Martin Disler

Galerie Elisabeth Kaufman

These seven canvases announce Martin Disler’s breakthrough into new pictorial dimensions. No longer does the radicality of his painting manifest itself in excess, in the overflowing of boundaries that he had earlier worked up into a panoramic vision. Now that radicality is condensed into contained bodies of color. This new concentration suggests not a narrowing but a deepening of Disler’s art. The recent works are oil paintings; Disler has obviously found in oil a medium that offers a resistance to his hot temper, the ecstatic anger out of which he seems to make his art. Oil both provides a necessary sort of friction and offers the artist partnership. The energies drawn up and freed in the act of painting now seem to flow into dealing with the pasty consistency of the oil medium.

Within this limited field of action, Disler’s transgressive style becomes a subtle form of intimacy. A sexual dimension plays an important part in his drawing and painting—a greedy desire for immediacy, for an erotic melting of and with the image in a fragile instant of self-realization, of certainty about existence and appearance. This eroticism finds direct expression in the ambiguous materiality of the oil. The merging layers of paint in these works carry the full force of Disler’s emotional intensity and range, from the vehement spasm that articulates itself in a gestural drip or an abscesslike crust, to the tenderness in the application or dilution of a pure shade of color.

For Disler, the act of painting not only reflects the experience of being but also completes that experience, comprises the actual place of being. These paintings try as far as possible to eliminate the distance between painting and person. Disler works mainly without traditional equipment, integrating himself physically into the painting. He tries to create a moment of identity with his materials, a moment when his and the painting’s skin mix in a zone of mutual vulnerability. He seeks to expose himself naively—in the best sense of the word—not only to what he has called the “billions of shell-splinters of the triviality war” but also to the “billions of pomegranate pits of love”; in another of his metaphors, he wants to transform those particles of reality “under the skin” into eyes. This “impetuous crash into the world” generates a flood of images which fall above, below, next to, and on top of each other in the artist’s mind, and which fight for a space in his paintings.

In the recent work this excess of passion flows into a concrete turmoil of colors and structures. The earlier paintings blew themselves up into gigantic, space-devouring formats, or disclosed themselves in endless sequences of drawings; this confusion is now condensed in a small space.The paintings gain their life from their containment of contradictions. They are anecdotally legible only at their edges; overall, they project themselves as purely pictorial energies. Everything means not only itself but its opposite, and means the latter as obstinately as the former. Faces are superimposed on each other to become masks or grimaces, as if the whole play of features from delight to cold terror were combined in one. Similarly, the tender hand is also the threatening fist or the rapacious claw. A vortex of the most contradictory feelings sucks at us here. Even though the pictorial opulence of these paintings may mislead at first sight, the new Disler is still as much an adventurer as before. Now, though, his pictorial obligation puts more at risk.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Ruth Füglistaller with Ron Lieber.