WHAT PAINTING CAN MEAN #2
Matthias Franz, Paul Mittler, Tim Sandow, Tallal Shammout, Katarina Spielmann, Antony Valerian
From the class of Daniel Richter
Curator: Günther Oberhollenzer
A cooperation with Evelyn Drewes Galerie, Hamburg
How does painting position itself in a world in which the role of the image has fundamentally changed? For a long time it had the monopoly on being the large, colorful and powerful image. But then it was replaced by photography as the new defining medium for images. Nevertheless, painting remained the undisputed main medium of art well into the 20th century. In the last decades, however, this has changed lastingly. world has shifted its focus to multimedia. In art as well. And yet, a glance at art academies and studios, a walk through galleries and art fairs is enough to establish that painting, despite all the prophecies of doom, is more alive than ever. This is also the case in Vienna, where the German painter Daniel Richter has been teaching painting at the Academy of Fine Arts since 2006. Five artists from his class will present works with a wide range of pictorial forms of expression and themes at the ZOTT Artspace exhibition. They show that the painted picture has lost nothing of its vital artistic potential. On the contrary, their authentic and credible picturesque pictorial worlds, created with passion, show that painting will probably always remain one of the most immediate forms of expression of artistic creativity and imagination.
Different levels of reality, complexly combined to a whole, are a characteristic feature of many of Matthias Franz’s paintings. A second, clearly defined painting level is inserted into a cityscape, while in an interior a picture opens into the outside space. Franz works with shards, mirrors and posters in order to overlap the pictorial planes and enable a simultaneity of different artistic approaches (such as figuration and abstraction, surface and space, interior and exterior). For him, painting is a window into another world, but at the same time also a view of himself, as some of his protagonists impressively illustrate with their poses of (self-)observation.
Although the object is always there, it offers Paul Mittler only a pretext for inventing his personal pictorial worlds in abstract paintings, freely playing with form and color. Mittler is inspired by places, figures and spaces, and reduces them to the essential, condensing them to their artistic essence. The ocean appears as a rush of blue colors with a red-brown accent in the background (which in turn can be interpreted as a ship), stacked containers become an abstract geometric color-field painting, the black building of the MUMOK (Museum für moderne Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien) reminds one of a monochrome typeface.
Two young men standing half in the dark with machine guns at the ready, their gaze looking towards the sky, a black cat lurking in the Gothic church room, surreally illuminated with an extraordinary altar motif in the background, or a view across the bow of a ship to the stormy ocean with corpulent men floating in it: Tim Sandow’s paintings are full of bizarre protagonists and enigmatic settings. Strange titles such as “Frag Angelico”, “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Pirate Splashing” reinforce the narrative character of the pictures. He wants to tell stories, Sandow says, and paints with the curious interest of a twenty-year-old. His works, however, do not necessarily have to be understood as full of pop-cultural clichés. He also plays with dissolving forms, with contrasts and shadows, with light and darkness.
Tallal Shammout finds inspiration for his reduced, grotesque faces in masks from Europe and Asia. The artist approaches the mask as a “protection from evil” but less from a cultural-scientific perspective than on a personal, emotional level and has transformed them to contemporary motifs with happy but disturbing facial expressions reminiscent of emojis from our digitally dominated present day. The object-like paintings, made of imprecisely trimmed wooden panels and covered with canvas, also remind us of archaeological finds or television screens. Shammout’s naive, formally reduced floral and body images also seem archaic.
Katarina Spielmann’s charged, dense and yet reservedly delicate paintings are fascinating not only because of their extraordinary forms and colors, but also because of their sophisticated technique. The artist adds several layers of grounds and then, in an elaborate paint-stripping process, scrubs the organic and ornamental forms in a planned and yet also random way into the surface, whereby some parts are also subsequently accentuated with oil paint. Particularly impressive – due to their high immediacy and openness – are the reduced plant patterns with numerous rough areas and sensitively worked out color gradients.
Antony Valerian likes the rough surfaces of canvases, on which he creates his compositions directly from memory without resorting to photographic models. The representational motif – wide landscapes and rampant plants, large-format human figures and empty interiors – is often only a means to an end to work with colors, forms and painterly moods in an intensive creative process. In his more recent works, Valerian detached himself more strongly from figurative art, his pictorial worlds becoming more dynamic and open. Simple organic forms (such as a houseplant or a tree) appear as a hybrid network that attempts to represent the developmental phases of blossoming and decay as well as stages of growth-related deformation in between and refuses to be clearly interpretable. For the artist, these are attractive possibilities to let painting run free.
Text: Günther Oberhollenzer