ter Hell

Galerie Pels-Leusden; Galerie Fahnemann

Ten years of work by the 32-year-old Berlin painter ter Hell was presented in this double exhibition of 99 works at the Galerie Pels-Leusden and four large paintings at Galerie Fahnemann. The effect was like an explosion, with the energy that manifests itself in this artist’s work made visible all at once. ter Hell has always played a kind of “outsider” role in Berlin, preferring to carve out a territory of his own rather than participate in any of the established art trends. His work, which stems from gestural abstraction, searches for the boundary between chaos and order. It is based on the overabundance of visual information that is such a dominant characteristic of our time, and in several paintings the idea of overload is carried nearly to the point of collapse. These hectic, nervous psychograms move into a state of delirium; they are formed around the possibility of shapelessness. Other works, however, emphasize the will to order. In these, free gestural painting is transformed into a description of patternlike designs, indicating the necessity for control by which surplus energy must be channeled.

But this is not simply painting for paintings sake. ter Hell alludes to subjective experiences, literary associations, and societal conditions in his paintings and in some of the titles that he chooses. Liebe (Love, 1985) and Fegefeuer (Purgatory, 1987) embody an almost metaphoric mode of thinking about images. ter Hell inserts a text in many of his works, in order to fix them as documents of his own longings and artistic impulses. Es wird alles anders (Everything will be different, 1978) is simultaneously a painting, a statement, and a program for his own work, which, although he occasionally works in series, is usually formulated on an individual basis. Jenseits von Begriffen (Beyond concepts, 1986) alludes to the actual center of ter Hell’s work: in a world that is constantly being reduced to a one-dimensional idea, the work of art is supposed to create a space that transcends fixed ideas. The other side of experience—closeness to chaos, to the loss of a preformulated order—should become visible. Here destruction and construction meet. Pleasure appears as threatening, as a risk that the artist takes in order to demonstrate the energies that lie dormant beneath quotidian domesticity. In this respect, ter Hell’s paintings function as documents that advocate living life to its fullest in order to maintain one’s originality. Whether this is even possible is the question of ter Hell’s works, for their reliance on repetition and pattern can be interpreted as a form of skepticism. Originality is combined with a rhetorical “as if”—a kind of existential simulation. Here in this “between,” through the suggestive language of images, ter Hell creates a world of mystery and danger.

Wolfgang Max Faust

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.