Donnerstag, 26. Oktober 2017

Where am I ? – Queer pictures, crooked houses - breaking the spell of artistic powerlessness

Where am I?
Queer pictures, crooked houses - breaking the spell of artistic powerlessness 
Holger Bunk, Madrid April 2001














This lecture was first presented at the art academy in Stuttgart, as part of a colloquium sponsored by the architecture department and held in January 2000. During the talk, you will see a series of 160 slides from my photographic archive, all taken between 1977 and 2000.

The roots of my talk today can be traced back to the fact that the academy in Stuttgart is an institution in the privileged position of housing a number of departments under one roof. Apparently, the architecture department had already had some experience with artists, and so I was politely asked not to use the colloquium as a forum for self-promotion. Despite this, I decided to talk about myself anyway. I see no need to deny myself, my art or my role as a teacher in order to hold a lecture on a subject that is of both general interest and public significance. Put simply, the subject of my paintings is ‘space’ or, perhaps better, ‘human surroundings.’ 

In what follows, I will therefore speak about spaces that are perceived more or less unconsciously and the emotional spaces in which we might find ourselves, were we to permit consciousness of them. I hope also to make it clear why the lecture is called ‘Where am I?’ In looking more closely at our environment, namely, we discover the extent to which the ‘queer images’ and ‘crooked houses’ of the subtitle determine our everyday reality. Perhaps you, the audience, will find parallels with the things I have observed in your own life. And if not, you may nonetheless profit from my reflections on how such perceptions come about: what was my first impression of my surroundings? What is the first image I can remember, and how has my understanding of it changed over time? Thus, although I will only speak about myself, perhaps what I have to say has larger implications, particularly about the way one moves from a vague awareness into more clearly oriented regions. In my opinion, this process is never-ending. It is always possible to improve and refine our visual and intellectual apparatus and our abilities. The question is: how?

As a young art student, I felt it was my most important task to learn to look more closely, to become more perceptive and sensitive in life in order to become more precise in my art. The aim was to become more receptive to the finer nuances so as to be able to accurately describe the complexities of reality and its underlying structures. Painting was thus a means of learning to see more subtly. The more my fellow-students and I looked, the more sensitised we became. The result was that a whole series of simple, previously uncomplicated everyday activities suddenly became highly problematic. The daily journey to the academy, for example, was a nightmare, as it was no longer possible to ignore the aesthetic atrocities that are so much part of the urban landscape. The art student, who naturally concentrates on perception, is subjected to abominable advertising, an abuse of materials bordering on the criminal, and buildings whose proportions lack all sensibility. Not to mention the traffic, which irritates not only the eyes, but also the ears and nose.

Through this increased visual awareness, then, I suddenly became conscious of the sensory overkill that is so much a part of our daily lives. I began to question the value of this sensitisation process: did it not simply lead to more suffering? And what about the art-viewing public? Are we doing them a favour when we ask them to partake of our acute vision of the world? I began to think that anyone who wants to actively create aesthetic objects and release them into the world should not only consider how feelings are created and intensified, but also what admixture of sensitivity and toughness are wanted and needed in the society of the future.

In my ideal world, architects and artists would aim to create mood consciously, rather than simply hoping it will ‘somehow’ become apparent. Advertising, of course, has long since discovered ‘atmosphere,’ but sets it to work subliminally, and is always willing to sell it off to the highest bidder. It is a widespread misconception that artistic and architectural production is merely a form of personal expression. In reality it is a kind of communication and has a (social) function. I once told one of my professors about how a group of viewers had reacted to some of my pictures. Apparently outraged, he said in a tone of utter disgust: ‘What! You mean to tell me you do what people want?’ Of course not, but I am interested in what ‘people’ think and feel. And in order to learn this, one of the most important questions one has to ask is: ‘How, in our society, do the tools of perception develop, and how does the individual progress to active and responsible engagement as an artist or designer? 

To help answer this question, I will now tell you a story. It is what I call ‘my personal fairytale’ and I think it may be interesting in this context. I believe it is important to analyse the influences to which the individual is exposed long before he or she has decided to take on an operative role in visual production.

A STORY:
B was born in a hospital in Essen run by the great steel manufactory Krupp, and he continued to live in this large city in western Germany for the next six years. He then moved to Soest, a small town, and, as a young adult, to the provincial capital of Nordrhein-Westphalia, Düsseldorf. Later, he no longer had one residence, but instead began commuting between Amsterdam, Stuttgart and Soest. The notion of ‘home’ lost its meaning.

As noted, B was born in Essen. Although Germany had started a war – and lost it only nine years before – the country as a whole was not in bad shape. Indeed, one half – the Federal Republic – was doing remarkably well, and B grew up in a world that, although damaged and only just beginning to recover, was nonetheless secure. His universe was comprised of ruined houses and shattered people, whose efforts to forget the past went hand in hand with an overwhelming desire to rebuild and begin anew. Fortunately, children always begin from scratch, and they mostly grow up without the burden of history. B’s first memory is thus of a tiny room, entirely isolated from the problems surrounding him. This is also his first awareness of space.

