Otto Zitko

Galerie Peter Pakesch

Prominent in the early '80s among a small group of Austrian artists who combined the sensuality of impasto with highly subjective, magical content, Otto Zitko took a radical turn around 1987, moving toward a more purely graphic concept of artmaking. The direct effects of impasto painting were replaced by an evocation of tension through the graphic traces produced by gestural motor acts. Figurative and symbolic forms were abstracted to barely legible sign-fragments. The vocabulary of gestural elements Zitko has developed and enriched since then are associated with his exploration of new surfaces and techniques, including brutally attacked, scarred wood panels; scratched negatives on glass covered in lampblack; or the wall and room drawings of the last few years. Within Zitko’s exceedingly dense and expansive graphic system, the spirograms shown here for the first time mark not only his most recent but, above all, his most unusual development. These photographically fixed images are graphic manifestations of the artist’s breath, a kind of breath-script, which has evolved from experimental work with a spirometer, an instrument used to measure lung capacity.

These works evidence a structural affinity to images made by breath on a spirometer screen. It is characteristic of the openendedness of Zitko’s graphic language that no sooner has he recognized the relationship between the traces of corporeal events generated by motor-gestural stimuli and those generated by respiratory stimuli than he harvests this insight for the use in his drawings. Here traditional drawings on wood alternate with spirograms: the direct gesture of the hand confronts the direct gesture of the breath and points to the artist’s body as the common reference point of both.

The title of Zitko’s new group of works, “Inspiration,” 1991, pointedly alludes to the historical role of this concept in the topos of artistic genius; at the same time, it secularizes the term by referring to its literal, clinical presence. The image owes its existence wholly to the artist’s inspirational and expirational impulses. In this literalism Zitko’s artistic position is embodied in paradigmatic form. He recognizes the pathos of direct, ingenuous self-expression as a form of the past without entirely erasing it from artistic memory, seeking rather a clearer understanding of the actual extent of its truth in dialogue with more rational procedures.

––Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.