Norbert Prangenberg

Galerie Karsten Greve | Cologne

Norbert Prangenberg is one of the few young contemporary artists concerned with the tension and fascination of very simple signs and forms on unpretentious but delicate materials. His work here is based on the use of parchment paper, which is known for its fragility, its flimsiness, and for the impossibility of making any correction in its folds. It is impossible to avoid damaging its surfaces when using it for large-scale works.

Prangenberg draws circles on untreated, transparent parchment paper. He spontaneously dashes off circles in pencil and also makes circular cutouts; a single work may be subjected to both treatments. The paper may be saturated with paint, though some white sections are permitted to remain. Prangenberg layers paint, but his images are nothing but circles, nothing but these primordially simple signs which have been of great significance since time immemorial. Any attempt to suggest the meaning of these works in words necessitates reference to the subtle subject matter of the paintings and to the sensuous experience of contact with parchment paper.

Prangenberg executes two kinds of work in this material. In one, the paper is left to some extent in its natural state; the circular cutouts create views into a material that is anyway transparent. The cutouts are circled in pencil, and additional penciled-in circles have a rhythmic relationship with the cutouts. In this way a movement of self-enclosed signs comes into being, and spatial vistas which are both violation and liberation extend across the surface. The obviousness and the inconspicuous, matter-of-course manner with which Prangenberg directs the material and the sign toward a casual unity comprise the emphatic poetry and musicality of these works.

A second group of works is similar, although more provocative. These paintings are defined largely by the delicate texture of the dark background against which the simple, archaic circles shine—not harmoniously but, on the contrary, seeming to struggle, and characterized by a severity which results from the decisiveness of the cutouts. Having been saturated in paint, the parchment paper contracts in drying to a porous, fragile surface and gives the impression of solemn sublimity on the verge of dissolving into nocturnal darkness. The circles are luminous fields in vibrating black; deeper layers of paint—blue, yellow—occasionally penetrate through, suggesting space. The crinkled black surface catches the light, here absorbing, there reflecting it; this play of light unites with the dark richness of the material and color to give impressions and intimations of opposition, of contradiction.

The “colorless” works appear tender but cool; the mellowness of these black pieces is appealing, creating both the desire for contact with the material and an unconscious shudder at its fragility and darkness. In a fascinating but simple way Prangenberg’s paintings invoke the human sense of the contention between light and darkness, threat and freedom. They are tokens of an archetypal consciousness which intuitively rejoices in archaic signs and in sympathies with materials, repeatedly attempting by the use of form to suspend unsolvable contradictions. Even the manner of working—the dense convergence of spontaneity and precision, of impulsiveness and thought—remains an expression of this paradox.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.