B likes to play with a mirror and a piece of glass. He hopes to make another mirror out of the piece of glass by placing some paper behind it. Naturally, though, all he sees in the glass is the paper itself; no magical transformation takes place. Inexorably connected to this realisation – which is H’s first memory both of materials and his own learning process – are the space of the kitchen and its surface substances. They imprint themselves on his mind, as if part of the same file: the yellow and white wooden furniture; the tiny-patterned wallpaper; the fabric of his mother’s apron and the curtains. In his memory, the dimensions of the tube-like kitchen, which ran from the darkness of the hallway to a small balcony outside, are an integral part of this small but important lesson. Much later, B would ask himself if spaces are capable of imposing themselves on one’s mental state to such an extent as to actually catalyse development, and that if only for this reason, we should be careful about the things with which we surround ourselves and others.

Later, B and his parents move to a council flat. Their new home complies with modern standards and the social ideals of the time: it is much lighter and more colourful. B can remember all the rooms: his own bedroom with its space-saving bunk bed; the ‘master bedroom’ with the chequered curtains in which B thinks he sees the head of a dwarf. Lying sick in his parents’ bed, he is plagued by a ‘philosophical’ question: can others see the dwarf, or is it merely a product of his semi-conscious imagination, his illness? The living room is decorated in grey wallpaper decorated with tiny kidney shapes, the height of fashion in the 1950s; they seem to float about in space, having neither rhyme nor reason.

In other parts of the flat, too, surfaces are ‘activated’ with lines and symbols. In an unobserved moment, B uses a coloured pencil to leave behind a personal sign on the walls of the long corridor – perfect for running one’s hand along. The liberal ideology of the 1960s was still a long way off, however, and so B’s parents failed to see this as a form of creativity. For years afterwards one could still see the traces of their attempts to destroy B’s ‘work.’

The unauthorised use of surfaces and spaces can thus be checked, even if remnants remain on the wall and on a child’s conscience. In a block of rented flats, one learns about concepts of property not only by learning to distinguish one’s own front door from all the rest. The small patches of grass at the front and back of the building are just as off limits for playing as the street. For this purpose, there are only the paths between the houses, and the area where the trashcans are kept. Not an ideal combination, but at the time, playing around the trashcans was nothing unusual.

The official playground is somewhat further away and is a zone of permanent territorial conflict. Located next to the estate’s transformer, the terrain – a supposedly ‘free space’ – is subject to a number of hostile takeover bids. Teenagers spray graffiti and rowdies drive away both mothers and children by staging wrestling matches in the sandbox. At regular intervals, the playground becomes unsafe and run down and it is often entirely deserted. Sometimes poorer kids from an underprivileged neighbourhood nearby stage an invasion, stealing toys and starting fights. This results in still more control rounds – by guards and cleaning and sanitation crews. 

Naturally, playing on or near the few remaining war ruins, half-hidden behind now-decrepit fences, is strictly forbidden. The question of their origin is never touched on. Sometimes an unexploded bomb is found in the neighbourhood and B is forced to stay at home while it is defused.
By now, though, the air space over Essen is perfectly safe. The planes leave behind vapour trails that inspire B to make drawings. His parents like them and put them away in the family photo album. The skywriters paint the letters IMI and ATA in the heavens. The first words the young B puts down on paper are thus the abbreviated names of Germany’s most popular household cleaning products. The first framed images B becomes aware of – his first paintings, really – are the ones hanging in the church-run kindergarten he attends: a Good shepherd, with a lamb over his shoulders, and a Cross in the mountains, images whose sadness the child easily understands.

Painted on a windowless wall next to an empty lot, on the other hand, are two smiling cars; they are in complete agreement: ‘Autos love Shell.’ 
Later B likes to go to school, but a dreadful dented wire fence is running down the centre of the schoolyard. It divides the yard, like the building itself, into two symmetrical halves: one Protestant, the other Catholic. Barely 40 years ago, a barrier between the confessions was thought to be the proper way of preparing the next generation for the future.

With this, my exemplary tale of the patterns of childhood comes to an end. One can say that with the individual’s entry into the school system – no matter how poor the pedagogy – he or she become equipped with the means to react to society, and to take a more active and conscious role in it.

In the 1960s, the emotional helplessness and narrow-mindedness of the previous decade was replaced by the competition between ideologies, none of which managed to gain the upper hand. The struggle itself, however, resulted in a great number of developments and changes in the intellectual, political and economic spheres. Increasingly, all systems of thought were seen as relative and this left the individual with a far greater freedom of choice. The canon of possible forms and means of expression expanded as well. Since then, coexistence and plurality have been the battle cries of the visual world.

In the meantime, an abundance of new, equally inharmonious ‘queer images’ have come into being, aided by a variety of developments, technical and otherwise. Today, ‘style’ has been replaced by ‘styling,’ that is, a game of surfaces, something that can be changed instantly, like a piece of clothing. Style, on the other hand, as the visual manifestation of an idea or fundamental conviction, demands depth. When, however, a statement can just as easily mean its opposite, there is no room for style. In addition, radical change becomes impossible; what we are left with is simply a network of possibilities, which either develop or stagnate, at anyone’s discretion. Because the viewer can always change position or perspective, creating a new relationship to the surroundings or background, the same object can easily be simultaneously beautiful and ugly. This aesthetic double bind applies to both works of art and architecture. The enormous amount of information that plays a role when we look at a building, design object, painting or sculpture can lead us to evaluate one and the same artefact as aesthetically positive and negative at the same time. 
After the war, the ruins were cleared away and the empty lots built up as quickly as possible. With the result that the most varied visual ideas and ideologies frequently collide, often in a way that is almost unbearable. The most irreconcilable dogmas and purisms, each with their own particular ‘blind spot,’ are forced into grotesque relation. Uncomfortable but intriguing spaces emerge where these visual contradictions are the strongest. These may be discovered by artists and thus experience a re-evaluation. A whole generation of contemporary German photographers, including Bernd and Hilla Becher, Thomas Struth, Martin Kippenberger and many others, was responsible for creating a new vision of these architectural coincidences. 

