Mirage of Steel
"Mirage of Steel", Oil on Canvas, 280 x 340 cm
Born in Neumarkt-St Viet, Germany in 1963. Currently lives and works in Berlin.
Text written by Patricia Ellis
Inspired by the phenomena of urban generation, globalism and cultural commodification, Franz Ackermann is a contemporary explorer, scavenging the world in search of exotica. His abstract paintings act as travelogues, recording his often tragicomic impressions of the locations he visits. Psychedelic explosions, toxic smog and flat-packed landscapes offer an apocalyptic view of an ever-shrinking world. Packaged with candy coloured pop graphics, Franz Ackermann's paintings operate like international tourist logos, remapping the planet in user-friendly info-bytes for easy, if not palatable, consumption.
German artist Franz Ackermann is a perpetual tourist, but not of the ordinary kind. He is on a quest for exotica in the 21st century: actively seeking cultural differences, he travels the corners of the globe, searching for the 'unknown'. Asia, the Middle East, and South America are perceived as destinations of adventure where a disquieting shift towards sameness engenders feelings of discomfort and alienation.
Franz Ackermann describes his paintings as 'mental maps'. Each kaleidoscopic canvas readily depicts his experience of place. The geometric compositions offer both a topographical geography and an emotive record of his thoughts and feelings on each location.
Inspired by the phenomena of urban generation, globalisation and cultural commodification, Franz Ackermann's paintings adopt the modern superficiality of pop. Festive colours beacon with package holiday promise, merchandising traditional ways of life as luxurious folly. Shapes and patterns spiral out of control, topsy-turvy buildings contort as perilously as property developers' investments, landscapes are swallowed up by industrial vortexes and nature fights back with toxic sunsets and concrete waves.
As maps, Franz Ackermann's paintings take on an all-too-familiar surrealism. Rendered with clumsy cartography, geography itself becomes unsettled. Masses twist awkwardly in time and space, unable to keep up with the concept of technological speed; the miniaturisation of the globe through supersonic flight and mass-media buzz.
Through his visual travelogues, Franz Ackermann offers a provocative record of an ever-shrinking planet. Digesting the subtle nuances of popular destinations, he regurgitates them as international signifiers: brightly coloured shapes, high-impact graphics and pop iconography. Each place becomes a logoised 'non-place', a triumph of marketing over cultural difference, national identity and natural exoticism.
Born in Cologne, Germany in 1966. Currently lives and works in Cologne.
Text written by Patricia Ellis
Through painting, Kai Althoff engages with the spiritualism of masculine identity as a metaphor for reconciliation with German history. Often articulated with a homoerotic subtext, Althoff portrays the male domain as psychologically complex, where power politics of violence, sensuality, vulnerability and enticement are played out against backdrops of war, religion and pub-land. Borrowing stylistically from art history, Kai Althoff's work possesses a timeless quality, where narratives are suggested with confessional intimacy. Rendered with exquisite sensitivity, Althoff uses beauty to seduce the viewer, encouraging moral complicity.
Something sinister lies at the heart of Kai Althoff's paintings: unease with the way history repeats itself. Languages borrowed from traditional art are used to paint out suggestive narratives of the artist's own invention. Ranging from avant-garde collage to fairytale illustration, Kai Althoff's appropriated styles carry the weight of historical authority. Blurring the boundaries between past and present, Althoff's paintings explore sensuality, violence and morality as timeless themes.
Central to Kai Althoff's paintings is a longing for reconciliation, with German history, masculine identity and the politics of pack mentality. His all-male cast of characters gives credence to the corruptibility and heroism of youth. Soldiers, dandies, saints and sinners all take starring roles, playing out the group dynamics of power, violence, vulnerability, enticement and sentimentality.
The wholesome ethic of German Catholicism and 30s fascist-style design repeatedly serve to underscore Kai Althoff's taboo subtexts of homosexuality and a nation's fractured history. Althoff only hints at his work's contemporary origin through the use of modern materials such as resin, tape and tinfoil.
Using a variety of media, Kai Althoff draws sympathetic psychology from the physicality of his surfaces. Oil paint is applied with provocative sensuality, giving a tender eroticism to images of brutality. A collage depicting religious repentance is rendered on translucent paper: a frail veneer of purity. Althoff presents beauty as an epitomised guise of perversion; his paintings are elaborate seductions of amoral acquiescence.
From long-forgotten wars to orgy-esque club-land, Kai Althoff's paintings explore the essence of masculine experience. Unspoken histories of love, guilt and redemption are rendered with incredible poignancy. Through painting, Althoff designs his own contemporary mythology: by delving into the past, Kai Althoff seeks ablution for the future. His paintings offer a quiet hope for the human condition.
