Erwin Bohatsch

Erwin Bohatsch’s paintings are rooted in a fascination with anthropology that took hold in the art of the ’70s. They evoke Ur-forms of experience and propagate “untamed” models of thought and perception. Drawing on elements from both Surrealism and folklore, they are intended as subjective antidotes to the loss of immediate experience in our highly civilized world. Although such a characterization might be accurate, it is essentially banal, in light of the abundance, variety, and subtlety of the works.

The traits that characterized Bohatsch’s paintings in the early ’80s—their strong narrative tendency and animalistic spirit—have been abandoned in his new work, which is dominated by organic abstraction. Each painting features one or two relatively simple, semiabstract forms, such as scrolls, rods, ovoids, leaves, or lozenges, set against heavily brushed, atmospheric grounds. Though completely flat and purely linear, these forms have a corporeal presence, achieved through Bohatsch’s powerful application of the paint. Yet they are not fundamentally abstract. Although all of them are simplified, one can often perceive heads, arms, eyes, hands—even an entire small body, as in Wespennest (Wasp’s nest, 1987). But Bohatsch wants to transmit corporality without depicting it directly. Using traditional principles of composition, such as proportion, contrast, juxtaposition, and spatial relations, he suggests relationships between the forms in each work that produce an intensely evocative and associative effect.

The forms are like signs that draw the viewer magnetically into the work. Bohatsch’s new paintings are at once powerfully linguistic and powerfully pictorial. In contrast to his earlier phase of painting, he now uses these devices in a more economical manner, revealing a more resolute awareness of his own programmatic goals.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.