|The Dix book begins with an authors note--
meaning me—to remind the reader that:
although Otto Dix himself as a person was real
enough the book is a novel, a work of fiction
and there are no diaries of Otto Dix to ever
This authors note precedes another note—the
translators note, the fake translator for a fake
diary (Robert Hardy, from Buffalo where else)
who serves to fill the reader in about the diaries
and how they were discovered—moldering
away in the attic of a cousin years after the war
and no one even knew they existed. He adds a
few more words, a short intro about Dix and his
times and then its on with the book.
I mention all this—and hope you are following
it—because it’s the authors preface and the
fake translators fake note/intro following that
that is my favorite part of the book.
This is a work of fiction. Otto Dix was a real person.
But there are no diaries of Otto Dix. I am not a
historian. I am not an expert on Nazi Germany. I
dont speak German and have never visited
Germany. Many of the incidents recalled in this book
did occur. But not always in the manner--or at the
times--described. The same is true of the people. I
have mostly used the names of real people--friends
and family of Otto Dix, fellow painters and other
colleagues and certain historical figures. But the
behavior of these people--including Otto Dix--has
been manipulated by the writer in arbitrary ways--
large, small and otherwise. Some of it is true, some
isnt, the rest falls in between. Its all been done for
one reason which is to serve the purpose of the
What is the purpose of the writer?
To keep the reader reading.
Why have I chosen Otto Dix to write about?
There are 3 reasons: I like his paintings, he was an
interesting man who led a full life, and he observed
at first hand a tragic but fascinating period of history.
Irony is not a word normally applied to the Third
Reich but ironies there were and in this Otto Dix
provides some choice examples.
To repeat: the character of Otto Dix as he appears
in this book possibly bears little resemblance to the
man as he actually was. Any reader wishing to form
a more independent opinion is advised to look at the
paintings. Its all in the paintings.
The diaries of Otto Dix are incomplete. They cover
the period 1922-1945. Even within this period there
are substantial gaps of months and years in which no
activities are accounted for. Dix either failed to
record any entries at these times or the material has
simply vanished. The turmoil and chaos of the war
must certainly account for the disappearance or
destruction of some of this material.
I have taken the liberty of providing some fill—
historical, cultural, autobiographical-- to somewhat
restore the thread of the narrative.
We are fortunate to have these diaries even in the
fragmented state that survives. Dix was a major
figure during the period of the Weimar Republic--a
period that witnessed a tremendous
creative explosion in the arts. There is an Otto Dix
that reveals himself via the paintings and there is
another Otto Dix revealed by the diaries.
They are the same man--there is no confusion about
this. But the diaries do serve to provide a view thru
a different sort of lens--in some ways more
penetrating and intimate.
The diaries were discovered among the artists
papers following his death. Martha Dix herself was
unaware this material existed. When the Otto Dix
foundation was established--in Vaduz, Germany in
1974--the diaries were excluded from the collection.
They remained private property. Martha Dix died in
1978. The estate was handed down to the Dix
children--Nelly and Harald Dix. We are grateful for
permission to publish.
As a writer Otto Dix displays a meticulous and
scrupulous attention to detail--qualities that figure
prominently in his painting. Also there is a chopped,
punchy tone to the style. They are chatty and riddled
with slang. They are a great pleasure to read.
But they have presented some problems in the way
of translation. I found myself obliged to do some
improvising here. The diaries have been written one
way and I have translated them another way. The
translation is also riddled with slang.
My concern was to capture the freshness and spirit of
the writing. This frequently occurred at the expense
of the German tongue.
I dont know what Otto Dix would think of this
translation. But he was a man of keen intelligence
and a sense of humor to go with and it is in this spirit
I have tried to render the work.
Buffalo, New York
Otto Dix was born in 1895 in Leipzig, Germany.
He was the second of 4 children. His father
Hermann Dix was a foundry worker. His mother was
a school teacher. Dix demonstrated a gift for
drawing at an early age and following the completion
of secondary education received a
scholarship to study at the Fine Arts Academy in
Dresden. He was 19 when World War 1 broke out.
He had already begun to acquire a reputation as an
artist and had several group shows.
Dix enlisted in the army and was assigned to an
artillery battalion. He spent the next 4 years on the
front lines. He fought in France and also on the
Russian front. He was gassed and twice wounded. He
finished the war as a sergeant.
Following the war Dix resumed his studies. He
returned to Dresden. In 1922 he received a small
grant to continue his studies and do some assistant
teaching. The diaries begin at this point.
|in the studio
I have hired a model. I must have my own model. I need
I am using Sally. I have drawn her in class. Sally is a dish.
I like a woman with big tits. Plus she has energy. She likes
the work. Some of these women pose like they are on
drugs. Its the same with modeling like anything else. The
word is enthusiasm. There is a dynamic to the
painter/model relationship. Its a collaborative effort. Some
models understand this.
