Portland Opera Puccini

Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape

Friderike Heuer's montage series based on George Tooker's art raises timely questions of who lives or dies.



SINCE WE ARE ALL OVER THE MAP this week anyhow, I might as well think out loud about one of my current preoccupations in the art department.

As those of you familiar with my montage work know, I often appropriate partial images from other artists into my art. I am not alone in that venture: Artists more famous or talented than I have long pursued all forms of appropriation, sometimes even direct copying. A more detailed discussion in the art world can be found here.

Air France (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)

My rule has always been that I only use snippets that I photographed myself, and that the ultimate outcome – the montage – produces significant change to the parts appropriated, and provides a completely new creative context.

That said, I find myself in a novel situation with the series I am presenting to you today. It uses not just one partial painting by a single painter, but incorporates multiple works by that painter. The series is one way of my dealing with the emotions and thoughts generated by the current situation, less so about the social isolation and more about the way we as a society are distributing risk, often unfairly, and in some recent whispered discussion within the framework of accepting eugenic principles. Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?

The Tunnel (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)
Virus Whispers (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)

All the painted portraits I manipulated in the new series Fluchtgedanken – Thoughts of Escape are from an interesting guy, George Tooker; I found an old art magazine in a pile in my basement that my husband for some incomprehensible reason saved from his grandfather. It had a spread of Tooker paintings printed on grainy cheap paper, painted in the 1950s and ’60s, that I photographed. Tooker was openly gay, first living in Manhattan, then somewhere rural up North, totally engaged in the civil rights movement, including the march on Selma, and preoccupied with the fate of the working class. He had quite a bit of success with egg tempera paintings in the Social Realism style in the 1960s. I had honestly never before heard of the guy or seen his work.

At the Soup Kitchen (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)
Grand Central Station (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)
Plexiglass (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)

THE PEOPLE IN THE PAINTINGS ALL HAD SUCH A GRIPPING zombie look, such empty eyes, that they seemed the perfect representations for those being pushed or having no choice but to attend the Covid-19 frontlines. The essential workers, the nurses, the unemployed, the hungry, the people in lockdown, the ones hiding from racism – all there! Well, with a bit of imagination they fit into the roles – and with even more imagination I linked them to themes of escape, hinting at modes of getting away.


Portland Opera Puccini

Filing for Unemployment (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)
Waiting for the Bus (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)

I embedded them in montages that include a lot of linear abstractions to counterbalance the figurative work and used my older, existing work that focused on means of transportation, planes, ships, bikes, trains etc., connecting them to the figures in our constrained environment. I figured Tooker would not be offended by my recycling of some of his portraits given the shared politics and impetus to force people to think about the realities of our world through art. Then again, who knows. He’s dead. I couldn’t ask.

The Harbor (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)
Quarantine (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)
At the Airport (Fluchtgedanken 2020)

AND FOR MAY DAY, tomorrow, I’ll honor the striking workers (and recommend this from The Intercept for your perusal about the labor relations at major U.S. companies under current dangerous conditions.)

The Strikers (Fluchtgedanken, 2020)

Music is a mix of the traditional kind sung during May 1 demonstrations in the class struggle and the kind Tooker would have heard while he painted … one of my favorite albums of all time, I used to scream in sync with it…

  • Friderike Heuer’s photo essay was originally published on Thursday, April 30, 2020, on her site YDP – Your Daily Picture,  under the headline Fluchtgedanken. It is republished here with permission.


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Photo Joe Cantrell

Friderike Heuer is a photographer and photomontage artist. Trained as an experimental psychologist at the New School for Social Research, she taught at Lewis & Clark College until she retired to pursue art full time. Her cultural blog www.heuermontage.com explores art and politics on a daily basis through photography and commentary. She has exhibited most recently at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and Camerawork Gallery, on issues concerning migrants and refugees. She frequently volunteers as a photographer for small, local arts non-profits. For more information, visit www.friderikeheuer.online.


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