Walter Dahn

Galerie Paul Maenz

This year in his solo show here Walter Dahn presented 11 acrylic paintings, some of them in very large formats. His latest works can be regarded as a daring stage of a journey that he himself calls “the road away from painting as painting.” This road has taken him from neo-Expressionist painterly painting to spray painting, photography, silkscreen, and a blend of silkscreen and painting, through a broad range of alienation “themes” and techniques, including the precise duplication of signs from a dictionary of symbols, using photocopies enlarged several times over and a projector. The ultimate goal of his journey is stabilization. Processing an image through several of these operations and presenting it against a monochrome background has become his trademark technique; what remains of his earlier approach is refinement.

“One must put up the building of art and tear it down again,” he says. In Dahn’s work, this “deconstruction” has involved working away the problems of painting—his own, rather than basic esthetic problems—a procedure that has led to more and more reductions. His recent pictures feature roughly textured black or dark brown images painted, sometimes thickly, over a white background. In most of these the white ground, instead of being painted smoothly, has a shimmering, unevenly brushed surface. All of the images come from a single photograph of Brazilian votive figures, which he has photocopied and enlarged, focusing on a different section for each painting. This may have been important for Dahn as part of his journey/process, but, as he himself says, it makes no difference to the viewer, who does not have to know the source of the material, which shows recognizable objects (arms, legs, horses’ heads, masks) that could evoke a variety of associations. The images may juggle with the viewer’s response, but their only purpose is to create a pause illustrating the moment just before the final disappearance of painting. With this perhaps undesirable motive, they invade the world of art brut and the modern approach of painters like Peter Nagy.

These works are not meant to tell stories, to squeeze them out of their bowels; they do not lie in wait, hankering for theories and higher orders. Their goal is to witness how something is transmitted, without worrying about what. Effects, explanations, tricks, feelings —all of these things are absent from Dahn’s pictures. In some places the texture, especially in the black-and-white works, seems repressed, charred, or burned up, waiting for some interpretation so that it can finally enter history—only to fall immediately through the meshes of history. Dahn’s choice of themes and images here is clearly linked to his previous work — especially the heads, which recall some of his earlier pictures, his taste for archaic forms, and art brut. But even these ghosts of his past, the things he has suppressed, are brought into the “present,” which is unaware of earlier or later time. Nothing should be retrospective, predictive, progressive, or nostalgic. The road away from painting does not lead to one specific point but to a crisscrossing of many paths. In order to live and work with that situation, Dahn has developed and refined a certain indifference. After the evolution of these prototypes, he will henceforth have others perform the actual job of painting: everything should be secondhand, both the idea and the production. For art must be built up and ripped down. During this process, the artist must pursue absolute neutrality, so that he may finally speak correctly about art and everything else.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.