Walter Dahn

Galerie Six Friedrich

Walter Dahn asks in his paintings about the how and why of what he is doing, about the sustained kick that the painting is supposed to induce both in the painter and his audience. Dahn asks and answers as a painter, not as an illustrator of a concept of art. The large paintings shown here consist mainly of dark, simple images—either trademarks of English jewelers (which he also uses for the logo of his rock band) or “trademarks” of other artists. Painted on bright white or ivory backgrounds, these images completely dominate the pictures. In The Jewelers III and IV, both 1986, the emblems, which are blown up to gigantic proportions and thus are not immediately recognizable as goldsmith’s marks, project a magical aura because of their formal characteristics and forceful presence, rather than from any profound content as signs. It is the riveting quality of the painterly and iconographic facts of these works that confirms their content, simply through our fascination with the visual configurations, and their power to provoke an emotional response.

The paraphrasing of the “trademarks” of some of his colleagues—such as Robert Smithson’s spiral form, or Jannis Kounellis’ poetic system of signs made up of numbers and arrows in his early work—contributes yet another aspect to Dahn’s work. Although knowledge of the sources is not a prerequisite for experiencing the paintings, it underscores the “back and forth” effect, which is central to his esthetic concept, between the naive and direct entrance to the work and (in the words of the artist) a “certain refined attitude.” This refined attitude, which Dahn considers essential, is revealed above all in the formal elements that he relies upon most—in the silhouettes, lines, simple shapes, and reduced color. By approaching the work in this fashion, the surface meaning becomes so ambiguous that our own associations come to the fore and become correspondingly significant. “One must take something visible,” Dahn remarks, “in order to show the invisible.”

Ingrid Rein

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.