Peter Schmersal

If the discussion surrounding the concept of post-Modernism has achieved anything by rejecting a linear idea of history and advocating the irrevocable heterogeneity of various paradigms, it has allowed us to see art like that of Peter Schmersal, which previously might simply have been overlooked. Schmersal’s paintings run counter to the usual idea of innovation, for they problematize conventional genres such as landscape and still life.

“Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” was the ironic question Richard Hamilton posed in the title of his famous 1952 Pop collage. In the art of the late ’80s, we were again confronted with the accumulated signs and commodities that constitute the texture of contemporary life. In his first one-person show Schmersal inverts the focus of these investigations. Just what is so unusual, so attractive, he asks, about the forgotten and seemingly obsolete subjects he presents? The object itself is the center of his art, and it is not merely a pretext for painterly virtuosity. The art of painting is revealed first and foremost in the object itself. Painting not only captures the optical surface, it points to the interior essence of things. Whatever we see, we are faced with the question: what has happened to these things? And what is happening to them while we look at them? Even though we are seeing a type of painting that extracts objects from time, we are also confronted with a concealed history of these objects that is preserved only in the painting. In an image of an ordinary landscape, a house, a dead rabbit, the proximity we feel to the object results from limitations that Schmersal places on himself and on the viewer. Never are the ’viewer’s eyes led into the distance, to some vague totality; they are always guided to the particular, to the excerpt. These paintings reveal just enough to keep the eye from wandering, and they always lead us back to the center from which they emanate. That is why the artist often leaves an area of canvas unpainted. The point at which the paint ends is the edge of that space that intrinsically accompanies pictorial objects.

Schmersal’s paintings are highly impersonal; he avoids any repetition or uniformity in the application of color, and so the objects become identified by their final color and handling as well as by the initial sketching-in of color, which remains visible in the finished painting. Each picture tells not only of the object itself, but also of its painterly genesis. Thus, we experience the paintings a second time as process.

If one seeks to find intellectual kinship between Schmersal and other artists, one need only look to Giorgio Morandi and Jean Fautrier. The paradigms provided by the work of these artists should be reviewed from the perspective of our present-day consciousness; this could be one of the goals of the ’90s, and Schmersal seems to be heading in that direction.

Martin Hentschel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.