As artists, however, we cannot simply stand there, staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed at these jarring contradictions. A musician always follows the order of the movements in his piece, paying careful attention to changes in mood and rhythm. A painting is also part of a sequence of visual impressions; a building may end at the perimeter of the lot on which it is built, but its visual impact does not. This is what we have to pay attention to.

In the third part of my talk, I would like to show you a series of structures that are located in cities I know well, places I live or have lived in the past. The question I want to explore is whether the plurality and relativism described above necessarily results in chaos, or if, perhaps, it can be used to more constructive ends. Is it possible that the end of the hegemony of style might represent the beginning of a kind of formal and thematic liberation? If this were the case, I would be glad if we could expand this freedom in new ways. That would be a task one could take on happily. I will now present a number of concrete examples that will illustrate the types of tasks this new liberty gives us.

Interestingly, I have often lived in cities and towns with lots of odd angles, unusual perspectives and crooked houses. Over time, I seem to have developed a personal taste for these things, and this is probably what led me to choose the following examples.






OSTHOFENTOR
Here we see a medieval city gate, the Osthofentor in Soest in Westphalia, erected in 1524. Many such gates can be found throughout Europe – structures with an art historical value that protects them from destruction, despite the fact that they are often in the way. On the one hand, the gate still looks fairly imposing and monumental; on the other, it seems a little lost, as everything that once gave it a purpose and context has long since been torn down – mainly to aid the flow of traffic. Gone are not only are the high city walls, but also the ramparts that once served to separate the town from the surrounding countryside. Now located at the very heart of Soest, no one would consider using it as an entranceway today. Still, it is a work of art, with qualities unsurpassed by the majority of the city’s other structures. Only after studying the history of art did I realise that the town’s various orientation systems and means of access had actually been laid on top of one another, still competing for primacy.

In order to keep goods and people moving, modern cities need wide streets; things have to be accessible and clearly marked out, and there must be plenty of parking. So much is obvious. In the medieval city, on the other hand, access was controlled, and priority was given to those who were either of high rank or members of a guild. The town centre was an important place, accommodating an imperial palace, two churches and the town hall. From here, the streets radiated outward like the spokes of a wheel, leading to the various gates set into the city walls. This resulted in a network of roads and lanes, which formed acute and obtuse angles, as well as segments.




LOERBACH SOEST
Each guild had its own district, named after the same saints as the nearby churches and chapels. This corporative structure meant people did not move around much; everyone remained in ‘their’ quarter. Here we see the tanners’ lane; these craftsmen needed water for their work and so were allowed to settle along the stream.
























ANDERE GASSEN SOEST 1 ,2, 3
Soest has no major axes, making it practically impossible for an outsider to find his or her way around. The layout of many of the city’s streets was determined by the given circumstances: that is, where there was stone or wood available, the course of the stream or hills that were easy to climb. For motorists, such streets are a nightmare, and much of the original substance has thus fallen victim to their requirements. Will pedestrians and the natural world once again become a consideration in the city of the future? 













SCHIEFER TURM 1, ST. THOMÄ, SOEST
When this tower was built, construction was still determined by lines that follow natural or physical laws alone. I particularly like the sense of craft, of the artisan’s hand, which we feel in the use of materials here. Such crooked lines have been banished from today’s city, where technical perfection is valued above all else. In a medieval town like Soest, on the other hand, craft and building were entirely determined by the conditions of nature.

SCHIEFER TURM 2
The fact that it was necessary to construct the tower against the main direction of the wind was not thought to detract from either its beauty or spirituality.





















ST. PATROKLI
Christian Rohlfs, Otto Modersohn and other German Expressionists took these churches and half-timbered houses as subjects for their paintings. In these dynamic lines, they discovered the expressive principles of their art. There is thus a profound connection between this archaic architecture and the most advanced visual art of the early 20th century.




















ST. MARIA ZUR HÖHE
Contemporary artists and architects often find it difficult to express the spiritual or religious in their work, mainly because the church’s dogmas and rituals seem rather meaningless to us today. We are far more interested in rationality. We are no longer willing to subordinate our creative decisions to an overarching idea, to rules and laws made by anyone other than ourselves.














































In this detail of the Romanesque relief above the portal of St Maria zur Höhe in Soest, we can easily see how the artist has imbued his figures and forms – the manger, Joseph’s throne, the window for the ox and ass – with a spiritual dynamic. (Remember the leaning tower.)




SAKRISTEI VON MARIA ZUR HÖHE
Such ‘crookedness’ is not a sign of inability, but rather a natural result of the medieval craftsman’s way of working. Which mason, architect or painter today could calculate the angles we see here without resorting to the computer? A re-evaluation of this craft aspect might help make us more flexible and open to the achievements of other cultures that have retained this intimate relationship with their materials.


















OVERTOOM AMSTERDAM
Now we move on to another place I know fairly well in order to continue our exploration of the emotions evoked by urban spaces and the life of the city. Here, on the right under the trees, you see a number of small houses in the centre of Amsterdam. This area is neither particularly interesting in terms of its architecture, nor does it attract a lot of tourists. What makes it pleasant, though, is that even here, in the heart of the town, a human scale has been preserved.


