Gotthard Graubner

Galerie m

Those who were dismayed by Gotthard Graubner’s inexplicable absence from the overview of current German art oared by Düsseldorf’s “von her aus” exhibition (which I discussed in “Climbing up a Ramp to Discover German Art,” Artforum, December 1984) were compensated for the omission with this show. Graubner is among the foremost painters in Germany today. In his work from the ‘70s he is perhaps in danger of forfeiting his creative vision to a too-refined control of his medium; it may be that the stormy debate over the “new painting” has challenged him to expand his artistic vocabulary. His newer work has an experimental, expressive edge, without, however, forsaking his earlier style in pursuit of a fad.

Graubner first publicly exhibited what he calls his “Farb-Raum-Körper” (color-space-structure) paintings at the 1982 Venice Biennale. Charged with expressive resonances of color and a meditative density, these works evoke cosmic visions, and form the path that the artist has continued to pursue. In the recent show he exhibited a quantity of works on paper and a smaller number of “Farb-Raum-Körper” pieces, larger, exquisitely painted works on canvas. A triptych in oil on paper, -caput mortuum zu rot- (-caput mortuum to red, 1982), marks a transition between the two phases of Graubner’s art: the paper ground is saturated with a ceremonial red which radiates a religious splendor, but the piece retains the quiet and balance of Graubner’s earlier paintings, whose use of color is subdued and undramatic. The powerful inner dynamic of the more recent work is already present in the modulations and tonalities here; the red is both passionate and, in its connotations of blood, deathly.

While it may have been the spontaneous painting style of the ‘80s that inspired Graubner to new experiments, this should not divert us from the fact that his deepest inspiration lies in the Italian Old Masters, especially Titian. Graubner has steeped himself in the Venetian painter’s rich color. He sees the overriding issue in contemporary painting as being the embodiment of color, the filling of space with it, and this is the idea behind his “Farb-Raum-Körper” pieces; a secondary motivation, however, lies in his desire to reclaim Titian’s luxuriant palette for contemporary painting as a cosmos of color free of all objective reference. The works on paper—both the studies and the larger, more fully worked-out pieces related to the “Farb-Raum-Körper” paintings—offer good examples of the rhythm and emotional counterpoint of Graubner’s art, the way he audaciously juxtaposes mutually attracting, merging hues with dissonant tones which vie with each other for dominance. The subtle language of these works suggests a dualism between pure color and the evocation of natural spaces. Landscape, sun, light , time, natural growth—these are the associations evoked by Graubner’s compositions.

A large piece on canvas resounds almost symphonically, simultaneously . passionate and still, like the music of the Baroque. The support is made of synthetic cotton wadding over which canvas is stretched on a wooden frame. Like a sponge, this corporeal ground sucks up the color only to pour it back out. Layer on layer of oil paint is applied with vehement gestures, soaking into the canvas and cotton until pigment and ground inextricably merge. Violet seeps from under swells of yellow, blends with them into a pale red veil, plunges back into the deep, and reemerges in splendor to momentarily drown the yellow's evocation of floods of sunlight.

Just as Graubner melds the fabric of the support with his oils, and just as his luminous hues playoff and through one another, so too the boundaries between top and bottom, front and back, disappear. The new paintings glow with fiery red, a green that speaks of luxuriant early-summer foliage, a flood of sunny yellow. These are not analyses of the emotional or sensual qualities of color, but show color triumphing as in itself a subject which can be experienced emotionally. The works are the product of a dialogue between the visual dynamics of color and its inherent spirituality.

Annelie Pohlen