Udo Lefin

Galerie Daniel Buchholz

Udo Lefin showed five large-format paintings in his first one-man exhibition. He works extremely slowly: the five pieces in this exhibition constitute his entire output of the past three years. His working method may be, in turn, a result of the complicated nature of the paintings themselves. All of these paintings were done with lacquer pigments and transparent varnishes on canvas and wood; their surfaces are dazzling and reflective. His goal is obviously to create an intense color-surface effect—fiery red and sunny yellow, deep black and midnight blue. The complexity of Lefin’s paintings is evident in their tonality. It is derived from a combination of moody light and dark tones with a colorless transparency; the artist employs various strata of pigments, visual motifs, as well as verbal quotations. In this way, each painting gradually produces multiple images.

Lefin’s paintings often conceal a secret image or motif under a covering layer of paint or beneath a surface motif. The verbal quotations help in discovering or deciphering those hidden agendas. Naturally, because of their sometimes enigmatic suggestions, these quotations can also aid in reconcealing the deciphered contents. Thus, in the dark, mythical triptych Lacrimosa, 1987, we read a Latin verse: judex ergo cum sedebit quidquid latet, aparebit (when the judge sits down to judge, then the hidden will come to light). Lacrimosa is also the name of the mournful tenth stanza of the Dies irae, the hymn sung in the Catholic mass for the dead. The “hidden” and the “light” harmonize with the overall content of the paintings: wax candles burned to various heights, an ominously blackened background. The quotation is inserted as a semantic pictorial device; the relationship between image and text acquires a melancholy beauty.

In another of these paintings, the relationship of image, words, and text strikes a far more enthusiastic tone. Holzschutz (Wood protection, 1985) has a long subtitle: “The extraordinary beauty of wood demands an extraordinary protection”—lines from an advertisement for Gori Wood Protection. The toy models of three Phantom fighter jets of the West German air force are attached to a sheet of wood covered with Gori protective lacquer. The banal quotation in the subtitle is offset by a long hymnlike verse, by the German poet Hölderlin, set within the painting. It makes reference to a breaking free from one’s roots and soaring like an eagle. The associations—plane/eagle, wood/root—are clear, almost too clear. But the overall conjunction between the equally grandiloquent slogan and quotation may conceal something that Hölderlin himself wanted to investigate in his “changing sequence of tones”: the variable law of an artwork. To this end, Lefin shows us artworks as sonorous unions of material and illusion. He makes them partly transparent for us and, with essentially two poetic tones, he tries to fathom the secrets of images and words. However, these secrets can fade in the painted candlelight just as easily as they can conceal themselves forever behind a painted red cloth; they can even assume the form of an X-ray photo, as in Maria, 1988. Ultimately, the color mysteries and rich verbal metaphors in Lefin’s work declare what Gerhard Richter said about all paintings: the more beautiful, more intelligent, more insane, more extreme, more vivid and unintelligible they are, the better they become.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel