Franz Wanner


The ten large-format paintings shown here (all untitled, 1988) exemplify Franz Wanner’s basic mode of work during the last two years. They demonstrate a highly self-willed development that is obstinately committed to frugality. He draws on his intrinsic personality as a sculptor, articulating it in all aspects of his work—the subject matter as well as the painterly rendering.

For one thing, there are the surfaces: the pigments are deliberately built up as earth-like, crusty deposits. Wanner also develops an unusual spatiality in his paintings. In his work of the early ’80s, he made frugal constructions that convey a sense of architecturally motivated space. These works take the viewer to imaginary heights or depths, while functioning as geometrical abstract compositions. But Wanner has yielded to a more objective elaboration of the motif. This does not mean that his paintings have become less complex as the subject matter has grown more concrete. Quite the opposite: the clarification of structure has shifted an essential portion of the artist’s multivalence to the works’ motifs and contents. In this new approach, pictorial space intensifies the object, making it virtually metaphysical, while the object simultaneously insists on its own unspectacular existence. Wanner quite deliberately initiates complicated processes of mystification, which are always undermined by the raw materiality of the painting and the obvious interpenetration of the background and the motif.

Wanner is unabashed in his preference for grandiloquence, which he anchors in the earthy substance of his paintings. His rhetoric allows him a route to the sublime—one in which the sublime is relativized yet never treated with irony. Thus, in one work, two tires, placed side by side and into the blue background, may remain mere tires, while also evoking the notion of Helios’ sun chariot. In another, a low, horizontal rectangle seems like a yellow “Last Supper” table hovering in a bordeaux-red background. Metaphysicality is addressed directly in a series of figurative pieces. The five paintings of single figures—a bird, a lamb, a calf, a human, a lioness—employ the romantic concept of a figure seen from the back, which naturally makes the viewer participate in a contemplative situation. But then Wanner explicitly jeopardizes this situation by placing the “living creatures” on pedestals, thereby declaring them to be sculptural objects. Wanner creates a feeling of disillusion by means of illusory effects. The closer one comes to the pictorial surface, the more clearly one sees that these spaces have neither a front nor a back. Yet we remain haunted by the imaginary pictorial vision they evoke.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel