Ignaz Epper, born in St. Gallen in 1892, grew up in a poor and dysfunctional family with a strict Catholic education. After training as an embroidery draftsman, he was hired as a designer by the Selig company in St. Gallen and sent to Berlin. There he decided against the will of his family to pursue a career as an artist. He went to Weimar and Munich and received a federal art scholarship for his drawings in 1913. He created his first woodcuts and lithographs in this period, in which his craft talent and his very unique and strongly expressionist drawing style starts to be visible. From 1914 to 1918 he was recruited into the border service. During this time, Epper created numerous woodcuts and drawings in which he reflects upon the fears and the harsh conditions of war. In 1916 he met the Zurich art dealer and his future patron Han Coray. In 1917 he met the painter Fritz Pauli in Basel, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship.
After border service, he married the artist Mischa Quarles van Ufford in September 1919 and stayed often in Arosa and Ascona. Numerous trips, including to North Africa and the Pyrenean artists’ village Collioure, followed. Ignaz Epper took regularly part in the group exhibitions of the GSMBA and became a member of the Walze graphic association and later on of the graphic cabinet. In 1932 he moved to Ascona, where he would stay with Mischa Epper for the rest of his life. With the change of residence, Epper's art also changed. He increasingly used oils and watercolours and devoted himself to idyllic landscape scenes, nudes and religious motifs. Especially during the Second World War he withdrew more and more. After the end of the war, journeys to Spain, Italy and Holland followed and he came into contact with Carl Gustav Jung and the ‘Eranos’ circle, an esoteric group in Ascona, which influenced him strongly. In 1964 a retrospective was dedicated to him at the Stadthaus Zurich, where his woodcuts created between 1917 and 1955 were exhibited. In the same year his artist friend Fritz Pauli suffered a stroke, which paralysed him until his death in 1968. Epper suffered a similar fate in the year of his friend's death: a cerebral embolism which led to the paralysis of his left arm, making his work extremely difficult.
In 1969, at the age of 77, Ignaz Epper committed suicide. His difficult childhood, marked by an alcoholic father and a mother who always wished him to become a martyr, seemed to have been a burden for the artist until the end of his life and may have resulted in an internal disruption. These circumstances probably led Ignaz Epper to choose one of the most radical ways out of life: by burning himself in his garden in Ascona.
Epper is considered a main representative of Swiss Expressionism, mainly due to his graphic work of the 1910s and 1920s. His woodcuts and chalk drawings are characterized by a simplified, angular, and distorted visual language. These early works mostly show dark motifs that express violence and suffering. The human figure, which appears very stylized, is at the centre of his work: characterized by a bony physique and relatively large, piercing eyes. Epper's early works have their own distinctive language, which moves between Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), and represent an independent and unmistakable contribution to Swiss art.
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