Portrait of the Artist Dorle Lindner

Dorle Lindner, New York, 1967

Dorle was born in war-time Berlin in 1942. The month she turned two, Allied forces launched the infamous Battle of Berlin. U.S. Air Force bombardment was followed by the invasion of Russian troops which devastated the historic city. Although very young at the time, her mother later recounted to her horrific stories of how the family hid in the cellar of their house while screams and gun fire could be heard from the streets and neighbouring properties.

The Lindner family fled to the historic city of Bamberg in Bavaria – which had avoided wartime devastation – walking four days with little food and water. Aged four at the time, Dorle already had an artistic inclination and was naturally more sensitive to the world around her. She blocked out many of these memories of war and post-war Germany, for a number of years until she could start to humanise them by talking in depth to close family and friends. She never painted any of these memories – they were too dark and too painful.


The enterprising Dr. Kurt Lindner soon settled in Bamberg where he built a new factory making light bulbs and fuses. But despite the recovery of family fortunes, Dorle’s childhood was unhappy. Having started painting at the age of two, she retreated into a private fantasy world in which she drew mythical creatures and whatever came to her mind. Even from a young age, her passion was the abstract, finding still life as boring as her father’s business empire, which by then had gone international.

Packed off in her teens to a private school in Switzerland, Dorle was more interested in scraperboard art than in Latin or the etiquette expected of a wealthy industrialist’s daughter. She was completely taken by this art form of direct engraving that involves scratching a blank ink surface with a scalpel to reveal the white chalk beneath. Her scraperboard works etched over long hours – first with a hairpin and then with a professional engraver’s tool – were the art pieces that Picasso would later admire. By then, in her early twenties, her talent was becoming evident in her mastery of blade control.

Dorle Lindner, United Kingdom, 2019

In 1965, when Dorle was 23, Kurt Lindner enrolled her in the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, one of the oldest and most prestigious art schools in Germany. Founded in 1808 it was the alma mater of many notable German artists. But Dorle left the academy after just six weeks, finding nothing inspiring in the teaching. She was ‘bored stiff’ being told to paint themes like ‘A Man Walking with his Umbrella in the Rain’. “I never went to class,” she said.

She fled secretly to New York, helped by a loan from an aunt. Kurt Lindner, incensed that Dorle had quit the academy, refused to support her in any way, thinking that without money she would quickly return to Germany and art school. But Dorle persisted in New York, got a day job as a mail clerk at Plaza Hotel, and spent her free time visiting museums and learning English.

Abstract Expressionism, emerging from the legacy of Surrealism, had developed in New York since the end of World War II. The self-expression and universal themes resonated with a new generation of artists restless to get over the anxiety and pain of the war. The success of New York abstract artists would help shift the balance of power in the international art world from Paris to Manhattan.

The young Dorle was caught in the free-spirited fervour to delve deeper into the inner world of feelings, human idiosyncrasies, fantasy and the magic of the unseen. She peels an idea like an onion, layer by layer, to reach the centre. For this she needs to be very close to her own feelings, observant of people, their nature and character. She is fascinated by spirituality and believes we all have an Classification - Public aura, and this is what she searches for in people. She expresses this through a variety of brush strokes, defined lines and different textures in her venture into the inner world.

She has never abandoned the interior, although her artistic preference would soon morph from the rigour and discipline of etching to chalk pastels, which she found to be more liberating. She enjoyed the speed of application compared to etching in which control of the blade was imperative. Through trial and error, she improved her craft and would revisit different techniques over the years.

But she seemed to have discovered greater enjoyment when she worked with oils. Her oil application was heavy and vibrant. The richness and versatility are evident as her artistic conviction matured through the years, drawing inspiration also from another Spanish master, Miro. She felt an affiliation with his subtle use of shape and almost child-like imagery, which led to paintings in rapid succession including The Winter Forest’, ‘The Smoker’ and ‘Telephone Conversation’.

In the late 1980s Dorle, although not religious herself, found inspiration in her conversations with her children about Christianity and wanted to tell the Adam and Eve story her way. After careful consideration she realised she could only portray her story through scraperboard. Hence, she returned to this art form to create an array of magical creatures – her interpretation of Biblical characters, with Adam lying aimlessly on a tree branch and Eve seductively squeezing the juice of the fruit into his mouth. A large mythical snake binds them both together.

In later years, she again took up chalk pastels for a period, reproducing some earlier works as well as new pieces. Inspiration was taken from past experiences such as the birth of her firstborn, Nicholas, recounting the memories of his bewilderment of being born into this world. Other influences were through a good friend and psychologist, Takis Evdokas, who wrote a book about life after death. Dorle was fascinated by the book and created a number of interpretations using scraperboard, exploring the endless process of evolution. She saw evolution like a machine powered by air, water and heat creating new species and creatures.

She has also explored combining materials like oil paint with gold leaf and differently coloured sands. The effect is quite extraordinary, juxtaposing the earthiness of the sand against the glossiness of the oil colours. The gold leaf offers another dimension, casting reflections of light across the surface. Dorle has used this technique to explore a cross-section of topics like Brexit, immortality and loneliness.

Despite the publication of ‘The Magic Worlds of Fantasy’, Dorle eschewed publicity or any exhibition of her works in galleries. She was not interested in hype, money or fame. Her only interest was painting, and some of her works were gifted to family and friends or gifted to universities and galleries. The paintings range in size from 1.0 metre x 1.5 metres to as large as 3.0 metres x 2.0 metres.

Returning to Germany after New York in March 1967, she continued to paint even as the invisible of hand of serendipity would once more change her life – this time romantically. A Gregory Hanna, of Greek descent living in England, had dialled long-distance to a wrong number in Germany while trying to order some auto spare parts. Piqued by the well-spoken English of Dorle on the other line, he persisted for several hours on the phone despite having dialled wrongly. The next day, he was on a plane to Germany for the weekend to meet Dorle. Two weeks later the budding artist and mystery caller were married.

By then, having returned to Europe for a few years, the muse within her began to ponder the meaning of birth, life and death. Among the most remarkable oil paintings completed in 1967 were ‘Birth’, a series of five pictures entitled ‘The Mistake That Made Life’, and ‘The Ups and Downs of life'. Married shortly after these works, she would later describe the births of her two sons as her best paintings.

The artists that have influenced her most are Picasso, Kandinsky, Miro, Monet, Chagall. She draws inspiration from them as she combines pain and euphoria, often diving deep into feelings. “Paint what you don’t see, paint what you feel” was a constant refrain of the young mother to her children as they were growing up. She sought to feel the aura of a person and express through brush strokes,
defined lines and different textures.

Elder son and lawyer Nicholas now lives with his wife Canns in Singapore with their children Constance Ivy and Nathan Nicholas. Nelson, the architect, and his wife Alison and their children Benny and Evie-Boo live in England near the elder Hannas.

It was in Singapore at the home of Nicholas and his family where the mysterious hand of destiny reached out once more, triggering an unexpected encounter with a collector that has led to her artistic genius being shown to the world for the first time.

© 2020  Dorle Lindner, All rights reserved.