Martin Disler

Wüttembergischer Kunstverein

The Swiss artist Martin Disler is one among the current group of controversial young artists who justly deserves notice. Even though he demonstrably created his present style before the art marketplace demanded an emotionally explicit signature in painting, he has been rebuked by some critics for a supposed accommodation to the market. The intensity of Disler’s painterly innovation, however, is so striking that the charge of opportunism hardly bears up.

Disler’s artistic power is demonstrated in the environment/painting in this show. The work, entitled Die Umgebung der Liebe (Environment of Love), is executed in muslin, which extends 140 meters around the four walls of the large exhibit space. Visitors enter the space through a crack in the painting; their first reactions may be of shock or repulsion, as they are swept into the stream of an erotic outpouring which is intuitively both desired and feared. Time creates the distance necessary for seeing Disler’s painting—for pursuing its progress from the awakening of an inner excitement, to a violent eruption in the harsh light of day, and from there to an obscured world where chimeras, shadows, and animal-like figures emerge and predominate.

The emotional and even the intellectual energies contending against physical and psychic exhaustion are expressed in Disler’s work in a manner that can be seen, felt, and analyzed. It is fitting that there is no single approach to Die Umgebung der Liebe; rather, one speaks of a complex process of feeling and comprehension. Thus the painting’s phase of awakening seems like a quiet event, emerging from gentle but luminous abstract planes. Shapes, people, and animals appear, a cosmos in which painting creates space as a cautiously explored inner world of dream. The forthcoming violence is nonetheless barely concealed by the gentle quiet, the delicate light of the colors.

The drama of love unfolds on a bright foundation. A woman with three breasts, a familiar figure in Disler’s work, is holding a man’s head in her hands. A trace of blood leads back to the body to which the head had been attached—evoking the brutality of passion, the enfeeblement of the intellect, or the destruction of the male? Disler makes no assertions.

There is currently much discussion about the fact that in much recent art the laws of painting, even the laws of good taste, are sorely tested. But recent art is not the first to appropriate commonplace forms; primitive figurations and flatness of scenery are by no means new. Disler’s vocabulary is that of a cathartic yet intellectually calculated fantasy. What makes his paintings so explosive is their evidence of the open conflict in painting between the sensuous outbreak of fantasy, or the unimpeded will to live, and the intuitive/intellectual knowledge of the limits of this will. Die Umgebung der Liebe is searing and painful; its figures are energy-laden, tense to the breaking point. They are as schematic as those of cave drawings, as fantastic as dream images, and yet commonplace, from fear of the oppressive self-deception of over-seriousness.

Disler’s use of color is as coarse as his brushstrokes. The comparison with Expressionism, used too often merely superficially in regard to recent art, has relevance here: the colors do have a sensual and emotional expressivity. Only when the question of the intersection between art and reality is raised does the flow of energy become more labored. The impressions of life that appear in art are simultaneously the marks of an artist’s experience of a fantasy. This ambivalence in Disler’s painting is the basis of its density, its openness of vision, and its avoidance of the empty gesture.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.