Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Untitled (Portrait of Artist), gelatin silver print, n.d.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Edward Complex Steel and Stone; Towers to Sun, Rain, Wind, Lightning and Earth, oil on corrugated cardboard, July 15, 1978

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born in Marinette, Wisc., and lost his mother when he was seven. His widower father, a sign painter and shopkeeper, later remarried a woman who had published treatises on evolution, believed in reincarnation, and painted floral still lifes. Although he did not finish high school, Von Bruenchenhein became fascinated with botany and science, and wrote extensively on his own metaphysical theories of biological and cosmological origins, along with reams of poetry on nature, love, war, politics, and imaginary travels through time and space. In 1939 he met Eveline Kalke (whom he called “Marie”) at the Wisconsin State Fair. They married in 1943. Marie became his constant muse, collaborating with him in staging hundreds of passionate and provocative, yet playful, pinup-like photographs.

In 1954 Von Bruenchenhein began making intricate, brightly colored “finger paintings” of atomic mushroom clouds, mythical sea creatures, fantastic landscapes, shooting comets, and futuristic metropolises, manipulating the paint with his fingers, sticks, straw and brushes made from Marie’s hair, to achieve amazing spatial effects. Later, using dried chicken bones, he made miniature chairs and thrones as well as delicate architectural spires or towers of up to five feet high. During his own lifetime, Von Bruenchenhein never achieved significant recognition for his art, and, by the time of his death, thousands of works crammed the tiny house he had shared with Marie.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Untitled (Marie, headshot in flight suit), gelatin silver print, n.d.