Alexander Schawinsky in his play Olga Olga
Alexander Schawinsky in Bauhaus Musical Group
Alexander Schawinsky in Ascona, Sul Ponte Maggia
Alexander Schawinsky, last portrait with a personal inscription
Alexander Schawinsky attended school in Basel from 1910 to 1914, and then high school in Zurich from 1915 to 1921. He apprenticed at the architecture office of Theodor Merill in Cologne until 1923. After visiting the Berlin School of Applied Arts for a short time in 1923, Alexander Schawinsky enrolled in the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1924. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Adolf Meyer, and László Moholy-Nagy were among his teachers.
Theater became the very core of Schawinsky’s aesthetic universe throughout his life. Schawinsky’s works of the early Bauhaus years are paintings, sketches, and photographs illustrating his innovative theater plays, such as Circus, Olga Olga, Tiller Girls, and Feminine Repetitionen. Some photographs show the artist as a performer in fantastic costumes.
At the Bauhaus, Alexander Schawinsky began developing his ground-breaking concept of Spectodrama. Spectodrama represented an early idea of total theater where all aspects of the stage become independent agents.
Schawinsky’s multifaceted role at the Bauhaus was documented in the original 1938 Bauhaus exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, organized with the help of Herbert Bayer, fellow Bauhaus student, and teacher, and Walter Gropius, founder, and director of the famed 20th-century school. This pivotal show of MoMA’s early days included a prominent group of Schawinsky’s theater and architecture paintings, his experimental photography, innovative graphic designs, ultra-modern costume, set and exhibition designs, and his avant-garde theater and music work.
When the Bauhaus closed in 1933 Alexander Schawinsky first went to Italy. In Milan, he worked for the Studio Boggeri. He designed the outstanding posters and product designs for Motta, Illy coffee, and Cinzano. He also co-designed for Olivetti the typewriter Studio 42. Schawinsky‘s posters and products were to become classics of the commercial design of the 1930s. In 1935 the political situation in Italy forced him to leave once more. Alexander Schawinsky went to London where he married Irene von Debschitz, the daughter of the director of the Debschitz-School in Munich, an art school having anticipated some of the Bauhaus ideas.
In 1936, Hans Albers secured Alexander Schawinsky and his wife safe passage to the United States to teach at the later legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In charge of theater arts, he expanded his ideas for the experimental theater to a multi-media "total experience."
In 1938 political disagreements among the faculty led him to move once more; this time to New York City. Upon his arrival, Alexander Schawinsky collaborated on prize-winning pavilion designs for the 1939 World’s Fair with colleagues Walter Gropius, Herbert Bayer, and Marcel Breuer. In 1939 his first son Ben was born.
In New York among the tight-knit ex-patriot cultural community centered on the activities of gallerist Julien Levy, Alexander Schawinsky for the first time experienced again a sense of safety and integration. His status as a new-comer afforded him unique and new perspectives on his life and the arts. He began to compose his existential works with images that speak as clearly as words.
In the early 1940s, Alexander Schawinsky developed close relations with American and emmigrated artists who had gained prominence in the pre-war milieu of modern art. He focused his practice in the following years on a painting, drawing, experimental photography, and commercial graphic design. He experimented with glass negatives for a series of collaged photograms, the motifs often based on the ultra-urban skyline of Manhattan.
From 1943-1946 Alexander Schawinsky taught at the City College in New York. In 1946 he started working on a book on Walter Gropius. The manuscript of Schawinsky‘s writing survived, but the book was not published due to disagreements between Gropius and Schawinsky in the course of planning.
From 1950-1954 Alexander Schawinsky taught at various departments at New York University. During the same years, he focused more than ever before on his painting practice. He began to create a body of abstract paintings in which he revisited from experiments of the 1940s, the Eclipses.
In 1953 Alexander Schawinsky received his first solo show featuring 35 paintings, graphic design, and sculptural works at the Hugo Gallery in New York. In 1956 he created his first Dance-Painting, a large scale canvas on which he imprinted marks of his shoes from dancing on the surface forming chance operating patterns.
Soon after Alexander Schawinsky revisited his theater work of the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College time. In 1957 he writes a second Spectodrama Mondo Nova which thematises the conflict of the individuum with an all-consuming environment. Schawinsky‘s last big scale project in the United States are his Track Paintings. He prepared giant canvases with paint and drove with his sports car over the surfaces, creating another series of interventionist paintings.
While spending increasingly more time in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Nothern Italy, Alexander Schawinsky gets commissioned by the Stadt Theater Basel, his former home town, to create the set and costume design for a Sergej Prokofjew ballet.
In 1963 Alexander Schawinsky married his second wife Gisela Hatzky in New York. In 1966 he builds a studio house at Laggio Maggiore. He designs the architecture and interiors himself in the style of the Bauhaus.
In 1967 Alexander Schawinsky began his last significant abstract painting cycle of the Sphaeren. Overlapping compositions of circles and color fields are seen through several layers of gauze affixed to the front of the canvas, a technique that creates intriguing optical effects. As in his 1950s responses to Abstract Expressionism, he reacts here in a highly innovative way to a new upcoming genre of Op Art.
In 1968 Alexander Schawinsky is represented with numerous works in various disciplines in the Stuttgart Bauhaus retrospective exhibition 50 Years of Bauhaus which tours worldwide. In the following year, he begins to write his autobiography which remained unfinished but covers his youth, the Bauhaus years, and the beginning 1930s.
In 1972 his second son Daniel was born.
In 1975 a comprehensive solo exhibition of Schawinsky’s work is held in the communal Galleria d’arte moderna in Bologna, Italy. 150 works are exhibited from all of his work phases. In Bologna he collaborates with a group of students on the reconstruction and re-enactment of his theater plays from the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College time.
Alexander Schawinsky died in 1979 in Locarno.
In 1936, Alexander Schawinsky married Irene von Debschitz (1903-1990), the daughter of Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski, and their son Ben was born in 1939. In 1963 he married Gisela Hatzky, and their son Daniel was born in 1973.