Beuys considered drawing to be a “thinking medium” that helped him work out ideas for sculptures and other objects. He applied various inorganic and organic substances to notebook paper, a support he imbued with social and spiritual significance throughout his career. In the 1950s and early 1960s, beuys adopted motifs from Nordic myths, Christianity, shamanism, and German history. His iconic Braunkreuz (brown cross) stamp is layered with meaning. It embodies a spiritual, unified view of the world—an ideal state that for Beuys was symbolized by a beehive. Brown is the color identified with Nazi Germany and the color of the paint widely used at midcentury to seal the wounds made where branches were cut off trees. Many German artists of the time used this paint, fascinated by its dual associations with the country’s dark history and with healing.
Gallery label from Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection, April 22, 2009–January 4, 2010.