Moth (Circus Dreamer), 1990

Moth (Circus Dreamer), 1990
Pastel chalk on artist's board, 101,8 x 72,7 cm

This impressive, large-format pastel drawing is set in two different dimensions of reality.

In the foreground is the striking figure of a young boy. His right arm is stretched up against a post, and he is directing his slightly questioning gaze at a point beyond the observer. He stands beside an open garden gate and is wearing a half-buttoned shirt that reveals part of his stomach. The unusual pose gives him a very open and direct air, but also a certain physical vulnerability.

Above the boy is the second dimension of reality populated with figures from the circus world. They have been inserted into the scene like figures in a speech bubble. Two clowns and a magician peer out from behind a yellow curtain. A Pierrot in a purple cloak holds a clock in his left hand and, with his right, points to the clock face – a reference to the passing of time. The clown wears a checked jacket, yellow trousers, a white shirt with a red tie, and white gloves. His hands are raised beside his head, probably because he has just thrown a yellow ball in the boy's direction. Behind these two figures, we can make out a magician in a purple top hat that covers his eyes. He has raised his right hand to wave.

The scene is both surreal and magical in nature. But what is the message behind this striking and amazingly detailed drawing?

The series of motifs takes us into the world of dreams, which is also suggested by the title – the German Nachtfalter or "night-flying moth". The clock and two parts to the composition introduce the themes of time and changing times.

Ruth Baumgarte could therefore be addressing the shift from childhood to adolescence. The gate is open and the boy has started out along the path. He is gazing in fascination at something we cannot see. Behind him is his childhood fantasy world, which he is now leaving behind him and which he will rapidly push to the back of his mind. The ball thrown by the clown can be seen as connecting the two dimensions of the picture, for childhood experiences are never entirely erased by the realities of adulthood.

It is worth noting that Ruth Baumgarte had already used the motif of a figure leaning against a post in a similar context in her Selbstbildnis (…an der Tür) (Self-Portrait (...at the door)),of 1979. In that self-portrait, too, the image embodies a situation of change.

(Detail) Moth (Circus Dreamer), 1990
Pastel chalk on artist's board, 101,8 x 72,7 cm