Born in Krefeld, Germany in 1954. Currently lives and works in Bizkaia, Spain.
Text written by Patricia Ellis
Proclaiming there's no viable role for painting today, Albert Oehlen's work focuses exclusively on exposing art's failures. Borrowing from the tropes of traditional abstract painting, Oehlen readily subverts art's lofty idealism. Using traditional forms and techniques, he conceives a contemporary dialogue of criticism based on the possibilities of creative function rather than aesthetics. In a modern world where painting is considered dead, Albert Oehlen reinvents its life as a manic zombie state: mutated, funny and ideologically dangerous.
'Because we now refuse to deny the direct dependence and responsibility of art vis-à-vis reality, and on the other hand see no chance for art as we know it to have an effect, there is only one possibility left: failure.' Albert Oehlen
Albert Oehlen studied with Sigmar Polke in Hamburg in the 1970's and emerged in the early 80's, along with contemporaries Martin Kippenberger, Georg Herold and Werner Büttner as part of a generation acting in critical and often comedic contradiction to the predominant ideology of the time.
At the heart of Albert Oehlen's practice is a serious engagement with the history of painting and a radical political opposition to its hierarchies and values. Redefining the consequence of painting in a post-painterly era, he describes his work as 'post-non-representational'. Through exploring and challenging the tropes and expectations of traditional abstraction, he strives to reconstitute a contemporary meaning for art as an independent articulate form.
Albert Oehlen's work is wide-ranging in media and style, amalgamating figurative, abstract and layered elements to broaden the scope of painting. His most recent works are often produced through computer-generated design, incorporating collaged photographic and printed elements as a means to explore new territories of representation and reception. By adopting the 'unprofessional' qualities of collage, he shuns traditional criticism and defines his work by the limitations of its own construction.
Albert Oehlen's paintings are neither beautiful nor seductive. Instead, they are elaborate strategies of provocation. Their self-consciously brutal surfaces seem to be corrupted from within, a perversion of the paintings they might have been.
Working from an ironic position of failure, he uses abstraction as a metaphor for breakdown: of perceived reality, artistic function and aesthetic effect. Albert Oehlen's paintings offer a raw confrontation with the deficiencies of visual language and illustrate its trappings in their making.
Born in Tarnow, Poland in 1972. Currently lives and works in Tarnow.
Text written by Patricia Ellis
Wilhelm Sasnal makes paintings in response to the abundance of imagery that emerged in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. No two Sasnal paintings ever look alike: he makes pop paintings, naturalistic paintings and abstracts. Some of his works look like still lifes, others like street scenes or record labels. Sasnal has even been known to make paintings about nothing at all: a roll of tape, a computer disk or a plant.
Wilhelm Sasnal is one of the most celebrated artists to emerge from Eastern Europe in recent years. Working from his home country Poland, he uses painting as a means to intimately negotiate his position within (new) capitalist culture. Sasnal's work is prolific, varied and deliberately unclassifiable as a strategy: digesting his practice is akin to swallowing mass media whole.
Sasnal draws his subject matter from day-to-day reality. The most banal examples of still life mingle with commensurate importance to propaganda icons, advertising and photojournalistic imagery. Wilhelm Sasnal approaches image production as a formal exercise, ranging from abstract to figurative with schizophrenic adaptation of style and technique. Through making, he renders all things equal.
For Wilhelm Sasnal, painting is imperative as a means of challenging traditional expectations of representation and perception. Through his intervention, subject matter becomes distorted: images are pared down to the bare essentials and estranged from their original context or meaning.
Stripping authority of its power, Wilhelm Sasnal renders the political as defunct and the irrelevant as intrinsic. A suicide bomber's belt sits innocuously next to an image of a pop star, an agitprop photo of factory workers is given a Warholian edge, and a Soviet sculpture is cropped and repainted as pure decoration. Using a predominantly black-and-white palette, Wilhelm Sasnal approaches painting as a reductive process. Information is lost in translation and replicated images only exist as mere vestiges of themselves.
Wilhelm Sasnal's practice doesn't celebrate freedom, but a shift in conformity. It strives to define personal experience of an impersonal world. Through his painting, he explores a no man's land where private and public converge in a sluice of shared memory. Operating as his own self-sustaining information source, Wilhelm Sasnal imposes his world order on politics, celebrity, art history and banality, quietly developing a position of individual conscience.
Born in Radeberg, Germany in 1968. Currently lives and works in Berlin.
