The painter and film-maker - Jürgen Böttcher/Strawalde

Böttcher talks about his understanding of painting, his themes and the roots of his creative drive. The most important extracts from his great range of work as a film director have been selected and are accompanied by his own commentary.

Strawalde gives an assessment of his present position as a painter and film-maker and the plans he has for the future.

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Today Strawalde is one of the best known and most respected artists of the former East Germany. Jürgen Böttcher was born in1931 in Frankenthal/Sachsen the son of a teacher who had been sent into early retirement by the Nazis.

He grew up in Strahwalde, a village in Oberlausitz, from which he later took his professional name. The cruelty of the Second World War and the years of Fascism have left a lasting impression on him.

From 1949 to 1953 he was a student at the Academy of Art in Dresden in the newly formed German Democratic Republic and here he studied painting under Wilhelm Lachnit.

From 1955 to 1955 he taught at the Volkshochschule Dresden and got to know the young workers who studied there. One of them was Ralf Winkler who, as A.R. Penck became one of the most important German contemporary artists after he moved to the West.

In 1961 Böttcher portayed his young artist friends in his first documentary film for DEFA.

Jürgen Böttcher had no wish to become a documentary film-maker. But while he saw no place for himself in the Socialist Realist school of painting between the years of 1955 to 1960 he took a course in film direction in Potsdam Babelsberg to make feature films; these were not intended to be artificial entertainment films but films that used actual locations and ordinary people in authentic stores as did the Italian Neorealists Rosselini and de Sica. He saw his earlier work from 1961 in documentary films at the DEFA studios as a preparatory to this purpose.

Since 1961 Böttcher directed all together 55 films for the DEFA studios, documentary films as well as one feature film. He remained on the DEFA permanent staff as a director of documentary films until 1991.

In East Germany in the 70’s and 80’s Jürgen Böttcher was by far the best known documentary film director. Alienated, humiliated and proscribed by the authorities he was admired by cineasts and the audiences of Art Film Cinemas. His films created a style and orientation and were a subversive example for a generation of East German film-makers.

At the Leipzig Film Festival for Documentary film he won prizes for his industrial subject "Ofenbauer" (1962) and for his study of female workers in a light bulb factory "Stars" (1963). Until the end of the GDR Böttcher’s career veered between recognition and condemnation.

Jürgen Böttcher – Strawalde remained in East Germany unlike many of his friends and colleagues who relocated in the West.

After the collapse of the GDR Böttcher was the first documentary film-maker from the East to take his place in the Pantheon of all-German film history. In 1992 he received the Filmband in Gold the highest award the State can bestow on film-makers. In 2001 this was followed by the Order of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Strawalde the painter pursued his art in the GDR with almost no recognition from the public. After he was expelled from the Society of Fine Art in 1961 there was no way the he could earn his living in his chosen profession. True he could participate in exhibitions but he had to wait until 1978 when at the age of 47 he was allowed his first one man show. After the reunification of Germany Strawalde immersed himself in a fury of creativity. His painting is strongly tied to that of the Classical Moderns. In much of his work of the early 90’s he deals with the theme of German reunification. Although not as prominent as his former friends and despite many exhibitions in well-known galleries and even in the German Chancellor’s office, his work has found little response in the art market.

In his attempt to realise his ideal of a humane socialism in a dictatorship Strawalde has experienced hurt and humiliation. But it has not broken him.

Strawalde/Böttcher is one of the greatest figures in German contemporary art. Half a century of German history seen through the eyes of a critical intellectual is reflected in his work.

The extracts shown in this report are taken from the following films:

1961 Drei von vielen, 35 min.
1964 Barfuß und ohne Hut, 26 min., black & white
1966 Jahrgang 45, Spielfilm
1981 Venus nach Giorgione, Teil 2, 21 min., colour (from the trilogy Experimenteller Film)
1981 Frau am Klavichord, Teil 3, 17 min., colour(from the trilogy Experimenteller Film)
1984 Rangierer, 22 min., black & white,
1990 Die Mauer, 100 min., colour

Other important films:

1962 Ofenbauer, 15 min., black & white
1963 Stars, 20 min., black & white
1972 Wäscherinnen, 23 min.,black & white
1974 Erinnere Dich mit Liebe und Haß, 40 min., colour/black & white
1976 Im Lohmgrund, 27 min., colour
1978 Martha, 56 min., colour
1984 Kurzer Besuch bei Hermann Glöckner, 32 min., colour/black & white
1986 Die Küche, 42 min., black & white
1987 In Georgien, 107 min., colour
2001 Konzert im Freien, 1, colour


Paris, Centre Pompidou, 1986
Edinburgh, 1988
Frankfurt a.M., Filmmuseum, 1989
Paris, Jeu de Paume, 1993
Belfort, Festival du Festival, 2000
Bologna, 2000
Leipzig, 2000
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2005
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