“Dub Like Dirt,” the name Düsseldorf painter Stoya gave his recent exhibition, is taken from a CD compilation of King Tubby material from the mid-’70s. The title is hard to reconcile with the colorful, organic, and ornamental forms in Stoya’s paintings. Nor does the presentation match the association with dirt—the pictures are exhibited in storage conditions, piled in an orderly fashion one behind the other. Where then do the contradictory elements meet?

Musical borrowings and references, particularly quotations from titles or lyrics, are hardly unusual in visual art. Mostly these amount to attempts at contextualization or clues to a mood. They sometimes strike an autobio-graphical note but seldom demand any detailed interpretation. But with such a pronounced contrast between an exhibition and its title, the words appear to function as a kind of key. On a superficial level, “dub” suggests an analogy between musical technique and that of painting, while “dirt” evokes uncontrolled matter, short-circuiting with the evident ornamentalism—but this interpretation doesn’t get us very far. A glance back helps a bit more: About six years ago, Stoya showed a series of landscape paintings covered with paint splotches. These splotches constituted a second plane of the image; rather than touching on a recollected reality via associations or effects of recognition, this plane functioned as a screen linking the spatial-physical reality and the pictured one. The distancing effect Stoya conjured at the time with the splotches now appears to have been taken over by the title, and by the storage situation: the effect of forming a bridge between two realities.

Stoya tips his hand in other ways as well: The storage conditions and the title aren’t the only references to this linkage. There’s also the objectlike character of the thick canvases and the artist’s use of spray paint—a medium that remains more frequently a sign of the street than of high culture. In the collages that were exhibited in a second room, Stoya turns to elements from magazines, leaving words to stand without commentary in the colored fields or painting around isolated images. As opposed to the strategies of his earlier landscape pictures, Stoya’s new work reverses the connection between painting and extra-artistic reality. He sets out on an inverse path: Instead of the usual art leading to life, here the gambit is life pointing back to art. He marshals the most varied elements of popular culture—spray paint, album titles—to refer in some sense to painting, and juxtaposes these references with the “place” of painting: in storage.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.