The Demon Behind the Deer

March 7, 2023

Reboot Network member and artist Robert Russell’s latest exhibition Porzellan Manufaktur Allach is at Anat Ebgi gallery in Los Angeles from March 9-April 22, 2023. Find more about Robert Russell here.

The paintings of the sweet Allach porcelain figurines of deer, lambs, bunnies and puppies in my newest series are not what they appear. My paintings, exhibited at Anat Ebgi gallery, are wall-sized depictions of dainty Allach porcelain figurines – that were produced by forced labor in Nazi concentration camps and factories from 1935-1945.

As a conceptual painter, my work generally draws on ideas of memory, iconography, and mortality and I wanted to take these objects back for myself, to reclaim them as a Jewish artist, to paint them vastly larger than life, exposing them as the monstrous creations they really were/are. Originally designed as anodyne, decorative gifts for Nazi officers, my reclamation illuminates the deeply sinister story behind their production, taking away their preciousness.

This current exhibition follows my two recent presentations of porcelain “Teacup” paintings at Anat Ebgi Gallery in Los Angeles and later at Miles McEnery Gallery in New York. The project broadly continues my ongoing explorations of still life painting, Memento Mori and Vanitas, but touches on something more personal.

The Allach Porcelain Manufacturing company was established in 1935 just outside of Munich. The factory was funded by Henrich Himmler of the German Reich in order to produce the finest porcelain objects celebrating purity, Aryanism, the occult, and Germanic culture to give as gifts to the SS Soldiers. As the war progressed, the factory required additional labor and moved production to the Dachau concentration camp, where Jewish prisoners, amongst other slaves, were forced to continue their assembly. Until they were liberated in 1945, these prisoners, living in unimaginable circumstances, created figurines of such things as puppies, sheep, rabbits, German Shepards, deer, country peasants and idyllic Aryan children.

I believe that objects carry meaning. When we chant Hamotzi on the Friday night sabbath, we give thanks for the ability to craft this beautifully braided, intricate loaf from the stuff of the earth. We “bring forth” (as the prayer says) the bread with our hands. We are essentially making an artwork that nourishes our bodies. We create meaning by mixing our labor with natural materials and we thank god for THAT. We give objects their meaning with our work.

These Allach figurines were made by many jews who were being erased. I am making paintings out of these ghosts with my own body that is marked by the DNA of those people. I am turning these objects into Jewish artworks with my hands.

Read more about the series of paintings in the Los Angeles Times.