Letter from BERLINby David Rhodes
Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf
September 26 – November 7, 2009
Spargel ohne Tisch
Konrad Fischer Galerie
Sepember 25 – November 14, 2009
Adrian Schiess and Helmut Dorner have a shared perspective on painting, occupying an extreme position on the medium. They are emphatically painters: their concerns are not descriptive or iconographic. Their work stands or fails on the actual practice and material of painting. It is not exchangeable, not a substitute for something that exists outside of painting. For these artists a painting is not autonomous; it is an approach to reality, it opens and reveals.
In the 19th Century, Diderot and Courbet, the great realists, considered painting to be about ideas, not empirical reality. As Hermann Broch says in Dichten und Erkennen (1955), his astute analysis of painting’s transition from the 19th to the 20th century, it was Impressionism that discovered the medium “as a new approach to concrete reality,” wherein painting becomes, through its means, part of that reality. From this point on, when looking at a painting, one participates in reality through the realities of relationships involving paint, light, material support, tools and the hand. Meyer Schapiro pointed out in 1937, with his “The Nature of Abstract Art,” that abstraction in painting is always rooted in process, and that the reality of a picture is not its depiction of exterior facts, but its essentially abstract process.
Adrian Schiess and Helmut Dorner deal with reality through the act of making paintings, paintings that interact with reality. At Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf, Schiess has installed work as formally disparate as small-scale lumpen panels, a highly reflective “flat work” sprayed with glossy car paint, and a digital image on canvas of a paint-spattered studio floor. Schiess’s work is always directly about surface: the “flat work” placed on the floor is a highly reflective surface and at the same time a very real, simple monochrome, as well as, in its reflection of the other objects around it, a fleeting register of the ephemeral, temporal moment. The emphasis is on understanding through looking. The small panels, in their tactility and three-dimensionality, occupy space as objects; they are real but not static due to their apparent state of flux. The digitally printed canvas furthers questions about the very ontology of painting: is something that is “about” the appearance of painting still be a painting? Together these works engage our habits of seeing and our understanding of surface and imaginary space. The artist refers to an individual work as “a fragment, a mosaic, or a pixel of a picture that has been enlarged into infinity.” As he furthers his project of questioning what a painting can be, Schiess continues to extend his range of techniques, formats, and materials, which already includes video, photography, and light projections—always as a means of painting, which is defined by the artist as “collecting and extending colors.”
Helmut Dorner first came to international attention through his exhibitions in 1990 at the Haus Lange, Krefeld, and Kunsthalle Bern, and later at Documenta IX in 1992. Since then he has been pursuing a distinctly non-metaphorical approach to painting, concentrating on open conjunctions of color and process in relation to the painted object and the space around it. To these ends he has created differently-sized paintings on plexiglas’. The Plexiglas’ allows the artist’s paint and lacquer mix to appear suspended in space and to cast shadows on the wall. The resulting effect is of a fugitive and changing situation where the materials of painting have a contiguity with the space of the gallery. For Dorner, “looking through the picture also means dissolving the picture. So it becomes light.” It’s a situation of constant change, interaction and play, dependent internally and externally on the properties of light and movement. Nothing appears stable; process produces painting in unexpected ways. In a conversation between Ulrich Loock and Denys Zacharopoulos, published as “Siding with a Metaphysics of Chance,” Zacharopoulos declares, “when Courbet paints a wave, his painting painted painting.” As much is true for Dorner and for Schiess: their painting continues to paint paintings.