Jens Wiesner on "A bisserl..." Discovering Austrian humour
Three months spent between morbid charm, arrogance and warmth: Sebastian Lörscher illustrates the Austrian attitude to life in ‘A bisserl weite... geht's immer!‘ (A bit further... can always be done!)
If you publish a book with nothing but drawings, you will soon have to face the preconceived notion that you are lazy at your work. For many artists, the sketch is after all, only the initial stage in producing the final product, the first step towards the finished drawing. And yet, the unique strength of the sketch lies in being unfinished, a quality that is inherent to the sketch.
No other art form comes closer to the moment when the artist is first kissed by the muse; when he quickly reaches for the sketchbook and pencil to capture the scene before it is irretrievably lost down the memory hole. But it is precisely the immediacy and dynamic, this vibrancy, that is too often lost when the pencil is used once again, sometime later, to make a neat copy of the roughly drawn lines.
In other words, we should see it as pure luck that Sebastian Lörscher has not succumbed to the temptation of improving the sketches he did during his three-month journey ‘through Wild Austria’. And why should he? With just a few lines, the artist manages to give us a better idea of the essence of a personality than would have been possible with a photograph – and this, despite the fact that a photograph is far more accurate when capturing the details of what is commonly understood as reality. Yes, it seems paradoxical: the more unfinished one of Lörscher’s drawings appears to be, the deeper we seem to be able to look into the souls of the people portrayed and deep into the soul of this country – Austria.
The first 70 pages are of course dedicated to Vienna. Oh, Vienna! Where else do you find decay and splendour, humour and fatalism, sorrow, rage and longing for past glamour and glory in such close proximity as in the capital of the old imperial and royal dual monarchy? Everyone here has skeletons in the cupboard, but instead of burying them six feet under, they dance with them, the dance of death, and take pleasure in robbing the dead. However, if you are particular about political correctness in word and deed, it would be better if you gave this city a wide berth.
No, Vienna is definitely not for the sensitive, particularly not for the humourless; this place where social life is characterised by a unique and special pride, a place that is happy to frequently cross the limits of arrogance, yet a place that maintains just a spark of a wink. Admittedly a wink that often remains hidden to the untrained eye of the German. Unless his name is Lörscher. ‘What draws me to Vienna is the hint of an empire that still wafts through the lanes and alleys,’ he notes. He is right.
As for making notes: The fact that several pages of this ‘graphic theatre’ are full of dialogue does not in any way allow it to degenerate into a wasteland of text. Snippets of conversation overheard by the author or his conversations in a Tyrolean mountain pasture, or while hitchhiking, are given as much importance as the visuals in this travel journal – blending tragedy and comedy in a way that can be done only in Austria. My favourite: the monologue of the old lady at Central Cemetery in Vienna who has pilfered a few flowers for her favourite grave. They have been taken from the grave of Udo Jürgens, an Austrian composer and singer, ‘because he is ornate enough.’
In moments like these, Lörscher comes across as an attentive and respectful observer who sometimes does become part of his own history but never pushes his way to the front. Even in terms of language, he avoids using the word ‘I’ in his vignettes wherever possible. When he talks about himself, it is always in the third person, a nameless ‘young man’.
This ‘young man’ has understood that the greatest humour is to be found in the daily tragedy of life. Even the favourably disposed Austrian reader would acknowledge what he has achieved. Of course not with effusive praise, but appreciative, with a brief and gracious nod. After all, one doesn’t want to overdo it.
"A bisserl weiter … geht’s immer!" Mit dem Skizzenbuch durch das Wilde Österreich. 144 pages. Hardcover. Published at Edition Büchergilde and Büchergilde Gutenberg.