Mark Lammert, Sammlung (Collection) (detail), 2005–2008, oil on canvas, sixteen panels, each 19 5/8 x 15 3/4".

Mark Lammert, Sammlung (Collection) (detail), 2005–2008, oil on canvas, sixteen panels, each 19 5/8 x 15 3/4".

Mark Lammert

Guardini Galerie

Mark Lammert, Sammlung (Collection) (detail), 2005–2008, oil on canvas, sixteen panels, each 19 5/8 x 15 3/4".

For a contemporary artist to pursue a dialogue with modern or older masters is not in itself remarkable. But to address predecessors such as Soutine or Bacon by making sequels to their work that succeed as independent paintings, not commentaries, suggests a more nuanced operation. And that’s what Mark Lammert has been undertaking. He recently showed ten suites of oil paintings made between 1997 and 2010, ranging from the small Lettre (nach Goya) (Letter [After Goya]), 2008–2009, which consists of four small panels, to the wall-spanning Manöver (Maneuver), 2005–10, made up of twenty-seven paintings. As the dates show, Lammert is in no hurry with his works. Each panel shows a monochrome and substantially developed ground, on which one or more figurative fragments appears. But figurative is a precarious word here, since those fragments involve no more than the suggestion of a human, animal, or organic form. They could just as aptly be described as abstract and complex blotches of color.

Nach Étienne-Jules Marey (After Étienne-Jules Marey), 2005–2008, is an ode to one of the fathers of chronophotography; the six-part work explicitly investigates the problem of how to express physical movement in a painting. The theme also crops up elsewhere in the show, but in a more subdued and implicit manner. More characteristic is the eight-part Passion, 2001–2002, in which existence and decay are evoked throughout by way of three shapes. The work deals with light and manifestation and is arguably the most spiritual in the show.

Lammert works on the basis of observation but also departs from his sources, “listening,” as he paints, to what emerges in terms of unintentional content. Dominant in Manöver is the irregular and matte black against which a dance of color blotches takes place. In other works, such as the tenuous Weiss (White), 2001–2002, each panel can function independently. Yet no single painting in the exhibition was presented autonomously. Each had its relatives, and in most cases that not only broadened the perspective but enhanced it as well. Only in the trio of Diptychons, 2001–2002, which were hung vertically, in decreasing order of size, did the formal context have a disruptive effect. The most flamboyant group in the show was Floaters, 2005–2009, involving eight different changes of ground color. But in this case the amalgamation of motif and ground seems not to work—as though the process took shape prematurely. In the sixteen-part Sammlung (Collection), 2005–2008, the friction between the beige ground and the motifs of color has, on the other hand, an energizing effect, directing the eye to seek a glimpse of coherence.

Nowhere does Lammert offer the illusion of the new or the unique. While his approach is almost existential, his works maintain a certain lightness, perhaps because so much remains hidden and obscure. In these works, the insight that we essentially possess nothing of our own is elegantly played out.

Jurriaan Benschop

Translated from Dutch by Beth O’Brien.