David Rabinowitch

David Rabinowitch’s art is basically sculptural, but ever since 1980 he has been producing a series of drawings under the overall title “Ottonian Construction of Vision.” These are not sketches or designs for sculptures, but autonomous images concretely situated in the medium of drawing, derived from a free investigation of themes based on sketching and draftsmanship. The origin of these themes can be pinpointed in the Romanesque architecture of the Rhineland, especially the churches of Cologne. In the course of continuous work, Rabinowitch crystallized these themes into a set of variations on that motif.

In the introduction to a catalogue of Rabinowitch’s drawings, Gerhard Storck beautifully sums up the quality and character of that motif by referring to Cézanne’s series of paintings depicting Mont Sainte-Victoire. The purification or intensification of the theme into a motif involves a gradual release from the objectivity of the image—a process that should not necessarily be seen as one of traditional abstraction. In other words, the theme or motif becomes a kind of solid foundation for the sculptural issues raised by these drawings. In these terms, the rigor and clarity of Romanesque architecture, with its principles of material and spiritual order, become a pivot in the tradition. The progressive struggle between light and structure, which make up the space of the visible, are embedded in a vast cultural context.

Thus, in the “Ottonian Construction of Vision” Rabinowitch not only tries to reflect Romanesque architecture in a narrower sense, but also explores further dimensions of formulating space—dimensions in which the sheer physicality of the visual as a sensual quality finds expression only to dissolve immediately in a rich scale of chiaroscuro values. These are quite truly “constructions of vision,” most of them very rigorous. At the same time, their precise formulation challenges the dubiousness of the visible. Seeing per se becomes the theme here, as does the dubiousness of every visible phenomenon. An important function is performed by Rabinowitch’s working method, or, more precisely, his drawing medium: he uses a hybrid mixture of wax and charcoal that he developed himself. Although the “line” and the “stroke” are articulated as a literal substance on the paper, they spread out across the surface, losing any sense of contour despite their distinct presence. Sometimes as broad as a beam, the “strokes” look almost like microscopic blow-ups of a normal pencil line, in which the clarity is lost in the roughness of the paper surface and the graininess of the graphite. At the edges, the articulation of the precise form becomes more of an aura, which activates the interstices, the blank areas, making them an integral component in the construction. The resulting disruptions between the forms reveal a background space in which the drawings at times seem to hover in a sea of light. The bright interstices provide an airy counterpoint to the substantiality of the marks, which present themselves as fields of varying density that convey the solidity of the load-bearing structures they depict. These are constructions solidly anchored in the vertical and horizontal dynamics of the marks. The mostly large-scale format of the paper strengthens that impression, which is ultimately left entirely to the poetic energy of the idea. We are given monuments that are as light but also as ephemeral as cobwebs, for Rabinowitch’s “stroke” evokes density but never heaviness.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.