Basel

Hans Stalder

Galerie Friedrich

A bullfinch is perched high up on a flowering branch, its body flowing into a stylized sky, as if the picture—Spatz (Sparrow), 2005—were seeking to make us forget the difference between figure and ground. The clear red contour lines seem to disappear briefly when attention wanders; they are interrupted periodically, the breaks reminiscent of gaps in the memory of something one knows well. The branch, with sharply delineated leaves and fruit, fl oats on the surface of the painting in such a way that even a richly colored clarity is seen only fleetingly. Stalder uses simplicity in the plural: Various elements appear on the same surface of the painting as if on a stage—huddled close together, both to emphasize and irritate each other. And the location of the bird between the clouds is uncertain—is it actually a reflection in a shop window? Is the painting itself becoming a mirror that only briefly reflects our expectations of painting? In any case, here the most common of birds is a metaphor for the different ways of seeing that art has to offer.

Stalder’s recent exhibition featured a number of paintings from 2003 to 2006, all reflecting a very personal reworking of Pop art. The flower paintings here might have been modeled on the illustrations on seed packets at a nursery. (The fashion labels integrated into his earlier ornamental pictures are no longer in evidence.) Just as important as the directness of the picture is its potential for reworking; these are paintings of paintings, representing movements among motifs and within the permanent difference of painting from itself. This series of very colorful, flat pictures of blossoms is titled “Pensées,” 1996– , setting off a play on words in French: Pensée means both “pansy” and “thought.”

The self-portraits and portraits of friends in this exhibition clearly demonstrated that Stalder’s painting sets out to represent concrete relationships. He does not pursue the hype of mass-media simulations. Instead, he seeks a hybrid realism: Self-Portrait, 2006, features a white silhouette of the artist’s head—possibly wearing glasses—striking and unmistakable to anyone who’s ever seen him. A shadow pushes onto his face from the side like a mask, disturbing the archaic quiet of the figure. A few brushstrokes at his hairline are echoed in the comical geometric pattern of his T-shirt, as if the figure’s head were put between quotation marks. Yet all of these contradictory, schematic fragments are presented in a matter-of-fact way. Stalder takes his time when painting in order to preserve in his work a sense of latency, of potential. This care highlights his painterly virtuosity and disturbs what might otherwise have been a familiar pop iconography.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.