Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
56° F Dallas, TX

HAMMER IN THE HEART OF THE CITY

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THE TRAFFIC AND STREET NOISE AROUND Fair Park kept Rolf Konig awake until the wee hours his first night in town. The German artist was on vacation-en route to Big Bend- and was stopping in Dallas only to see his friend, art dealer Eugene Binder. But the view of the downtown skyline from the small apartment building next to Binder’s gallery at Exposition and Parry changed Konig’s plans. About 4 a.m. he took out sheets of brown paper and clutched his large-bore pastel pencil in his left fist-his trademark style.

Across the first sketch-a swirl of gray skyscrapers, freeways and automobile lights-Konig wrote, “Im Allerheiligsten,” “holy area.” Three weeks later, working day and night, one of Germany’s premier postwar expressionists- ranking with A.R. Penck and Volker Mehner-had captured his vision of Dallas in 40 colored-pencil drawings and 14 mixed-media watercolors.

Each of the works “explodes,” Konig says, around his signature hammers and hearts. Previously, Konig used the computer chip instead of the hammer as his central metaphor, but decided the image was “not strong enough” to represent the terrible might of the technological state and society-which he remembers well from his East German background. Hammers, he says, can liberate or enslave.

Opposing the hammer-“the empire of thinking”-is the Romantic symbol of the heart, which Konig says stands for “family feelings, love, everything that is not the hammer.” In the steel and glass fortress of downtown Dallas-“the Hammer Temple”-Konig saw the metropolis as both prison and cathedral to the human spirit. “I went into the city and drew first the cabin of John Neely Bryan,” he explains. “It came out of the heart. Then, much later, came the modern city, and with the idea of the modern city came the hammer, too. So we have both.

“I saw the city at night,” he says, “but also the city in the light. The skyscrapers were like crystals. In the deeper meaning of crystals, the crystal is a dead thing. It is cold, doesn’t change shape. That is the city at night-erected crystals. But it is humans doing that, not nature. You can see it lighted far away. So we have to celebrate that.”