Sunday, February 05, 2006

Artist of the Week 02/06/06

The division of painting into the broad categories of "abstract" vs. "representational" has always been a bit murky for me. Oh, I can categorize and file away any work as such if pressed, but the designations are somewhat false IMO because they're not natural in a way. Long before anyone ever put paint to canvas, people were "seeing" shapes of things in abstract fields, like clouds or clusters of stars. I do this constantly. Even when faced with a wall of monochromatic tiles like, say, those surrounding my bathtub (where I'll allow myself the ultimate luxury of a soak now and then), the smudge on one tile will combine with the crack in another to eventually take shape in my semi-conscious imagination and form the headlight and tire of a box-shaped car, or whatever. My point is we naturally look for recognizable objects within otherwise abstract fields.

Well, most of us, that is. Some of us do it the other way around. Like German painter Cornelius Völker. Represented in Munich, and now New York, by the excellent GrimmRosenfeld gallery (image above from their website), Cornelius starts with an object or two and explores their potential for revealing insights about abstraction. This following painting demonstrates much better than I can explain what that means:

Cornelius Volker, Hände (Hands), 2002, Oil on canvas, 160 x 240 cm (image from Theodor Lindner website).

IN what's perhaps one of the clearest descriptions of an artist exploration I've ever read, the following passage from a GrimmRosenfeld press release explains further:

Völker's pictures, despite what is represented in them, are about the medium of painting itself. He is more interested in the way paint depicts rather than the way it can be made to narrate or conjure relatedness to history or nature. His preference for mundane subjects allows a disconnect from figuration in order to experiment with the physicality of paint, and the way that it is manipulated by an artist's hand. In the same manner as Wayne Thiebaud or David Hockney employ the vocabulary of painting for a simplified representation, Völker uses simplified representation to discuss the vocabulary of painting.

Völker's understanding of this relationship-material, gesture-provides us an entrée into his unique, simultaneous utilization of figuration and abstraction. Intelligent modeling of bodies breaks into exquisite, abstracted bursts of color and back again. In Völker's Hands series, painted skirts become more than simply paintings of skirts: instead they are vivid, dynamic abstractions placed where a skirt would be.

I have some mutual friends with Cornelius and have had the pleasure of socializing with him from time to time. Movie star handsome and always impecabbly dressed, he's as smart and pleasant a person as you're ever likely to meet, and despite the way everyone in our circles raves about his work, he's modest and gracious and seemingly always calm. The fireworks, apparently, he saves for the inner workings of his paintings, like this earlier one:

Cornelius Völker, Puttiklatsch, 1997, Oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm (Image from GrimmRosenfeld website.)

Again, whoever's writing the press releases at GrimmRosenfeld deserves a raise. I can't imagine anyone improving on this further explanation from another:

[Cornelius'] work is dominated by the idea to lead the medium painting back to itself. It is the awareness, that the media, which [with] the painter works, will always produce only painting. That leads Völker to push the substantial connection between material and subject to the point, where they seem to merge, but actually it categorical divides them. At this the color transforms itself through its materiality in the painted object and reproduces it in the substantial texture and dimensions.The more we surrender ourselves to the pictures, the more we will swim in the painter guided stream of colors, which comes close to real figures to de-realize them at the same moment. We find ourselves oscillating between realizing and de-realizing, between formation and decomposition to get back in the end to the colors, generating this whole process.The dispute with abstraction leads Völker to assemble abstract passages in a figurative context.

It's a cliche, I know, but there remain few things more impressive for me than an artwork's ability to get the viewer to look at his/her world in a new way. Cornelius accomplishes that again and again in the most charming of ways. Here are two more recent images:

Cornelius Völker, Frisur, 2005, Oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm (Image from Galerie Detterer website)

Cornelius Völker, Hund 2 (dog 2), Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm(Image from Theodor LIndner website)


Anonymous pc said...

I like this work best of all the artists I've seen you present. I've always been fascinated by this kind of thing--the teetering between abstraction and figuration. I don't know why it seems so compelling, though. On the face of it, it sounds almost trivial and academic. But I think it's about some kind of deep confusion humans are subject to.

2/06/2006 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Carla said...

This work is very exciting for the abstraction/figuration play mentioned. I'm reluctant to veer off from that, as it is pretty incredible, but I'm also having a powerful gut response to them that is downright bone-chilling. Almost horror-film-like. This work is remarkable.

2/06/2006 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Love it. Great work. Fell in love right away when I saw his portfolio first time. A M A Z I N G

2/06/2006 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous w.w. said...

It seems like he's ultimately interested in the breakdown from image to non-image and trying to capture that with paint. I like everything but the titles. They seem to force a regard/disregard that seems too obvious.

I especially like the Magnus von Plessen doggy. It has the most resolved background.

2/06/2006 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

It's as though the recognizable subject is an excuse to abstract, following the lead of the paint's materiality and color. These are fun paintstuff vulgarity.