Text written by Patricia Ellis
Thomas Scheibitz's brand of quirky abstraction presents a futuristic vision of opulence, where even the most pedestrian subject matter is reinvented as a product of high design. Described as 'post-cubist', Scheibitz's pictorial breakdown of flowers, suburban houses and ski resorts doesn't create actual 'representations', but rather commodity 'ideals'. His architectural shapes and plastic colours reference art history as well as the shorthand of digital compression. His painterly expression takes the form of one-of-a-kind luxury, elevating the media blitz of contemporary consciousness to fetishes worthy of introspective contemplation.
Berlin-based artist Thomas Scheibitz blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and is often described as a 'post-cubist'. Recognisable imagery of landscape, architecture and still life appear within his abstracted canvases. Broken and fragmented, these images are deconstructed to mere formalist devices: geometric shapes, organic masses and flat colourful components from which he creates highly distorted spatial illusion.
Thomas Scheibitz works from an expansive image bank containing thousands of impersonal pictures collected from media sources. He uses painting as a means to explore the network of cultural signifiers of public consciousness. Painting from artificial representations, Scheibitz deconstructs the original image even further. His work operates as a lexicon for the interpretation of fast-paced consumer society.
Thomas Scheibitz's paintings celebrate the collective over the individual. Through abstraction, he offers a futuristic vision where nature and technology merge, and realism is replaced by the higher aesthetic truth of pop design.
Broken down into utilitarian components of colour and shape, Thomas Scheibitz strips his subjects of all extraneous detail and reconstitutes them as pure information. Banal subjects such as houses, plants and mountains are made to seem uncanny and emotionally isolating. They are not representations but ideals: prototypical, pristine and cognitively interconnected.
Simultaneously familiar and strange, his paintings operate like memory: each pure idea is interrupted and displaced by a cacophony of visual language and associated information. Design, illustration, Japanese comics and traditional painting all play a part in Thomas Scheibitz's consumerist reference. Through painting, he freeze-frames the supersonic blur of 21st century zeitgeist for intimate contemplation. Breaking down the information overload like a handcrafted digital matrix, Thomas Scheibitz maps out blueprints to navigate the modern world.
Born in 1961, Lübeck, Germany. Lives and works in Düsseldorf and New York.
Text written by Patricia Ellis
For Dirk Skreber, natural disasters, car crashes and near-miss train accidents become monumental icons of beauty. His epic paintings lovingly embrace catastrophe, offering a religious awe of their grim expectation. Depicted with high-gloss allusion to media imagery and viewed through the odd angles of a surveillance camera, Dirk Skreber's paintings are sublime mediations of death and isolation, rendered more intimate and appealing through the astringent sheen of consumerism.
German artist Dirk Skreber works in sculpture, installation and painting. Ranging from the abstract to the representational, his work is concerned with the architecture of the hyperreal: highly articulated constructions which reside in suspended space and time. His subject matter draws from the mundane flow of contemporary life: buildings, car crashes and natural disasters are treated with the most clinical formalism. His work offers the detached seduction of the sublime.
Often working in epic scale, Dirk Skreber's paintings monumentalise the banal. Figurative scenes of lone train carriages and road accidents aren't tableaux of narrative spectacles, but abstract incidents of incomprehensible beauty and horror. Rendered perfect in their making, their surfaces are impenetrable, exacting and serene; they don't offer spatial illusion, but vast fields of emptiness.
Dirk Skreber doesn't strive for photorealism; his work only borrows from the tropes of mechanical reproduction. The soft focus of advertising, aerial views of surveillance photography and image replication of print media are placebos of intimacy. Translated into painting, these devices serve as filters transforming the familiar into the uncanny.
Dirk Skreber uses the paint itself as a language of contradiction. Varying stylistically from seamless gradients to gestural rendering, his paintings don't offer pictorial illusion, but instead, exploit their own material qualities. Photography captures a single moment in time; Skreber's paintings are frozen in expectation.
In his more abstract work, Skreber transfers the sublime contemplation of modernism into a more frightening contemporary construct, where personal psychology is replaced by the public realm. Dirk Skreber presents trepidation as a normalised condition of collective consciousness, awe as a symptom of mass-media proliferation, and spirituality as an achievement of design.
The Triumph of Painting will define how painting has not only survived into the new century in the face of the barrage of imagery from other media, but it will demonstrate how painting has absorbed that imagery, reshaped it in its own central domain, and touched us profoundly.
£35.00 - Published by Random House
Visitors to the gallery can purchase the book at the special price of £30.00
First in a series of supplementary volumes featuring many key works by 6 important artists'. Essay by Alison Gingeras, biographies by Patricia Ellis.
£16.50 - Published and distributed by Koenig Books London