Bruno Schleinstein

1932 - 2010

  • untitled, mixed media on paper, 30 x 21 cm
  • Kaspar Hauser, mixed media on paper, 30 x 21 cm
  • untitled, mixed media on paper, 42 x 29,5 cm
  • untitled, 1996, mixed media on paper, 40 x 30 cm
  • untitled, 1996, mixed media on paper, 79,5 x 70 cm
  • untitled, mixed media on paper, 30 x 21 cm

Bruno Schleinstein was born illegitimate in Berlin-Friedrichshain in 1932. He grew up in children’s homes and psychiatric institutions of what was then National Socialist Germany. After final release from this institutionalized existence in 1956, he worked in factories and busked on the back streets and courtyards of Berlin, singing ballads and accompanying himself on the accordion. In the 1960s, he began his first drawings in which he included lyrics for songs.

Schleinstein became famous after he was seen by film director Werner Herzog in a 1970 documentary about Berlin’s outsiders. Herzog cast him in the title role of his film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), a film that won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1975. The character of the “mysterious foundling” seemed to have been tailor-made for him and his authenticity and presence impressed audiences deeply.

However, the painful experiences of his youth, the violence and neglect, haunted him. These feelings are revealed in his drawings. The scenes, often sketched in black and white on a grid, show human beings subject to strain and sadness. As merciless as they are tender they tell of jealousy, greed, lies, and deceit. Schoeneberg in the Month of May depicts a couple kissing in the street while an old organ grinder turns the crank of his organ seemingly ad infinitum.

Schleinstein worked long on each painting; he made preliminary studies and collected motifs and newspaper articles. Quotes from his song lyrics or short concise titles verbalize the nightmarish scenes in his paintings. Characteristic of his artwork is the intertwining of a longed-for ideal (depicted in glowing color) and the darkness of sorrow, of sober determination, and sly comic humor.

Bruno Schleinstein was a pensive, perhaps lonely man, whose pictures are testimony to an intense communicability and an extraordinary power of resistance. Bruno Schleinstein died in Berlin, in 2010. The entire estate which besides paintings and drawings also comprises collages and writings is in the possession of Galerie Zander.