PS - for me the gallery's writing, that last paragraph ([Cornelius'] work is dominated by the idea...) was nearly incomprehensible gobbldygook, although granted it's likely a translation. Perhaps a better translator might have made a smoother rendering.

2/06/2006 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

I agree w.w., these are von Plessen-ish, but more luscious, less angular, and maybe more real, don't you agree? That doesn't mean better or worse. I would love to see these in person. The hair clip one is gorgeous...
This has a lot in common w/ burrito's own work - finding the abstract escapes in real moments.
I agree with pc that this type of work does always fascinate on a very basic level for some reason.
What I like about painting-
Very exciting!

2/06/2006 08:16:00 PM  
Anonymous w.w. said...

oh, yeah, of course more real. there is a coldness to von plessen - yet these are warm and fun and a little reckless. this is my favorite kind of painting, too, although he could break it down further and i'd be even more into it.

2/06/2006 11:33:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

i have stared at that hairclip one for a long time. i will go back and stare some more now.

2/06/2006 11:37:00 PM  
Anonymous R Houston said...

I have to agree with Bills feeling about the writing being incomprehensible in the second blurb. But the bulk of gallery/museum didactic material I read seems determined to defy comprehension rather than to clarify the work.

There seems to be something strange happening with the color in these works. I hesitate to say color is disregarded as there are clear color choices being made, but rather than creating color relationships it is being used for contrast to highlight the textures and the paint itself as ‘stuff’. A very interesting use…

The hairclip feels unresolved for me in this way though… the neck and shoulders seem to be there only as a support for the hair. The hands feel most resolved especially in the relationship to the high rendering of the hands in relation to the total non-objective quality of the skirt almost as if it were a hole in the painting to one behind.

Very good work overall that surpasses it apparent simplicity.

2/07/2006 12:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abstract vs. representation:
I would like to mention that whether it be a monochrome square or a twisted lock the difference between--not the two models-- no! The difference between abstract and representation is whether it is a representation. Then, CONSIDERING an abstract, which could be a representation of another abstract or field or intention, can be juried via whether it has CROSSED THE ARTIST'S MIND before, and then it's not really abstract. It exists in the realm of semi-concrete, no?
Abstract is not this totem distinction of the 20th century.
A representation, too, is hairy in that it may well be a representation of a girl or a swirl, and may have it's heart in representing what the artist felt--important as a representation, and, as he she felt, is a representation of a feeling, a history, of something, or other something that has previously existed or has not, exactly. Recurring this, the other, is an abstraction, trying to get it home, closer. No, too!
Confusing, isn't it?
Figuration and abstraction are service devices, which do disservice to the serious artist interested in getting through whatever the confabulation is.

Well, we all work work, even when it appears impossible.
There are a million formulas. Be wary of the easy ones that impress.

2/07/2006 08:13:00 AM  
Anonymous auvi said...

Amazing work.

You had me worried there Edward, your last three "artists of the week" were not working for me. But now I'm a believer again.

2/07/2006 08:58:00 AM  
Anonymous pc said...

Hey, Anonymous. I was looking up von Plessen and found this article from Artforum, discussing how abstraction and figuration interact and how the viewer and the art object interact. I think it's related to what you were saying in your post.

In an interview published in the Dusseldorf catalogue, von Plessen recalls a moment in Joyce: As Stephen Dedalus looks out across the sea, his image of it is distorted by the memory of his mother dying, the green of the ocean becoming the color of her sputum. Through the green of the water, his mother returns his gaze. (ArtForum, Nov, 2003 by Noemi Smolik)

2/07/2006 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

I think that I like Puttiklatsch the best. Nice mixture of abstract with his "technique". The rest might be a little too Thiebaud for my taste.

2/07/2006 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Ed, Totally off the topic!

PC I'll look it up! Surprised really that anyone would get anything out of the buried debris of a post.

There is this thing called vertical time. It's where you pack on top each experience of ‘a’ time each one hiding the other. It’s not really vertical as the plates of time are always on the shift. But for the model lets stack ‘em like chips, drunken stack if you want.
Every chip is lucky. The whole stack might be. It just depends.
Anyway off the topic: The materiality of a chip persuades us to forget the one below until the one above is spent. Time does not have material but carries it, spends it (but never really spent). Any instant is instantly receivable along with the material or experience no matter how deep or tall the stack gets.
No doubt when there is a shift in the alignments of the plates something happens, on the superficial (an earthquake, or an idea) on the deeper a shift in axis (perhaps a new artform).

2/07/2006 08:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i look forward to seeing his show in NYC. the use of paint is great; thick and vital and shocking. i do hope that the work represented is more cohesive, though; at the moment he seems to be all over the map with subject matter, perspective, etc. i think more focus is needed.

5/02/2007 04:40:00 PM  

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