Peter Birkhäuser
Light from the Darkness

July 16 2022

Peter Birkhäuser (1911—1976) was a Swiss poster artist and visionary painter. In his early career he produced commissioned works, like advertising posters and graphical letterings and the quality of his work soon earned him recognition. Yet in his mid thirties he fell into a deep crisis, a period of stagnation and depression. During that time, he encountered the intellectual world of Carl Jung and began to analyze his dreams. He and his wife entered Jungian analysis with Marie-Louise von Franz and over the next 35 years, he worked on more than three thousand of his dreams.

At the end of the post you find a great video
with interpretations of some of his paintings.

“Peter Birkhäuser’s paintings frequently give form to overwhelming contents from the collective unconscious whose sense only becomes apparent when seen in the context of the spiritual predicament of our times. Birkhäuser was uniquely sensitive to the subliminal issues of the age. His whole career demonstrated that his special calling as an artist was to dedicate his abilities to a greater creative spirit and use his art to reveal, not only the crisis and infirmity of our times, but more importantly the reactions and healing impulses of the autonomous psyche. His pictures act as mirrors of the soul, where things hidden within us and our age become visible. In the major themes of the paintings we can observe something resembling a collective process of individuation. This is religious art, a manifestation of an image of God originating in the unconscious, striving to become real as part of a new consciousness. The artist’s own personal individuation process becomes a gestation in paintings that circumscribe the birth of a new myth.”

Eva Wertenschlag-Birkhäuser
Windows on Eternity, Daimon 2008

The World’s Wound, 1953
In a dream this man was desperately trying to reach P. B. He personifies the tragic inner split of modern man, who through reliance on rationality has lost the spirituality of natural man. We can no longer overcome this split, but we can become conscious of it. Then the creative spirit of the unconscious could be reintegrated with our consciousness. The eye on the left is opened in fearful vision, that on the right remains skeptical and cool. It was after this encounter that P. B. felt urged to give up painting motifs of his own choice and devote himself to representing the sufferings of our age as reflected in the collective unconscious.

Lynx, 1976
The creative artist serves a spirit of nature which tries to manifest itself through him. But sometimes its enormous energy is too much for him, especially when the body becomes older. The frail human being has to surrender to the powerful god. The lynx is a far-sighted creature which can see in the dark. Its name is related to “lux” (light).

This is Birkhäuser’s last finished painting, he painted it shortly before his death at the age of 65. In the hospital bed, he was surrounded by electric sparks and feared that he would not escape.

Fire Gives Birth, 1959-1960
The sea of flames of the Godhead, which gives birth to all the colourful and wondrous forms and shapes of nature. The content is breaking out from the hot fires of libido, one could also say from the waves of emotion and excited feeling. It is creative energy. Out of it we finally emerge into the suffering and beauty of life.

At the Door, 1965
The divine creative power comes to the painter at night out of cosmic space, wanting to generate and form. Here, the man locks the door, for he is afraid of his uncanny visitor. The latter, however, actually brings light and life, as opposed to the dark, narrow space where the artist has been living.