This lively street, which connects Amsterdam’s famous canal belt with the motorway, features a number of houses I feel I could actually have built myself. Naturally, I do not want to see every big city transformed back into a little village. But in its totality, this street offers an animated and colourful collage of architectural forms such as we rarely find elsewhere. And the people who live here are far from provincial. In fact, from these dwarf-like houses you can reach the airport faster than from most urban centers.















FACHWERK SOEST
Here is an example of what a German handmade house looks like. You can easily see that the wooden beams have been allowed to keep their natural shape. 




























KOSTVERLORENVAART AMSTERDAM
This is an example of how colourful a row of houses can be when they follow the lay of the land.

KNSM-EILAND
Here, city planners and architects have obviously accepted the need for variety and plurality, and have sought to incorporate this desire for individualism – a long-standing tradition in Amsterdam – into their plans.

HOCHHAUSBALKON
One does not necessarily have to deny idiosyncratic forms and the need for variety in order to be ‘modern.’ It seems to me that confronting the contradictory is one of our major chances for development. This is an example of how the inhabitants of a building can lay claim to the architect’s work.

HOCHHAUSBALKON NÄHER I+II
Here, an old-fashioned cast-iron lamp has been used to transform the balcony into a more personal space. Undoubtedly, similarly kitschy lamps and furniture can be found in modern apartment blocks all over the world. ‘Living,’ after all, has everything to do with one’s own life, in all its complexities and contradictions. This can be a field of endless interest for artists and architects.

KOLLHOFF 1, 2 and 3
This is one of my favourite buildings in Amsterdam. The Piräus building – nicknamed ‘The Crab’ – was built by the firm Hans Kollhoff/Rapp and Helga Timmermann, and was completed in 1994. It is located on the terrain of a former warehouse by the harbour. It accommodates 304 state-subsidised apartments, 20 commercial spaces and a number of interior courtyards, which can be seen either as a kind of play on Amsterdam’s traditional almshouses or as a reference to Berlin, where the architects live and work.

Seen from the front, the building does nothing to deny its thoroughly urban massiveness, while the roof on the side facing the water – shown here – slopes downward, making for a panoramic view. The facades are constructed in dark brick, which helps lessen the extraordinary brilliancy created by the sun, air and surrounding water on a clear day.

For me, the Piräus building answers the question of how we should be making buildings today. No grand axes are necessary and nothing majestic is needed to create an effect: the mass has its own natural weight, and this is enough. And yet the structure also has its intimate corners, namely the internal courtyards. The architects have succeeded in transforming a barely accessible island in the old harbour into a popular space for living.

I would now like to return to my initial question, namely: ‘Where am I?’ In my opinion, what is important for architects and artists today is that they develop a more conscious and professional way of working, one that is independent of unconscious expectations. I have already said quite a bit about how difficult this process can be for each of us as individuals, but it is also one we must keep in mind in our teaching.

In my talk so far I have both stated my criticisms and sought to demonstrate how various, temporally bound notions can come into conflict with one another; how the creations of one era can compete with those of the another and even destroy them; and how all this seems to have resulted in a feeling of ‘anything goes.’ Having reached the end, I would like now to conclude with a more positive formulation, and to suggest which tools artists and architects might use in order to make their more subtle concerns manifest. The future will bring still more technical developments and improvements; this is the law of economy. What technology cannot provide, however, are our tasks. What we as an academy need to work on is: the revival of craft; the strengthening of the individual; and further specialisation.

1. By the ‘revival of craft’ I mean teaching students to make competent decisions about what can and should be done by hand. Increased experience with materials and complex praxes will, I believe, lead to technical solutions that have much more to do with ‘human scale’ than what we are accustomed to from industrial production. How important and intellectually challenging such craftsmanship can be should be obvious from the visual arts.

2. What is needed are individuals capable of setting themselves in relation to the information provided by society, and who are open to the possibilities offered by interdisciplinary and multicultural ways of working. Young artists need to be encouraged to be consequent and committed to what they are doing. Thanks to the new technologies of reproduction, the responsibility for what we create today is actually greater than ever, and such commitment may soon be in demand again.

3. What I mean by ‘specialisation’ is the ability to formulate artistic and visual problems in an active way. ‘One per cent for art’ programmes and statements like ‘What this wall needs is a painting’ are, in reality, restrictions. We need more competence in decision making that affects our visual world and, of course, more communication.

All of these things can be achieved here and in other academies around Europe; the potential is there. One of the most important questions for the future, however, is whether or not we will be able to find the organisational forms necessary to use it effectively. And: will the economic and political ‘powers that be’ continue to leave us the scope we need, or will they instead force us into new a dependency and powerlessness? 


