Ueli Etter

Ueli Etter’s work seems to inhabit a zone between Minimalism and decoration. For his recent show, Etter gave the already small space an even more hermetic atmosphere, painting the walls of the gallery light beige, covering the windows, and installing halogen bulbs—causing it to resemble one of the six large drawings and watercolors on display. Addressing the theme “On a Clear Day” (in another show Etter displayed large-format silkscreen prints with the title “You Can See Forever”), the show focused on interiors drawn from memory—images that are as empty and repetitive as they are transcendent.

Etter’s motifs tend to be similar in mood: a view of the ocean from a balcony, a niche with a chest of drawers, or the corners of a hallway. Fleeting impressions of a succession of identical hotel rooms, these pictures convey the melancholy of a transient existence. Something crucial always seems hidden away in the background, as if each image has been drawn from the wrong perspective, and their coloration is subdued, varying from pastel blue to creamy gray tones. Resembling film stills, their vaguely sinister mood conjures scenes from Alfred Hitchcock. As with Edward Ruscha’s ’60s-era photographs of Texas and Los Angeles, the ultimate significance of Etter’s work is found in its static quality: the flatter the representation, the greater its potential impact.

The interiors are also overlaid with ribbonlike ornamental patterns that give the series formal coherence while creating a flowing movement that both dominates and subdivides each image. Superimposed on the images from which they have been derived, the patterns foreground the disjunction between abstract form and illusionistic space. According to Etter, he aims to convey “irreducible temporal experience.” While this may at first sound overly romantic, one should remember that, instead of the sentimental scenes found in the work of artists like Caspar David Friedrich, one faces images of blank hotel rooms. While Etter comes across in these works as something of a skeptic, however, his paintings maintain an undeniably meditative quality. In one marine image, the word “I” appears in the form of a floating white silhouette: Etter simply rendered the waves in such a way that script emerges, transforming a repetitive pattern into an encounter with the self.

Harald Fricke

Translated from the German by Vivian Heller.