Bruno Jakob

Giving his monochromatic works titles like Unzipped, Contributed to the Air, Flickering Memory, and Mashed Potatoes (Still Collecting), Bruno Jakob evoked a range of images, from the abstract to the richly figurative, as well as a web of allusions to the history of painting. In the exhibition one was confronted, in different sizes and formats, with works on paper, canvas, and photo paper, all of which had been primed in various shades of green, either actually (in the case of the canvases) or “invisibly” (the artist claims the photo and paper works are green, though no color meets the eye). It was as if Jakob were inviting imagined pictures to meet on the stretched framework of painting, on the untouched ground that one conventionally thinks of as being neutral. Only faint, wavy lines on the paper and fine, almost imperceptible blurs on the canvas quietly insinuated that this body of work was not about pure analytical painting or the monochrome.

Jakob paints with an odd assortment of media, citing “snow water” as a medium for some works, “brain” or “energy” for others (for these he has projected either an imagined image or someone’s energetic rays onto the support). When painting with water, he prepares several glasses of it, each of which is arbitrarily assigned a color. When the water dries on the paper, it leaves discernible if subtle traces, which function as the visible residue of evanescent images. In contrast, the mental and energetic projections on his picture surfaces can be retraced only in the imaginary, allowing them to be envisioned as thoroughly polychromatic.

For years, Jakob has been developing his contemplative work in the middle of New York’s bustling East Village, without letting his project get rigidly programmatic. His art is a reflection on painting beyond retinal presence, but also beyond Duchamp’s renunciation of pigment and stretchers. It is not about overcoming the material prerequisites of painting, but about the different forms the evaporation of an image may take. Here Jakob strictly differentiates himself from Conceptual approaches. Last year, in the exhibition “A Clear View of the Mediterranean,” he integrated his contribution into the collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich, consciously seeking proximity to the work of Robert Ryman and Barnett Newman. One might also consider his work’s connection to figurative painting, to the masterpieces of the Middle Ages, for example. Because visibility is suspended in his work, a renewed exchange between any prior form of painting becomes thinkable.

Images in a virtual world always occupy a substrate in the material world as well, and Jakob’s work bears this tension. A visual culture that has experienced an acceleration of image production and distribution almost to the point of omnipresence can only be challenged by a series of paintings that set the image free from visibility. But Jakob moves beyond the withdrawal of the visible image to the point where thought retracts into the work. It is to this that the title of the Zurich exhibition—“Philosophy Escaped (Invisible Painting)”—alludes. Here Jakob painted his pictures with melted snow, conscious that even the medium of evaporation changes the canvases’ condition, as in the work Unzipped, 1999, whose title itself became the message of Jakob’s own brand of (to quote the title of yet another work) “fugitive philosophy.”

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from Germany by Elizabeth Felicella.