Hubert Schmalix

For extreme colorists among painters, form is always the crucial problem: where and how does the area or trace of color end? How are the transitions between forms made clear? Hubert Schmalix has found a simple method for dealing with such questions: he uses Polaroid photographs to set the outlines of a model, outlines that may appear somewhat distorted through the effects of foreshortening but that are nevertheless exact. The filling in of the background areas and the fashioning of the body are carried out through pure color, resulting in a kind of simple figuration in an “abstract” field. In the interpenetration of the two, it seems to me, Schmalix has found an original and new basis for painting. The work renounces the mythology and the sense of corporeality that have burdened the medium in recent years, in favor of a cultivation of painting itself.

These paintings are full of light, at times seemingly carried by cushions of it. The vertical relation of the human body to the earth is extinguished and replaced by a horizontal axis of color, delicate lines, and eroticism. (If one wanted to identify predecessors, one might look to David Hockney, Paul Gauguin, and Yves Klein.) Schmalix’s model is his wife, a Filipino. Seen nude, in simple poses, given few individualizing attributes and irradiated by light tones of yellow, saffron, pink, and blue, she sits, stands, lies, towers, or stoops into a field of color. Often, she elevates herself to a monumental presence, but in relationship to the area of color she always remains small, even diminutive. Her intimate gestures and the cosmic color relationships set up an abrupt dialogue. This confrontation is responsible for the special attraction of these paintings; here, orientalism finds release in a kind of global euphoria.

The view to which Schmalix’s wife exposes herself is never inconsiderate or exploitative. Perhaps, on some level, the idea of the Madonna may have been in Schmalix’s mind during the making of these works. Their erotic, explosive power, however, lies in their approximation of a sense of touch through the act of vision. The viewer almost feels the vibrations of the skin. Yet much about this figure is untouchable, foreign, distant. She shows herself as desirable, but also as an autonomous being—indeed, a hermetic one.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.