Turske & Turske

The centerpiece of this show of recent work by the Dutch-born artist Armando (mounted in collaboration with West Germany's Kunstverein Freiburg) was a group of paintings from the “Melancholie” series, 1986. With the theme of melancholy, Armando specifically addresses a mood that has pervaded and dominated his work and through which the characteristic union of beauty and horror in his work finds ideal expression. This means, among other things, that the painterly richness of these works must be seen against the background of World War II and the nature of Nazism, issues that Armando has been relentlessly and unswervingly pursuing for many years, not only as a painter but as a writer too. The roots of his involvement with these problems go back to profound experiences that shaped Armando's youth during the German occupation of Holland. The persistence and the variety of methods with which he approaches this theme lend his work an obsessive quality that continually breaks through the esthetic presence of the surface, revealing the depths beneath. Unlike his written work, where for the most part he treats the theme very concretely, in his paintings he approaches it on the level of suggestion, presenting it in the form of poetic symbols. The same thematic underpinnings can be seen in the titles of his other series—such as “Schuldig landschap” (Guilty landscape), “Feindbeobachtung” (Enemy observation), or “Gefechtsfeld” (Battlefield)—yet the paintings themselves, even where their subject matter is derived from the visual world, elude literal interpretation and move in an associative realm where beauty and horror are locked in eternal battle.

Armando stages a power struggle between black and white in his “Melancholie” paintings, with the canvas almost literally becoming a kind of battlefield. Here the two extremes, which originally symbolize moral positions, are visibly drawn into the wake of esthetic positions that confuse the initial apparent hierarchy of values, or even reverse it. Although morality does provide a meaningful conceptual framework and necessary intellectual foundation, it is subordinate to the laws of the painterly process and thus loses its claim to absolute validity. That the pall of black at first seems to crowd out the brightness of white in these paintings does not necessarily signify the victory of evil but rather the advance of a twilight of melancholy in which it is simply impossible to find one's way to any kind of decision. It is precisely in this situation of powerlessness and total disorientation that even the faintest glimmer of light shines all the stronger and more full of hope. The traces of white lines that emerge from the darkness—or the brief glow of brilliant red—develop a power that stands up to the void of the melancholic abyss and at the same time organizes and dominates the paintings on a compositional level. In the final analysis, the white actually carries the heavily impastoed fields of black and makes them effective by assuming the superficially weaker but not less decisive counterposition in the power struggle. Just how subtle and fragile the balance of power underlying these very concrete and substantial expanses of paint is can be seen from reproductions in the catalogue of earlier preparatory drawings (from 1980) for the “Melancholie” paintings: delicate, hesitantly executed lines that move toward or away from one another, or move in parallel tracks, almost never coalescing into a firm gestalt.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.