John Heartfield exhibition : “Heartfield’s montages did not—like a well-told joke – simply combine picture and text in a provoking manner. For him, montage was more a symbolic form in which, apart from photos and texts, tonal values, the colors and structure of the material, the precisely calculated organization of the visual plane, and the imaginary visual space devised by means of retouching produced many levels of meaning. ”
John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld; 19 June 1891 – 26 April 1968) was an artist and a pioneer in the use of art as a political weapon.
Heartfield produced the first political photomontages and these became his main form of expression. In 1916, John Heartfield and George Grosz experimented with pasting pictures together, a form of art later named photomontage.
He is best known for the 240 political art photomontages he created from 1930 to 1938 as covers for the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ, Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper) satirising Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to expose fascism and The Third Reich. AIZ was a popular weekly whose circulation (as large as 500,000 copies at its height) rivaled any magazine in Germany during the nineteen thirties. Most copies of the AIZ were sold at newsstands. His anti-fascist art mocked Hitler, fascism, and The Third Reich on major street corners throughout Berlin where Heartfield lived until he barely escaped assassination by the SS in April, 1933. They were distributed using rotogravure, an engraving process whereby pictures, designs, and words are engraved into the printing plate or printing cylinder.
He was a prolific producer of stage sets and book jackets. He created book jackets for authors such as Upton Sinclair, as well as stage sets for such noted playwrights as Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator.
In 1967, he visited Britain and began preparing a retrospective exhibition of his work, “photomontages”, which was subsequently completed by his widow Gertrud and the Academy of Arts, Berlin, and shown at the ICA in London in 1969.
John Heartfield died on April 26, 1968 in East Berlin, German Democratic Republic. He was buried close to Brecht’s former home.