Michael van Ofen

Haus Esters

At first glance there is something slightly bourgeois about Michael van Ofen’s oil paintings. Yet there is also something peculiar about them, something conceptual, which makes them appear almost as if they were not painted. These 15 works, grouped around three themes, initially appear adamantly representational. There are pictures of earth-colored landscapes cultivated by human hands and reminiscent of vast aerial photographs. There are seascapes painted to look like an erupting mixture of water and air. And finally, there are interiors that recall the ruins of Gothic cathedrals. To accentuate the conceptual character of his paintings, van Ofen has limited his palette; he has reduced it to one color for each set of themes. Nuanced shades with brown, green, and white are applied to huge landscape vistas; blue and white characterize the seascapes; reds and white inhabit the interiors.

The moods van Ofen expresses in these paintings, on the one hand, can be either calm, almost romantic, or explosive, or, on the other hand, as static as a ruin. The painting style itself ranges from a stringently linear one to an open, almost informal one in which cool, even brushstrokes are placed on top of or next to one another.

A slight insecurity emerges when, at closer look, color and theme barely cohere. The brushstroke itself becomes the site of interest, as constructive and destructive aspects are blended by painterly manipulation. Color and theme fight one another, although apparently with the same weapons. In this respect, the paintings contain a contradiction between the pictorial and the sculptural. Creation and decay go hand in hand, most obviously in the pictures of ruins, where van Ofen seems intent on making the brushstroke concrete, as opposed to the color or the theme.

If, then, the theme of these paintings is the ruin, they are virtually composed and held together by the viewer. And in these terms, van Ofen’s 15 pictures are examples of paintings served up and completed by the mind. Such an art tries to legitimize itself by reemploying the used brushstroke and incorporating it back into the creative process. Toward this end, the artist transforms the pictorial surface into a pleasurable palette aimed at various themes, effects, and degrees of coloristic intensity. Three-dimensional perspective, coolly painted surface space, romantic tones, or flat expressivity—fuse into an autonomous formal order. This order confirms the existence of many intrinsic pictorial elements, for example, theme, excerpt, structure, form, and color. Thus, the conceptual property of van Ofen’s paintings consists of his use of the realistic motif as the bait and the dissolution of the picture into its constituent elements. The concept leads to nothing if measured solely by its themes or colors. The concept takes the upper hand, however, when, as in the seascape, it maneuvers the theme into nonrepresentation. Once the viewer is drawn into these paintings, it is up to him or her to process them as elementary pictorial data. It is on this metalevel that van Ofen’s paintings reveal their strength.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.