Ernst Trawöger

From Franz Egger-Lienz to Walter Pichler, the art that has emerged from the Tirol has been stolid and massive, groaning under the weight of its Alpine landscape. But “Das arme Land Tirol” (poor Tirol), as Franz Marc referred to it, has recently undergone enormous changes and has begun to make its own significant contributions to Modern art. There is now a counter movement that aims to eliminate all materiality, a new art that moves with agility, and sets wit and spirit free. At the forefront of this movement is Heinz Gappmayr, who has developed a sensitive, highly personal Lettrismus (calligraphy) derived from concrete poetry. He is followed by Ernst Caramelle, whose reductive art of signs and symbols has been marked since the very early ’70s by a lively sensuality that stimulates the imagination and spreads fruitful unrest. Caramelle’s large-scale installation in the Basel Kunsthalle in 1982 was pivotal in encouraging a group of younger artists (which includes Peter Kogler and Martin Waldo) to seek new paths off the already rather too well-beaten track of painting. But I wish to focus on a third artist, Ernst Trawöger, who has also emerged from this Tirolean background with a highly individual vision.

Trawöger’s work is informed by his interest in biology His close observation of nature is not, however, an attempt to render momentary phenomena or appearances; rather, like a research scientist, he investigates the constants, the structures of nature. Uninterested in the visible form of living things, he instead tracks the underlying forces that bind and motivate them. He has developed a multivalent sign language by, among other techniques, contrasting empty and filled forms and using a decallike dispersion of forms that obstructs the perceptual process and precludes a purely emotional response.

Trawöger’s reductions, however, are not related to an essential core of living things but to the insignificance of the individual sign components, which gain meaning only in their interaction within a system of differentiation. Most of the works consist of a pale, delicately hued ground overlaid with simple figurative signs or scribbles. Spatial orientation is completely lacking; only an approximate web of interconnections holds the figures and shapes in spatial suspense. Although often presented in a highly agitated state of movement, the forms are inherently fixed in an indeterminate point in time But the precondition of all living form is surely its embeddedness in a tightly woven web of space and time; thus, what Trawöger calls form is really closer to the idea of structure, but a delimited one. He challenges conventional structure—geometric patterns and basic forms—with a different one, a dynamic principle which takes over the image-making. Cautiously, it dissolves contours and transforms them into a texture of joints and posts. The contour line thus becomes an energy line; the form, a vector. The gestalt has swallowed its own coordinate system—it is image and idea, necessity and chance in one.

Trawöger extracts from living organisms what is interiorized and gives it concrete form, a dynamic interplay of internal and external influences. Trawöger sees not “essence” but patterns. Life means reaction, adaptation, being conditioned. “Behavior” is the magic word that unlocks the world and makes it accessible to scientific dissection as well as to artistic interpretation.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.