Eugene von Bruenchenhein
1910 - 1983
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, in 1910 as the son of a sign painter and shopkeeper. At the age of seven, his mother Clara died and Von Bruenchenhein’s father married Elizabeth Mosley, a former schoolteacher in Panama with artistic ambitions who had returned to the United States to become a chiropractor. A free thinking woman who painted floral still lives and wrote pamphlets on things like reincarnation she would become an influential figure to Von Bruenchenhein until her death in 1938. Never having finished high school, Von Bruenchenhein continued to study botany and history, wrote extensively on his own metaphysical theories of biological and cosmological origins and the primal genesis of a genetically encoded collective knowledge. The young Eugene worked for a florist and cultivated a growing collection of exotic plants and cacti at his father's home. This passion for botany would come to shape his formal approach to art-making in an elementary way. Von Bruenchenhein worked as a baker during most of his life.
A visionary artist of unpaired creative output, Von Bruenchenhein produced an expansive universe of multiple mediums spanning from poetry, photography, ceramics, sculpture, painting and ballpoint drawing for over a 50-year period, between the late 1930s until his death in 1983. His paintings on cardboard (1950s – 1960s) resemble visions of glowing apocalyptic landscapes and iridescent vertical cityscapes inspired by the tests of the hydrogen bomb and are partially drawn with brushes made from his wife's hair. There are sculptural towers and thrones assembled from poultry bones (late 60s – early 70s) that echo visionary architectures and exotic, fantastical altars. But perhaps most remarkable are the thousands of photographs (1940s – 1950s) Von Bruenchenhein developed in a makeshift darkroom at home of his lifelong obsession „Marie” (her real name was Eveline Kalke), his wife and muse he had met in 1939 at a state fair in Wisconsin and who he believed descendent from blue blooded royalty. Shot before patterned backdrops (often curtains or bedsheets with leaf and floral motifs) with exotic costumes, strings of beads and even ornaments for christmas trees, Von Bruenchenhein turned Marie into the object of his desires in intimate vignettes: a tropical princess, a topless ingénue, a Madonna or a tinseltown vamp staged in a luscious mise en scène at their domestic Midwestern home.
Von Bruenchenhein died in his Milwaukee home in poverty. His work was discovered and publicly recognized only after his death. It was known mainly to family and closed friends during Von Bruenchenhein's lifetime.