Helmut Federle

Fewer and fewer artists—Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter are two major exceptions—consistently pursue a program of abstraction. Helmut Federle is also such an exception. Federle uses geometric forms derived from his initials, ancient geometric figures, and Asian symbols. He paints grand, static pictures in muted yellows and grays, as well as black and white, that embody change and movement.

These are quiet paintings, but within each canvas there is something explosive. He is concerned with the question of the effect and social responsibility of abstract forms. Federle’s work speaks to the ethics of form. Although, at the beginning of this century, abstraction was bound to utopianism, World War II destroyed any hope of transcendence through merely formal strategies. For Federle form is neither transcendent nor materialistic. It exists in a mysterious relationship to mankind, one that has been so aptly described by Agnes Martin. Federle’s paintings are not created in a rational manner, rather they are the product of a long process of analyzing the order of things. This order goes beyond the purely formal if only for seconds, and it is in these moments that Federle sees beauty.

What remains after seeing Federle’s works are not the forms, but rather the broad range of emotions between tension and harmony that the viewer experiences. These emotions reassure the viewer that he has been a witness to a process that transcends the limitations of selfhood.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V Miller.