We work for 40 minutes and take a break. I
make tea. We drink tea and chat. She is a
sweet thing. She has a good heart.
She asks how I became a painter.
I was always a painter. I could draw before I could read.
Back to work. So far its not happening. I try this, that and
the other. I whack out a few things that are not bad. I am
not looking for not bad. Later I will sketch from the
sketches. This sometimes produces results. Sooner or
later it always happens. You need patience to be an artist.
In the studio
I putter doing this and that. I stretch some canvas, mix up
size, add ground to the size, prepare medium and so
forth. I tidy up. I like a neat studio. The chaos should occur
on the canvas.
I enjoy these little mindless chores. They serve to warm
me up and postpone the agony of painting. Painting is
agony. It can be exhilirating, energizing, ecstatic, etc.
Then you look at it the next day and it is shit, shit, shit.
Sally arrives. We get started. I am not happy with the
pose. I pose her on her side, on her back, on her belly, I
stand her up against the wall, bent over, straddling a
chair backwards, etc.
The chair pose isnt bad but it eliminates the breasts. I
must paint those breasts.
I plug along. I play some music--american jazz. I love this
music. It gets the juices flowing. I can only paint with music.
Now I am rolling. As the musicians say--I am in the pocket.
I slash away in a fury. I love this part of the work. There is
no thinking--it is mindless.There are no mistakes. Even
the mistakes look good. You just draw. I draw, draw, draw.
The charcoal is flying. I bang out a dozen sketches. I get
one or two I like.
We take a break. I make tea. We drink tea and chat. Her
girlfriend is having problems. What are these problems?
Men problems. The girlfriend is also a model. She is
going out with a painter. I say: never get involved with an
Back to work. I have some new paper I want to try. Its
heavy with a high rag content. With it I will use extra soft
vine charcoal .
I begin. I draw and wipe out, draw and wipe out, draw and
wipe out. Everything goes on the one piece of paper. The
results can be interesting. An energy is produced in this
way. Each sketch in some way evolves or is driven by the
image that has preceded it. The erased images remain
present as ghost images. Its called the ghost technique. I
was taught this technique by a former professor. He would
sometimes spend a month on a single drawing in this way.
He would work himself into a state of such fury he would
grind holes thru the paper.
I continue. I draw and wipe out, draw and wipe out, draw
and wipe out. Once the drawing begins to happen you
switch to a pencil with a harder lead and work in a little
detail. I draw and erase and draw and erase. Its starting
to happen. There is some energy. I slash away. I go back
and forth from the soft stick to the hard pencil. I slash
away. The charcoal is flying. I love this paper!
I work in some heavier darks. I smudge and smear with my
fingers and apply the eraser to lift off and establish
highlights. I need heavier darks. I squeeze black paint out
of a tube and apply with my thumb. I add a little turps.
Black is the greatest color. Beckmann also says this. I
step back for a look.
Not bad. I turn my back to the drawing and view it thru a
small hand mirror. This provides a reverse view of the
drawing that serves to identify--we know not
why--discrepancies in the composition and clarify the
behaviour of values. Or you can turn the drawing on its
Back to work. I slash away. I am enjoying this. Tomorrow it
will be shit. This I know. But for now I am happy.
|the diaries of otto dix
reflections on sex, painting and nazi germany
|NEXT MONTH: AT THE CAFE
|It was in 1994 that my business breathed its
last. Business was bad, had been bad for some
time, I was 54 and the enthusiasm required to
reverse this situation was nowhere to be
found. The time had come to make a tough
call. So I made the call. I packed it in. I sold
my tools and equipment and what I didn’t sell I
gave to Armando my main guy. We had a last
lunch at Dianas—the tortilla queen of Carson—
and Mando said: what will you do now, boss?
He called me boss. I always liked that.
I said: I have no idea.
My philosophy is: when in doubt—play golf. So I
played golf, painted and did something else. I
began to write. I hadnt written for years and
never thought I would return to it but now ,
waiting for some brilliant insight to occur job-
wise, I had all this time on my hands and I said
to myself—why not?
I started off with some short pieces—
essay/story type pieces—operating on the
theory that if the writing sucked I wouldnt have
wasted too much time. But the writing didn’t
suck. It went well. It went so well I stopped
playing golf. I just wrote. I wrote, wrote,
wrote. In 3 years I wrote three books—a
collection of the short essay/story type pieces,
a novel about Buffalo and the Otto Dix book.
It was amazing. In the old days I put too much
pressure on myself. I would sit down to write
and it was like pulling teeth. But now was
different. It just came out—like a bowel
movement. And I knew why. Because I was 55
and over the years all this material had been
feeding itself into the writing part of the brain
and there to percolate until that moment
arrived for it all to be gathered together and to
set down as words on paper and now was that