Montag, 12. Dezember 2016

Offener Brief an Ministerin Theresia Bauer gegen Studiengebühren in BW


An:
Theresia Bauer, MdL Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Königstraße 46
70173 Stuttgart

Offener Brief zur Einführung einer selektiven Gebührenerhebung von Studierenden aus NichtEUStaaten an Hochschulen in BadenWürttemberg.
Sehr geehrte Frau Ministerin Theresia Bauer,
die Unterzeichnerinnen und Unterzeichner des vorliegenden Briefes möchten Sie auffordern, sich für den Erhalt des gebührenfreien Studiums für Studierenden aus NichtEUStaaten einzusetzen und im Sinne der Qualität in der Lehre und der Attraktivität des Hochschulstandortes BadenWürttemberg auf die Einführung einer selektiven Gebührenerhebung zu verzichten.
Dem mit der Gebührenerhebung verbundene Zweck, die finanzielle Tragfähigkeit des Hochschulsystems zu steigern und damit dessen Qualität zu sichern, stehen die Unterzeichnerinnen und Unterzeichner dieses Schreibens sehr kritisch gegenüber. Dieser haushaltspolitisch motivierte Vorschlag zur Gebührenerhebung schadet insbesondere denjenigen Hochschulen, welche internationale Studierende nicht als reine Studienfälle, sondern als einen wichtigen integrativen Bestandteil ihrer künstlerischen Arbeit, Forschung und Lehre verstehen. Diese Hochschulen in BadenWürttemberg profitieren durch erfolgreiche Integration und zahlreiche interkulturelle Projekte direkt von ihren Kommilitoninnen und Kommilitonen z.B. aus Asien, Afrika und Lateinamerika. Solche Studierende sind gewinnbringende Investitionen einer Hochschule und nicht nur „Zusatzkosten“.
Das Studium an deutschen Hochschulen ist für Studierende aus NichtEUStaaten in allen Bundesländern zwar weitestgehend gebührenfrei, aber nicht „billig“! Mit einem Studienaufenthalt in Deutschland sind insbesondere für diese Studierende hohe finanzielle Hürden verbunden (Finanzierungsnachweis, Lebenshaltungskosten, spezielle Sprachkurse etc.). Eine soziale Schieflage bei den internationalen Studierenden lässt sich bereits jetzt feststellen und wird durch die Einführung von Gebühren verschärft.
Für die Bemühungen, die internationale Ausrichtung zu forcieren und die Attraktivität des Hochschulstandortes international auszubauen, ist die Einführung von selektiven Gebühren nur für Studierende aus NichtEUStaaten aus Sicht der Unterzeichnerinnen und Unterzeichner zudem ein falsches Signal.
Unterzeichnerinnen und Unterzeichner: 
Prof. Cordula Güdemann
Prof. Holger Bunk

Samstag, 16. April 2016

Print





























Erste Print-Publikation von Channel n° 178: Das Heft zur Ausstellung von Holger Bunk, Helgi Thorgils Fridjonsson und Lars Ravn im ASÍ Art Museum in Reykjavik. Diese Publikation in Digital-Print schön gedruckt von der Drukkerij Terts in Amsterdam, 56 Seiten, Fadenheftung, enthält zahlreiche Abbildungen aus der Ausstellung, für die auch eine Wandzeichnung der drei Künstlerfreunde entstand. Ausserdem enthält es 3 Texte in englischer Sprache (Fidjonsson. Bunk). Gestaltet wurde das Heft von Gabriele F. Götz – Ambulant Design Amsterdam

Erhältlich ist das Heft im boeki woeki bookshop Amsterdam oder für 28 Euro incl. Versand über e-mail: bunk@xs4all.nl 
Bitte geben Sie bei mail- Bestellung Ihre komplette Postadresse an, Sie erhalten eine Rechnung.











First Print edition by Channel n° 178: Booklet for an cooperative exhibition of Holger Bunk (Stuttgart/Amsterdam), Helgi Thorgils Fridjonsson (Reykjavik) und Lars Ravn (Copenhagen) at ASÍ Art Museum in Reykjavik 2013. 56 pages digitally printed by Drukkerij Terts in Amsterdam, design: Gabriele F. Götz – Ambulant Design Amsterdam The booklet is available at boeki woeki bookshop Amsterdam

Samstag, 28. Februar 2015

Between Painting and Illustration

or: Comparing Cathedrals with Beer Mats?


Holger Bunk

scroll down for german text - deutsche Version weiter unten

Preliminary Note:
This is a kind of virtual essay on „Painting and Illustration" from the perspective of my studio and my teaching. Thus I hope you will understand that next to assured facts, this essay will be influenced by personal bias and opinion.

Antoine Watteau 1684 –1721, Billboard of the Art Dealer Gersaint


Europe´s biggest shop for graphic novels, Esslingen Germany 2013

In everyday speech, the terms ‘illustration’ and ‘painting’ are used as related but separate categories. Our notion of ‘illustration’ is that of an ‘applied art’: finding pictures for topics that are determined by text and theory. The classical illustration has to quickly visualise something or awaken our attention, but is attributed or subordinated to contents like teaching or information. The category ‘painting’, however, is seen as independent because of the general notion of the freedom of the fine arts. What is not verbalised is that the fine arts are also regulated by a highly competitive and hierarchical scale: ‘art’ can–for whatever reasons–stay insignificant, but it can also sore into record-breaking heights at auctions or at orchestrated blockbuster-exhibitions that are broadcasted on all channels.
Nevertheless, in the modern usage of these two terms a separation into functions is noticeable: the applied and the fine arts roughly correspond to a hierarchy ranging from popular and accessible everyday images to images with an elitist claim of permanence.

Gerhard Richter *1932, "Atlas"

In my studio or at my desk, where I prepare myself for painting, I sit in the midst of those collected pictures, illustrations, and paper clippings that have fascinated me somehow. They are working material and not yet ‘art;’ but collected photos and pictures, magazines and books admittedly play a bigger role in my preparations than my own sketches or designs. Similarly, I have seen colleagues living happily in such collections, or students painting from photos or, by now, directly from a screen. There are renowned examples for working with an accumulated picture pool: there is for instance Gerhard Richter’s ‘Atlas.’ A work which is not only published, but also exhibited from time to time, and available online. Found pictures and visual everyday life have a high status in his painting production.

