Guest Chef September 2021
The exhibition combines seven artistic positions from South Africa, France and Austria. The works could not any more heterogeneous, but the artists all have in common their commitment to painting – and to its contemporary relevance. In some ways, “Powerful, Beautiful, Colourful” also refers back to the previous exhibition “Over the Rainbow”, with the diversity of nature, the seen, moods, incidences of light and structures of the plant kingdom being motifs in many of the present works as well.
Francesco Petrarca saw something contemplative in landscapes. His ascension of Mont Ventoux in April 1336 is regarded as the first recorded mountain hike merely for the sake of curiosity and because of a desire to gain another perspective. Deeply moved, he reported about it in a noteworthy letter to his friend Francesco Dionigi. The hike in the mountains delivered inner discoveries and an expansion of his awareness. This reflection is probably where the particular significance of the event lies. But what do nature and landscapes mean to us today? It is difficult to create a uniform definition. Landscapes are seen from different perspectives, and poetic and idyllic references are still very important. Our concept of beautiful landscapes persists stubbornly and is in opposition to the actual occurrence of such paintings. Landscapes have not just fundamentally changed since industrialisation. In previous epochs nature was also shaped into cultivated landscapes; but the speed at which we are decimating nature has radically increased. This is why philosophers such as Francois Jullien or Timothy Morton advocate for a new view of landscapes where there is no separation between nature and people. According to Jullien, the term “landscape” in Europe has “lingered in an immobilism that appears strange” since it emerged in the middle of the 16th century. Is our concept of nature still up-to-date, and how do we as artists handle the tradition of presenting landscapes and nature as this topic becomes increasingly explosive? Are art and nature systems in themselves, and what happens if the theme of the art relates to nature when nature itself becomes the motif? And what do we actually mean when we talk about nature, landscapes or even wilderness? Must we actually already place nature under a glass dome, like the French artist Nicolas Marciano does in his paintings? And as artists today, do we have to always describe the fragility of landscapes, or can nature, fruits and plants also serve as a conceptual framework, as the starting point of painting processes – solely to deal with painting, its power and colour values as well as its immanent parameters such as light and space on the canvas?
The exhibition impressively shows the variety of ways that painters can handle the topic as well as the various artistic concepts of form and image conceptions. It also shows that traditional topics such as still lifes and landscapes are still relevant today. Even though naturalistic presentations are predominant, artists develop their own world on canvas, which attempts to seek out the origins of every kind of composition and to bring the themes and motifs to a different, perhaps unusual level. Painting is particularly able to go beyond what can be described and to focus on content-related and formal concepts. Layers of colour generate an experience of spatial depth and translate the perception of reality into an interaction of figurative and abstract painting elements. The fluid characteristics of the paint, its materiality and tonal values combine into memorable painting compositions. The paintings show the diversity of the medium: from their occupation with formal possibilities and techniques of painting per se, to exploring colourfulness and tonality of composition, to developing a composition from many layers of colours from which the motifs develop from the picture’s background, to setting thematic focuses. Impressive landscapes, rugged contours and strong colours contrast with paintings that have a poetic, lyrical underlying sentiment, and dynamic working processes meet precise, linear brush strokes. New colour tones come into being by smudging and working with transparent paint. Paint and light very dynamically occupy the canvas, and rapid gestures sometimes fragment the motifs on the canvas. Lines become mental leaps made during the painting process and sometimes solidify or run in the background. Thus, paintings become a network of relationships consisting of lines, colours and form, an interaction of abstraction and naturalism, as if there were no room for compromises.
Paintings always work at striking a balance between embracing present-day political and societal themes or focusing on pictorial self-reference. The presented works show that artists often accept the challenge of exploring this balance. They create paintings entirely aligned with the “open work” of Umberto Eco. According to Eco, the open work is characterised by the possibility of constantly discovering new relationships in a painting. Therefore, paintings are open to an unlimited number of interpretations by the recipients who are continuously influenced by individual experiences. They invite the viewer to take a journey through a wide variety of layers of meaning and literally challenge us to release ourselves from a definite viewpoint. Also because the various levels of the painting oscillate and more or less play into the foreground in the interplay of colours. “Ultimately, form is everything”, says the Austrian painter Jürgen Messensee. And that is wherein the quality of art, and especially of painting, lies, according to him. Even if it comes into being within a time horizon, it steps beyond this context and always extends beyond today’s actual world. According to Messensee, art, and painting in particular, “are a way of thinking in themselves. This is fantastic and allows us to operate in a language that transcends space and time and makes it possible for us in the first place to understand our world and to talk about it”. Or as Umberto Eco put it: “The open work assumes the task of giving us an image of discontinuity. It does not narrate it; it is it. It takes on a mediating role between the abstract categories of science and the living matter of our sensibility; it almost becomes a sort of transcendental scheme that allows us to comprehend new aspects of the world”.
I paint during the day, and at night thoughts come to me about life and the world
07 August 2021 with free entry.