Born in Hagen in 1912, Emil Schumacher attends the Kunstgewerbeschule in Dortmund from 1932 until 1935, where he receives training as a graphic designer. From 1935 on he works as a free-lance painter. From 1939 to 1945 Schumacher is committed to work as a technical draughtsman in an arms factory in Hagen.
After the war Schumacher looks for possibilities for a new orientation beyond artistic tradition. Together with Thomas Grochowiak, Gustav Deppe, and Heinrich Siepmann, he founds the artists and exhibition association »Young West« in 1947. Yet he soon becomes critical of the group’s formal orientation towards the Bauhaus. In 1951 Schumacher travels to Paris. During his stay there he is confronted with the picture language of the French artists working in non-objective art (including Fautrier, Dubuffet, Michaux, Mathieu, Riopelle), who are shown in 1951 in the exhibition »Significants de L’Informel«. The works of the École de Paris, of Tachism and American Action Painting fundamentally influence his painting and his pictorial concepts in the ensuing years.
The heavy lines of his early works, which remind of Expressionism, come increasingly close to the light-filled color surfaces of French painting. In the 1950s Schumacher’s view of the picture is still weighted toward corporality and materiality. For a brief period in 1955 he joins »Zen«, the association of abstract artists.
The treatment of the surface as juxtaposition of color surface and connective drawing leads in 1956/57 to plastic and relief-like works, which Schumacher callsTastobjekte. With these relief structures made of wire mesh, plaster or paper maché he explores the limits of the two-dimensional picture. Importantly, the process of emergence of these works is always granted visibility. In 1957, paintings oriented toward materiality follow, in which paint surfaces, saturated with pigments, contrast with black lines that are violently gouged into the surface. The gestural ductus now refers also to the destruction of the picture support. Next to the material aspects, landscape also becomes important for Schumacher (Djerba-Series, from 1969), as well as the relations of traces to gestural inscriptions.
From 1958 to 1960 Schumacher assumes a professorship at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. His pictures are presented in many international exhibitions, for example, in 1959, 1964 and 1977 at the Documenta 2, 3 and 6. From 1966 to 1977 he teaches at the Akademie der Künste in Karlsruhe, and between 1967 and 1968 at the Minneapolis School of Art.
In the Hammerbilder, which evolve from 1966, Schumacher first reworks doors, then carpenter’s tables with the hammer. Through this destructive process he guides the gaze to the inner world of objects and into the depth of the material. Paper, sisal thread, or lead, are brought together in his paintings. In addition to canvas, wood, garbled paper and lead are used as picture surfaces (Paracelsus, 1967).
The colorfulness of earlier works changes in later works again. Above all strong color values such as luminous ultramarine blue, but also fiery red and bright yellow (Palau, 1985) now determine the color palette. In addition many graphic works on paper evolve. In the works of the 1990s representational reminiscences appear.
Schumacher belongs to the founders of a new form of painting reduced to few lines and colors that came into being after world war in Germany. He is the most significant representative of German Art Informel. From 1971 on Emil Schumacher resides in Hagen and in Ibiza, where he dies on October 4th, 1999.
Informel: Forschungsprojekt Informelle Kunst, 3 Bde, hg. v. Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund 1999 — 2004
Emil Schumacher und das Materialbild: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Hamburg, hg. v. K. Bretschneider, Hamburg 1998
Emil Schumacher, Retrospektive: Ausst.-Kat. Haus der Kunst u.a., München 1998
Emil Schumacher, Malerei 1936 — 1991, Zum 80. Geburtstag: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie im Städel, hg. v. K. Gallwitz, K.u. R. Fuchs, Frankfurt/M. 1992
Brunner, R.: Emil Schumacher. Das informelle Werk, Gießen 1992
Emil Schumacher, Werke 1989 — 1992: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, hg. v. J. Christian, Düsseldorf 1992
Emil Schumacher, Späte Bilder: Ausst.-Kat. Nationalgalerie Berlin, hg. v. M. Herrmann, Berlin 1988
Schmalenbach, Werner: Emil Schumacher, Köln, 1981