A NEW exhibition at the Sayle Gallery, Art Beyond Exile, is a major retrospective of the work of renowned Austrian artist and writer, and former Isle of Man internee, Ernst Eisenmayer.
Born in Vienna in 1920, Eisenmayer fled in 1938 to avoid Nazi oppression but was arrested and imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp.
His subsequent release was secured by a sponsor in the UK.
Once in Britain, working as a trainee toolmaker, he was classified an ‘enemy alien’ and interned, eventually reaching the Isle of Man in the autumn of 1940.
After his release in August 1941 he moved to London, where he lived and worked, establishing his artistic career as a painter and then a sculptor.
Eisenmayer, whose early drawings record pre-war Vienna, engages with the turbulent history of the mid-to-late 20th century in his rich body of work.
He was included in the Forced Journeys exhibition (Ben Uri Gallery, London 2009; Sayle Gallery, 2010) which marked the 70th anniversary of internment in the Isle of Man.
This new exhibition, curated by Professor Fran Lloyd of Kingston University, London, first opened at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London in February and moves to Douglas this month.
It is the first retrospective of Eisenmayer’s work in the British Isles.
Chairman of the Sayle Gallery Roger Phillips is delighted to welcome such a prestigious exhibition to the Isle of Man. He said: ‘Ernst Eisenmayer’s work Strip Poker was amongst the images chosen to illustrate the Forced Journeys exhibition in 2010.
‘Visitors commented on this powerful work by a major artist, and we are fortunate to now have this opportunity to show Eisenmayer not just as an internee but also as an influential artist of the 20th century, and to introduce his wide ranging works, from drawings to sculptures and jewellery, to a wider audience.’
More than 100 works produced over a period of 75 years are in the Sayle Gallery exhibition, which opens tomorrow (Friday), including drawings made during Eisenmayer’s time in the Isle of Man, portraits of fellow internees and a poignantly serene watercolour of the Central Camp in Douglas, alongside a filmed interview with the artist who vividly recalls his time in the island.
Reflecting events further afield is a 1945 oil panel Hiroshima, Eisenmayer’s stark response to the horror of the dropping of the nuclear bomb in Japan.
In addition, the exhibition includes vivid recollections of Nazi oppression of Jews in Austria and mistreatment of inmates in Dachau concentration camp, his powerful depictions of war time and post-war London and its inhabitants, a series of self-portraits, and his remarkable carved and cast heads and figure sculptures produced from the mid-1960s.
Eisenmayer is now 91 years old and lives in Vienna. Unable to travel himself, his daughter Jan Daws will be visiting the island for the first time during the exhibition.
‘I am looking forward to seeing a place which my father remembers fondly and with much humour, despite circumstances as an internee being not exactly luxurious,’ she said.
‘From the rough crossing from Liverpool to the hot summer of 1941, he remembers his life on the island as being interesting and busy, and he formed life-long friendships with several fellow internees who are recorded in his drawings.
‘The Isle of Man was indeed an important episode in my father’s life and, this exhibition at the Sayle Gallery will now help us all to be both involved in, and recall, those funny and poignant memories.’
This exhibition is a departure from the Sayle Gallery’s usual programme, but David Wertheim, from the Arts Council, says this is part of the Gallery’s remit to promote visual arts in the Isle of Man.
‘We are extremely fortunate that the Arts Council has assisted the Sayle Gallery in bringing this fascinating exhibition to Douglas,’ he said. ‘People in the Isle of Man have a unique opportunity as this is the only time a full retrospective of a living artist interned here during the Second World War will take place in the island.
‘Few people have led a more eventful life than Ernst Eisenmayer. A refugee from his native Austria, he used his artist’s eye and personal experiences to capture the very essence of the people, the events and the traumas of the last century.
‘Though Eisenmayer has not sought fame or fortune, his powerful interpretations stand comparison with and were admired by many leading contemporaries, including Oskar Kokoschka, Victor Pasmore and Elisabeth Frink. This unique exhibition, with its strong Isle of Man connection, should appeal to everyone as a celebration of life and survival – not just of one remarkable man, but also of mankind.’
Exhibition visitors will be able to share Eisenmayer’s own artistic assessment: ‘There is just good work and there is from bad to indifferent. No “art-speak” can make a proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Good art simply speaks for itself.’
The exhibition, which is sponsored by the Isle of Man Arts Council, Sefton Group plc, Skandia International, Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Austrian Cultural Forum and Kingston University London, runs until Thursday, May 10.
The Sayle Gallery is in the Villa Marina Arcade, Douglas, and is open 10am – 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, 1.30pm – 4.30pm on Sundays and 1pm – 5pm on Mondays.
Admission is free.
For more information call 674557 or visit www.saylegallery.com.