Matthias Maaß


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Material / Technique


Art eras/ styles

Cataloque raisonné:

Matthias Maaß



Ink and watercolor on paper

29,7 x 21 cm

Contemporary / Art Brut


About ‚verkehrt

The artwork „verkehrt,“ created by Matthias Maaß on April 29, 2018, features an abstract portrait of a female figure in ink and watercolor on paper. A distinctive feature is the unconventional depiction of the eyes and forehead, appearing rotated by 90 degrees. This twisted view could symbolically represent a „twisted“ worldview, a dystopian vision, or the expression of mental illness. 

The color palette of the work is predominantly in subdued, earthy tones, making the red and yellow elements particularly stand out. The painting technique reveals an interesting dynamic: while the lighter watercolors were applied softly with a higher fluid content, the darker, rapid strokes indicate a certain impulsivity, punctuated by moments of pause. The fine ink lines that provide detail also partially exhibit this slowing of brushwork. This contrast in painting techniques contributes to the intense expressiveness of the work.

The Impact of Deviation

In analyzing the work, the portrayal of the „twisted“ eyes is particularly striking. This unusual design opens up a fascinating discussion about the perception of „correctness“ and „wrongness“ in art. The spiral eyes, a common stylistic element for depicting hypnosis, emerging madness, or a break from reality, and as a central body of human expression, are deliberately turned against conventional portrayal here. Their spiraling and twisting challenge the viewer to question their own perception of normality, leading to an internal debate on what is considered „right.“ The intuitive impulse to compare the figure with an idealized, „right“ version of itself – „if the eyes were not turned upside down, then…“ – reflects our deeply ingrained notions of norm and deviation.

Had the eyes been portrayed in a conventional manner, a completely different expression would emerge, possibly a steely, penetrating gaze. However, the actual twisting breaks with this expectation and deviates from the norm. This deviation not only loosens the expression of the figure but also softens the potential intensity and directness of the gaze. It creates a kind of visual movement, typically expressed through emotional states in faces. The actual twisting, however, eases the intensity of the gaze and reduces the potential threat, while simultaneously creating emotional movement. This is further amplified by the dynamically painted hair.

Subtleties in Detail

The lips of the figure are gently smiling, hinted at by a quickly drawn ink line. Above the orange-red mouth lies a layer of translucent, brown-gray watercolor. The partial omission of color, leaving a third of the face in the natural paper color, is also interesting. The yellow semicircle above the eyes, representing the forehead, and the clothing, pick up the yellow color, creating a visual connection in the image. The hair is portrayed as large, overlapping masses without individual strands, contributing to the abstract overall design. Despite the abstraction, it’s clear that the artist possessed a profound talent and understanding of portraying faces.

The Title ‚verkehrt‘ and Its Implications

The word „verkehrt“ in German has several meanings and nuances. It originates from the verb „verkehren,“ which originally meant „to go back and forth,“ „to turn around,“ „to change.“ Over time, additional meanings developed, including „wrong“ or „not right,“ often implying a deviation from the norm or the expected.

In art, the concept of „verkehrt“ can be interpreted in multiple ways. The word can symbolize a reversal or a change of perspective, both literally and metaphorically. In abstract art, this could mean that traditional views, techniques, or art forms and practices are reversed or questioned. Thus, the turning of the eyes can refer here to a new form of expression, a change in perspective.

In art research, engaging with the concept of „verkehrt“ can help expand the boundaries of conventional understanding of art and gain deeper insights into the cultural, social, and philosophical contexts in which art is created and received. It promotes critical thinking and questioning of conventions, which is essential for the development of art and its role in society.

The title „verkehrt,“ prominently placed in the upper area of the image, functions less as a direct statement of the depicted figure but more as a kind of headline or external attribution. This placement of the title reflects how society often labels people who deviate from the norm. This arrangement could thus be interpreted as the artist’s critical reflection on societal structures and the tendency to categorize deviations, challenging the viewer to think about the cultural, social, and philosophical contexts of art.

Matthias Joachim Maaß

Matthias Joachim Maaß, born in 1958 in Heidelberg and passed away in 2019, was a multifaceted artist whose work was shaped by personal experiences and travels across Europe. After the early loss of his father, he utilized art as a medium to express his emotions. Maaß, who established himself in the art world in the 1980s, was renowned for his expressive ink and watercolor portraits. His notable inclusion in the Sammlung Prinzhorn collection and his association with art brut further underscore his unique position in the art world.

Maaß’s Artistic Philosophy

Maaß viewed himself as a researcher and seeker. His paintings possess a contemplative aura, a unique mystery, revealing new levels of perception upon each viewing. His artistic creation was diverse. While his „day images“ served more as a documentation of his current emotional state, his more complex grid images resulted from weeks-long engagement with profound subjects. His works, often small-scale and intuitively created, testify to a deep engagement with inner emotional worlds. He was known for his artistic exploration of complex themes and his experiences in psychiatry.

Many of his creations, such as the notable „Das Totenmahl,“ have been acquired by prestigious collections, exemplifying his influence in the realms of art brut. That which is often known as „outsider art,“ refers to art created outside the boundaries of traditional culture and society, often by self-taught or marginalized artists who have had little or no formal artistic training. Maaß leaves behind a profound and diverse body of work that continues to captivate and mesmerize viewers.