Hans Sedlmayr 1896 – 1984,  book cover „Verlust der Mitte"

Aby Warburg 1866 – 1929

In the art theoretical parts of my education I was caught in the crossfire of teachers of whom one referred to the methodology of his teacher Hans Sedlmayr and the others more to that of Aby Warburg. Contrary in great parts, this could be very confusing for students. At the same time, the skilled and almost sublime craftsmanship of painting played a big role; the fine arts were thus put in opposition to everyday images and a comprehensive visual culture. Sedlmayr describes the phenomena of contemporary art in terms of illness while he sees the occidental Christian tradition, and within that pre-modern figurative painting, as paramount. My former teacher polemicised in "Sedlmayr-Tradition" that his "Warburg colleagues" compared "cathedrals with beer mats." Apart from this polemics I appreciate Sedlmayr’s demand for an approach that favours the descriptive on the basis of accurate observation.

Aby Warburg, on the other side, lay the foundations for an attitude that I can still see today in artists and art historians—even in the abovementioned Gerhard Richter. Warburg developed a method of a broader and more international iconology, and one that was even more concerned with the everyday image. The focus lies on realising how cultural developments happen and how they make a complex impact on the world. These developments do not only happen within the fine arts. Today many interesting artists work on global comparisons and connections, covering the full range of the visual and aesthetic production and not only on the small part of the visual world that was once declared ‘high culture.’



The gaze of the painter with a rather associative approach certainly chooses other focal points than a scientist who has to provide substantiated evidence. But both science and art interpret existing pictures in series in order to examine the origins of pictures or to explain developments. The figurative series that I would like to present here as an experiment, contains work from painters with a close relationship to the graphic arts.



I was interested in the depicted figures because I wanted to know how an encompassing, and ultimately radical, socio-political critique has developed out of moral remonstrance and judgement—parallel to the historical detachment from feudalism. Through ongoing artistic interpretation and stylisation the figure has become more ambiguous and thwarted. The figurative expression ranges from idealisation to grotesque and monstrous phantasms. The possibilities of caricature can evolve from an internal dissonance between heroism and holiness. At the end of this development is the exaggerated character as seen in contemporary images. The changing social hierarchies and the permanent departure from older ideologies are apparent in and through the development of the human figure in images. This series should be seen as a personal attempt to show these thematic changes in figurative art.

Heinrich Aldegrever 1502 – ca 1561

Jacques Callot 1592 – ca 1635

Jacques Callot (2)
  
Leonaerd Bramer 1596-1674

Francisco Goya 1746-1828

Karl Blechen 1798-1840

Karl Blechen (2)

Honoré Daumier 1808-1879

Odilon Redon 1840-1916

Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890

James Ensor 1860-1949

James Ensor (2)

James Ensor (3)

Max Ernst 1891– 1976

Max Ernst (2)

Max Ernst (3)

Hannah Höch 1889 – 1978

Hannah Höch (2)

Hannah Höch (3)

Kurt Schwitters 1887 – 1948

Kurt Schwitters (2)

Allen Jones * 1937

Allen Jones (2)

Allen Jones (3)

Ronald B. Kitaij 1932 – 2007

Ronald B. Kitaij (2)

Sigmar Polke 1941 – 2010

Sigmar Polke (2)

Marlene Dumas * 1953

Marlene Dumas (2)


The associative method with its abundance of references is only exemplified by such a short summary of selective figurative depictions. Art historians would certainly rather look at the great historical revolutions and paradigm shifts, such as the French Revolution or the Industrialisation, in order to investigate their impact on the distance between art and mass culture. As a maker of pictures however, I can indulge in a perspective that focuses on a descriptive comparison, on quotations and references, on the subsequent "treatment" through various periods and historical contexts:


Wilhelm Busch 1832-1908, Holger Bunk *1954



Wilhelm Busch, Neuruppiner Bilderbogen Mitte 19. Jh.


Neuruppiner Bilderbogen Mitte 19. Jh., Neo Rauch

Concerning one of my own watercolours, I discovered later that a drawing by Wilhelm Busch has to be the unconsciously chosen source material.  In the same manner could an iconological comparison investigate the paintings by Neo Rauch, the most famous of the New Leipzig School. In his images a conspicuous accumulation of figures clad in German Biedermeier costumes can be observed and it would be interesting to study their relation to the abundant literature on picture sheets (Bilderbogen) in the GDR.

Neo Rauch *1960

Furthermore, through an analysis of Rauch’s great success with American collectors, the iconology, composition and colour of the US-American superhero comics might leap into view—a visual relationship that could have contributed to his success.
_____
I personally would be interested in compiling even more series of changes, for instance about the pictorial space in painting. Similarly dramatic and significant changes can be seen in the inner organisation of images, in the construction of space on a two-dimensional surface, in framing devices within the picture, rival narratives within the images, layout, ‘Split screen’, film-like sequences and interactive navigation. However, the example of figurative images, with which I will deal now, should sufficiently show that motives go through a complex development process.

Marlene Dumas "Models"

Below I want to look at contemporary positions in the arts that, because of their content, refer to popular imagery and illustration. The focus here is on artists who presume that their viewer understands the play with the various layers of visual communication. This opens the possibility for them to enter public debates through visual strategies. The fast changes of media and the procedures of image production are themselves the subject of this kind of art. Painting and illustration benefit from each other or even seem to swap places. In every sense of the word, they reflect on each other.

