Claus-Frenz Claussen
A Physician and the Love of Steel
Pia-Maria Huber
HEPHAISTOS 3/4, 1996, pp. 12-13
Tr: Mike Spencer


Professor Claus-Frenz Claussen is famous for his ground-breaking research in neuro-otology. His second obsession after medicine is art. The professor at the University of Würzburg is a success as a self-taught sculptor in steel

A Physician and the Love of Steel

The Iron Man from the Iron Mountain -- behind this archaic alliteration stands physician and scientist Prof. Claus-Frenz Claussen, neuro-otologist and, since the seventies, a metal artist as well. In his academic role, he is a senior professor and teaches in grey flannels at the Alma Julia in Würzburg. As a metal artist, he works in welder's leathers and proletarian blue in his own studio in the Franconian town of Eisenbühl [lit. Iron Ridge or Iron Hill].

It all began over thirty years ago with a model four or five feet square with which Claussen hoped, by means of a sort of collage, to make the functional pathways of the brain comprehensible. From there, it was only a short step to more artistic creations. This first creation was just a little whatsit compared to the scale of his present work, but it led him into formal art studies, oriented around the graceful, fragile figures of Giacometti, separately conceived scultpures that can be playfully rearranged into new groups, and to "Clausen's Birds" -- these latter done, in contrast to his earlier work, with the cutting torch. These "firebirds" and "caricature birds" have led him into a new theme: mythology. Starting from his own mythological past -- he comes from a Nordic Viking line -- he succeeds in uniting the ephemeral present with the ageless stories of humanity. At first the the physician-artist "operated" on a variety of material but eventually turned exclusively to metal.

For his present monumental objects, Claussen uses huge chunks of steel plate and has them worked up to his specifications by the specialized shop of SMB Metalbau in Kaendler, Thuringia. For him, steel is the ideal medium for trnaslating his ideas into a "sensory experience". He feels this is at least in part due -- in addition to the technical aspects of steel's unique workability -- to the notion that "steel has a certain intrinsic vibration, a pulsation, an almost tremulous quality in tension with its massive weight which speaks to the feet-on-the-earth reality of the human condition." Claussen in his studio with his steel is a boundlessly energetic volcano in a fountain of sparks. Who encounters him thus and hears him break into happy laughter with his resident assistant at the successful completion of a job, will begin to comprehend the facination that posses this latterday Viking and flows from him into his work.

In 1981, the 500th birthday of Tilmann Riemenschneider, the City of Würzburg commissioned sculptures from the "annointed" big names of Franconia -- Totnan, Colonan and Kilian. Claussen wanted to create a modern counterpoint to the otherwise historical representations of the Baroque city and selected a strikingly abstract-alienated form that drew much sharp criticism.

The theme "German Mythology and Wagnerian Music" came up first at an exhibition of Claussen's at Bad Urach in 1987. At the invitation of the organizers of this music festival, he presented an exhibit of steel sculptures -- a preview of his acclaimed success in Bayreuth in 1992, "Gestalten, Götter, Gesichter aus Stahl" [Structures, Gods and Faces in Steel]. The Bayreuth exhibition showed the public a new Claussen, one that doesn't shy from monumental scale, who found inspiration for powerful expression in the larger-than-life -- German gods and heroes.

Here, too, Claussen draws together past and present, science and art. Now he knows how to paint his work in a way that the simplicity of his form can suggest symbols of primitive antecedants. The effect is to give the viewer a sense of an archaic encounter, say as of ethnic masks or of ancient cuneiform tablets. He describes the trend of his own work as "narrative sensationism". [? sensory-ism? Sensologismus -tr] To the company of archetypes and visages of German and Nordic mythology -- Siegfried and Lohengrin, dark Hagen of Tronje or the god Wotan and the fate-weaver Norns -- there now comes a green plant: The leaf of the east Asian ginko biloba. For the Old Germans it was the Great Woldtree Yggdrasil, for the modern Germans the oak. For Clausssen (as for Goethe before him) it's the ginko tree. Like the myths of old, the ginko has has survived the ages almost unchanged. A ginko tree survived even the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, perhaps man's most violent assault on nature. The two distinct forms of its leaves intrigue even the scholars. For Claussen, the leaves symbolize the contradictions and contrasts without which the world could hardly exist as well as the division of the personality of the artist between art and technology. Claussen is concentrating here on the forms of the Bauhaus (circle, triangle, rectangle), the reduction to bare essentials in contrast to masks and grotesques that are often elaborated in great detail. One of his "leaf monuments" has stood since last fall in the famous Charité in Berlin.

But he errs who thinks that the 56 year old artist is resting on his laurels. He's forever pushing somthing further, in science or in art. For some time now he's been experimenting with pictures using the spray technique. [? airbrush? - tr.] Beings from the Universe, in forms generated with specially prepared patterns, Claussen's vision proceeds...

Copyright © 1996 HEPHAISTOS Internationale Zeitschrift für Metallgestalter. Permission is granted to reproduce this article for educational or other not-for-profit purposes.