Dirk Skreber

Galerie Schmela

Present-day painters may represent old or new myths in their works, seeking inspiration in art history or even relying again on pure color. But it hardly seems possible today for art to break out of specialized, art-historical discourse. In his first solo exhibition, which consisted of 18 paintings from the past two years, Dirk Skreber showed an evolution away from the periphery of that discourse to areas closer to reality. In many of these paintings he has depicted familiar scenes and everyday objects, but here they evoke a feeling of the future rather than the present. There is an air of unreality about them, for they are unpopulated, completely lacking any human context. No matter how real and concrete these motifs may appear (buildings, public squares, railroads, automobiles, interiors), the viewer has difficulty differentiating between the model and the resulting image. The dimensions of reality that we see exist only in the mediated image of the individual work.

Skreber achieves this goal in various ways, such as the use of intersecting planes from different perspectives within a single image, or the juxtaposition of objects in incongruous proportions, irrespective of their size in real life. Thus, in one untitled painting from 1986, two poplars at the side of two high-rises are so elongated that they do not appear as landscape elements but rather as abstract compositional elements, and two flat rooftops in the foreground appear as red rhomboid planes. And in an untitled painting from 1987, in which three planes decorated with three different wallpaper patterns converge as if they formed the corner of a room, the issue is not so much the specific space that they articulate but to what extent space can be viewed in terms of plane, and plane in terms of space. Gerhard Richter dealt with comparable problems during the ’70s, when he made aerial photos of cityscapes that could also be read as abstract paintings. Skreber, however, pursues a purely painterly strategy (rejecting photography, or even a style of painting inflected by photography), and, as a result, his work seems more intensely focused than Richter’s.

In one of his most recent works, an untitled painting of two tennis courts, from 1987, Skreber presents his subject from an aerial view. This perspective reduces spatiality to a minimum, making the courts look like an arrangement of geometric planes. However, he reproduces all of the details precisely, even including the shadows of the trees that flank the courts. There are two levels here: an objective and an abstract one. This duality is also expressed by his mixing of ashes with the oil paint, as ashes are often strewn on the surface of tennis courts. The painting thus treats the ashes as an element of the subject and as a real material. Similarly, the viewer can look at the painting as an objective depiction and as a flat geometric design both evoked by one and the same object.

It is this duality of pictorial possibilities that makes Skreber’s work fascinating. By creating a synthesis of the two, Skreber reunites what has been divided into two philosophically incompatible camps since the beginning of nonobjective painting.

Martin Hentschel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.