Marlene Dumas "Models"

On the occasion of the exhibition of Marlene Dumas’s paintings in the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Matthias Winzen commented on the interplay of layers in her painting: in her series "Models" Marlene Dumas has displayed her astonishing ability to revive the made-up, almost masque-like faces of the digitally altered photographs, and to paint them back into faces with emotions, faces that ‘breathe’ on a painterly level. Apparently, magazine photos are transformed back into intense images. As much as I agree with Winzen’s observations on the series "Model," I am more sceptical towards her new series of artists’ portraits:

Marlene Dumas * 1953 „Künstler und Intellektuelle"

Even before Dumas first showed a portrait series of homosexual artists at the „Manifesta 2014" in St. Petersburg, press reviews critically observed the latest changes in legislation concerning homosexuality in Russia. These portraits seem like late illustrative additions to these articles. The pictures do not develop the same painterly necessity as those that transform high-end fashion models of magazines. A comment on the manipulation of models is more within the competences of painting. With her two series, the South African Marlene Dumas positions herself in current intercultural, political and gender debates.  However, when the cause for her work is the painterly gaze, the result of her work is more intense; while when the cause is the expression of her political stance, painting is assigned an illustrating role.
The political and the social, taking on popular topics, earn artists the reputation of esteemed political campaigners and help them to an aura of political commitment. But does it help painting and do we need them as announcers and authorities?

Shepard Fairey *1970

The image of the democratic campaign and the popularity of Barrack Obama, then still candidate for the Presidency of the USA, were shaped globally by Shepard Fairey. His portraits of Obama look like sprayed stencils, and they are far removed from any representative art or painterly expression. Nevertheless, Fairey is not afraid of monumentality or of the effective view from below. His images suggest the strong immediacy and simplicity of political folklore.
Moral and social commitment is doomed to tip over with the political circumstances, just as the connotations of commitment and the popular. With hindsight the Obama-portraits look like applauding the representative of the system. The original hopes and the political details are by now drowned in propaganda.

Shepard Fairey (2)

Shepard Fairey (3)

Shepard Fairey "at the Simpsons"

The pride with which the pop attitude is merged with the marketing of fashion is hard to miss. Maybe this is the proof that, at least in the US, art has managed to permeate society. In Europe, however, the consumerism and profit motivation of these endeavours would be questioned. Certainly, one objective is the creation of a community of ‘followers.’ The image, made by a cult artist, obtains the quality of a logo that unites a particular urban lifestyle-scene. The attention of the media turns its contents into a commodity with an expiry date, just as with fashion or newspapers.

Kerry James Marshall *1953

A similar and yet antipodal phenomenon is the career of the painter Kerry James Marshall . At the age of 60, the African-American artist has enjoyed enormous success with his exhibitions. On a curatorial level, this success seems like an apologetic afterthought. For how embarrassing is it that so few African Americans surface in the exhibition industry, especially if compared to the music industry? In an interview Kerry James Marshall admitted to have felt like an outsider in the academic world because of a complete absence of black role models.

Kerry James Marshall (2)

Consequently, his iconography has its roots in the life of the black communities that express themselves in their own subculture of signs and images—although with the demand for cultural self-determination and the rights of a minority.

Kerry James Marshall (3)

It is typical that a part of his early oeuvre consists of sequential images and graphic novels that were initially aimed at an audience outside the art scene. In its formative proximity to the popular, the oeuvre of Kerry James Marshall is more authentic than that of all the representatives of the premeditated ‘Bad Painting’ movement. These academicians wanted to prove their proximity to popular culture through illustrations: quotations like copied kitsch post-cards or other deliberately ‘tasteless’ things.

"Bad Painting"

Evelyn Wangui Gichuhi  *1980

Below the example of a young illustrator: ‘Miss Eve’ is the alias of Evelyn Wangui Gichuhi, a young Kenian illustrator who studied in the classes of Hendrik Dorgathen (Illustration) and Gabriele Franziska Götz (Visual Communication) at the Academy of Arts in Kassel. In her final project she combined sequential art with African advertisement pictures in a booklet that merges word and image and comes with detailed references.

"Miss Eve" (2)

The topic is the construction of a new, apparently correct ‘non-racism’ among ‘whites’ that can do without ‘black’ theoreticians. For this difficult topic full of ethical and political catches and pitfalls she chooses sequential art and completes the book with her texts and references to literature and links. This enables her to make the topic transparent and accessible for her viewers: it turns into an easily accessible booklet that could be the first step into the debate.

Chérie Samba *1956

Compared to this work, panel paintings treating similar topics appear rather like hybrids, for example the work by Cherie Samba. Within the subjects they treat, these paintings need to first establish the tradition of the ‘prized picture’ in a collection or a museum.

Chérie Samba (2)

The vast amount of text Cherie Samba uses in the painted image, mirrors the attempt to bridge a gap between the ‘knowing’ and the ‘ignorant,’ between the educated and the unexperienced reception.

Anton Kannemeyer *1967

A last African example shows that critical topics in the graphic arts or in illustration can hit more accurately and hurt those criticised more than intricate and unique paintings in an art gallery: Anton Kannemeyers ‘Alphabet of Democracy,’ a loose series of satirical works on paper was also published as a book. It reveals the serious shortcomings after Apartheid and Mandela and portraits the responsible persons in a less than flattering way.

