New York

Ingo Meller

Ingo Meller, I would hazard, is an instinctive colorist who is making an effort to approach color analytically: his empirical methods seem designed to channel his visceral response to materials. His paintings are restricted in their means and modest in appearance, yet highly physical in impact. They are made on pieces of nearly raw linen that have been cut just a bit off the rectangle and affixed directly to the wall like scraps of wallpaper.

The darkness of the linen—here treated as a color in itself, not a neutral ground—seems to sink into the whiteness of the wall, a last vestige of the old idea of painting-as-window in these otherwise intently material, nonillusionistic works. Their slight irregularity of shape may owe something to the precedent of Gunter Umberg, and gives the paintings the air of fragments cropped from some larger field. An inspection of the way the oil paint meets the edges of the linen, however, confirms that it was put on after the fabric was cut. The paint has been applied in thick, wide, rather straightforward and inelegant strokes that are generally either loosely horizontal or vertical. When these are widely separated from each other, they suggest a more painterly recap of the splayed grids of much Constructivist painting; when they become denser, jostling one another, they approach the more exasperated manner of certain postwar painting, such as that of Joan Mitchell or perhaps Pierre Soulages. In either mode, one experiences the color in full only after accepting the ordinariness, even the poverty, of the material that is its vehicle—a kind of delayed repleteness.

At times one could think these were simply bits of canvas on which the artist had tried out a number of different paints before using them on a real painting. Even their titles point this way, by simply listing, in German, the names of the oil paints that ended up on the canvas. One 1997 work is called Malve bläulich, W&N 400, Chromoxidgrün feurig, W&N 692, Neapelgelb rötlich extra, Scheveningen 112. Yet for all that, the painter’s feeling for color is not cool or detached but discreetly naturalistic: his reds are blood red, his greens sylvan, and so they touch on remembered realities rather than chemical properties. Ultimately, materials as such are secondary to the studious, interrogative pressure behind the individual marks and the tentativeness, bordering on diffidence, with which they interact. Probably it is here that the subject of Meller’s work resides: not so much in the means as in the entranced incredulity with which he puts them to the test. The emotional clarity of these paintings lies in their peculiar mixture of tentativeness and insistence. And for all that this clarity relies on an apparently austere and analytical manner, it is anything but puritanical in aim. Here color (pace Ingres), the voluptuous, is the probity of art.

Barry Schwabsky