemetery.
"Horst Janssen", Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horst_Janssen (Accessed 6/2/2013)
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