Anton Kannemeyer (2)

"The Good" have won and rule—but how can you formulate your critique without being reactionary?  Based on Hergé, his comic figures seem to inhabit a world filled with a fragmented racism that seems to perpetually reformulate itself.
Anton Kannemeyer is part of a team that publishes a political comic magazine. An artistic hand and individuality are not called for in this context. Nevertheless, some of the graphic works of Kannemeyer’s series was shown in exhibitions and has gained cult status in some circles.


Anton Kannemeyer *1967,  Bunk,  Žižek

I have used his book "Alphabet of Democracy" in one of my newer paintings. The yellow Suhrkamp (German publishing company) volume next to the illustrated book by Kannemeyer is Slavoj Žižek’s book "Die politische Suspension des Ethischen." Numerous violations against ethical principles for superior reasons are enumerated and philosophically classified in this volume, for instance "waging war to end violence." The book shows to what extent we globally live in circumstances in which inconsistencies have to be endured. Inconsistencies for which we will have to find critical and political remedies in the hope of renewal and improvement.

In Žižek’s extensive analysis of ideology and culture, the British-American ‘Alien’ series exemplifies an interesting phenomenon. In the film of the director Ridley Scott, 5 other directors and no less than 12 screenwriters, the heroine realises that not only the space ships and outer space are inhabited by the ‘other,’ by the scariest adversary and hardest enemy, but ultimately she herself. This story is meant to throw the gaze back on to us. Our desire of drawing up boundaries often blinds us to the fact that our adversary is not so far away as we would wish him to be.


Smog in Beijing, newspaper photograph 2014

An example: When the LED displays on the Tiananmen square, which also hosted a massacre, show a blue sky with white clouds in the midst of smog, it is easy to understand how manipulation by word and image works and we complain about "ideology." A press photo in our newspaper is printed to "reveal" this, and we are meant to steer clear from the alleged manipulation of the ’other.’
However, as we have seen, we painters and designers are just as much potential players in the game of morals and ideology. The question is how we reflect upon, reveal, share and represent our professional position. Pleas, exposure, ridicule and moral pressure are the instruments with which we distance ourselves from the ‘other,’ which, however, will not suffer to be banished completely. Maybe it is even necessary to cohabit with the identified ‘other’ and to find a possible form of coexistence.

Finally I would like to cross our topic "Painting and Illustration" with the perspective of Žižek’s reasoning in which he directs our attention to hybrid forms. To fight the closeness and kinship of painting and illustration, instead of reflecting upon the issue would mean carrying the alleged ‘other’ unnoticed within oneself–to stay in the image of the Alien series. Both extremes have no substance: neither painting set as an absolute, nor illustration that is not informed by knowledge and a respect of the fine arts and the visual cultures, that is following only trends and fashions. (More about this in two postscripts.) For me, to distinguish an allegedly "correct" form of painting from a more open, permeable, conceptual or hybrid form of painting is a genuine shortcoming by the "camp of painting."

First Postscript:

Triegel *1968

In the aftermath of the big successes by the New Leipzig School, the painter Michael Triegel was able to gain a position of esteem that became manifest in Kunsthalle exhibitions, in positive reviews in the "Zeit" and in commissions by the Vatican. The craftsmanship is very good, but there is no risk. The non-professionals and the "Neo"-conservatives automatically applaud this kind of painting. For this kind of painting seems to perfectly illustrate that the institutionalised art world lacks the respect for exactly that kind of craftsmanship that would be acceptable for the majority.
I am astounded at the thoughtless confusion of retro-style with the inventive ingenuity of the Renaissance painters. The Pre-Raphaelites or the Nazarenes have celebrated their worship of the old Masters in a similar way: in an unexplained poise between ideology and plausibility. Triegel’s self-promotion  with a painting of a covered crucifix seems like a blatant hint to the previously mentioned Hans Sedlmayr and his notion of the "The Loss of the Center." By way of using this subject matter, the artist calls forth a gap between his work and everyday life, between art and normality, and yet only illustrates a well-known cultural pessimism.

Second Postscript:

Pettibon *1957

In the autumn edition of the magazine "Electronic Beats," Raymond Pettibon shows two pages from „Political Works 1975 – 2013" (edited by David Zwirner, Regen Projects and Hatje Cantz) in between reports on Hip Hop and music festivals. In those works from 2007 the artist points at the similarities between Bin Laden’s statements and those of certain republican politicians. From his early booklets in cheap black and white copies to his present-day exhibitions in museums and galleries, Pettibon sticks to the combination of image and text message and an underground feel. Because of his graphic art for albums by Black Flag and Sonic Youth, he belongs to those artists who are acclaimed in both worlds, the music and the art scene.

Pettibon (2)

The magazine "Electronic Beats" portrays him in a colour-stained T-shirt, has him present a critical, investigative stance towards 09/11, and provides him with a critically alternative, independently radical image through the placement in the midst of the displayed music scene. The magazine, whilst free in Amsterdam’s hip bars, has to be bought at the newspaper stand in Germany; it is published by a consortium of Deutsche Telecom and Hubert Burda Media, who will both make money out of successful art and music downloads.

It takes an attentive observer to understand this kind of complex blending of contradictory messages and the media that seems to go with the development of contemporary painting.

>originally written for the lecture "Illustrations-Impuls" November 25th 2014
at State Academy of Fine Art and Design  Stuttgart Germany (Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart)
>translated from German by Brigitte Bertram, Tübingen