John Heartfield

"The painter paints his pictures with paint, and I do it with photographs."

- John Heartfield, 1967

John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfelde) was a book designer, photomontagist, and stage designer. He is recognized by many as the originator of the photomontage technique, the practice of using two or more photographic elements and integrating them into a single image. Heartfield was a communist and used his work as a tool for social criticism and political agitation.

Helmut Herzfelde and his siblings were abandoned by their parents and spent the better part of their childhood in the care of guardians. His education included an apprenticeship in a bookshop in Wiesbaden, and several years at the Royal Bavarian Arts and Crafts School in Munich. Following his graduation he worked as a commercial artist in Mannheim, it was there that he completed his first book design. Later he moved to Berlin to study at the Arts and Crafts school.

In 1914 he was conscripted into military service. His experiences as a soldier in World War I lead him to believe that art must take into account social realities. In 1916 he changed his name to John Heartfield in protest against the German nationalistic slogan "May God Punish England". Two years later he became a member of the Berlin Dada Club and that same year he officially joined the German Communist Party.

The late 1910's early 1920's were an exciting time for Heartfield; his reputation as a graphic designer was growing as was his involvement with various communist print publications. His circle of friends included George Grosz and Hanna Höch as well as his life long collaborator, his brother Wieland Herzfelde. From 1931 -32 Heartfield travelled to the USSR to present his work and lecture on behalf on the newspaper USSR in Construction. While in the USSR he became acquainted with artist Alexander Rodchenko.

In 1933 Heartfield fled Nazi persecution in Germany settling in Czechoslovakia. Five years later he was forced to flee again, this time he travelled to England. Heartfield returned to East Germany in 1950, where he worked as a professor and designed theatrical sets until his death in 1968.

Adolf the Superman Swallows Gold and Spouts Junk, first appeared as an illustration in the socialist weekly Arbeiter Illlustrierte Zeitung (Workers Illustrated Newspaper) in July 1932. The theme of Hitler and money is a reference to the financial support that the Nazi party received from wealthy industrialists; it is a subject that Heartfield addressed in several other images.

Photo: Aleksandr Rodchenko. Portrait of John Heartfield. Photograph, Moscow 1931. Stiftung Archiv der Akademie der Künste, Berlin, John-Heartfield-Archiv, No. 589