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Organic Monochromes

Florian Steininger

Florian Steininger, Peter Lodermeyer
116 pages
Edited by Feichtner Editions
Vienna, Austria, 2007
ISBN: 3-9502072-1-X

In 1921, Alexan­der Rod­chenko cre­ated the mono­chrome trip­tych Pure Red Color; Pure Yel­low Color; Pure Blue Color, thus reach­ing the first zero-point in the his­tory of paint­ing. “I reduced paint­ing to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion and exhib­ited three can­vases: red, blue, and yel­low. I affirmed: it’s all over. Basic col­ors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no rep­re­sen­ta­tion.” This rad­i­cal­ism brought an end to Rodchenko’s prac­tice of paint­ing; he then switched to pho­tog­ra­phy. These “last paint­ings” how­ever, bear the roots of rich poten­tial for sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions of artists work­ing with the mono­chrome. Here the con­cern is not only for the destruc­tion of clas­si­cal pic­ture cri­te­ria, but also for the mate­r­ial real­ity of the work — for the fak­tura: “By con­tin­u­ing to work on colour, tones and shades in order to obtain the max­i­mum of har­mony or of dis­cord, the pic­to­r­ial medium, which together with com­po­si­tion con­sti­tutes the pro­fes­sional com­po­nent of paint­ing, has begun to evolve. Always paint­ing the same places on the sur­face of the pic­ture in order to obtain the max­i­mum of those pic­to­r­ial effects men­tioned above has led to the emer­gence of a new ele­ment. This seems abstract when com­pared with the nat­u­ral­is­tic effect, but it is, on the con­trary, part of the true essence of paint­ing: pic­to­r­ial qual­ity. Pic­to­r­ial qual­ity, in its pri­mary sense, is noth­ing but mas­tery of the craft of paint­ing. Impasto, paint prepa­ra­tion and glaze, taken together, rep­re­sent the fak­tura of the picture’s sur­face. These are the ele­ments of pic­to­r­ial qual­ity, and they have become increas­ingly impor­tant in a work. A new approach to paint­ing has emerged, and the pic­ture has ceased to be a pic­ture, so as to become paint­ing and object”.

Artists such as Strzeminski, Ryman, Mar­den, Umberg, and oth­ers, departed from Rodchenko’s mate­r­ial real­ism and cre­ated paint­ings with con­cep­tual, ana­lytic impe­tus at the mar­gin of the zero-point.

Johannes Girardoni’s under­stand­ing of paint­ing is rooted in the phi­los­o­phy of the rad­i­cal mono­chrome paint­ing that came about with Rod­chenko. How­ever, Girar­doni has brought his works into the third dimen­sion. His works alter­nate between paint­ing and sculp­ture. They are sen­sual, painterly objects. Using encaus­tic, the artist imbues his work with “cor­po­re­al­ity” and detaches it from the flat­ness and smooth­ness of panel paint­ing. Oil paint does not exist for its own sake in tra­di­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive paint­ing; it is a means towards por­trayal. For Rod­chenko it is mate­r­ial, the fak­tura. For Girar­doni, the mix­ture of liq­uid beeswax and pig­ment is the ideal mate­r­ial for cre­at­ing hap­tic, cor­po­real qual­i­ties. Instead of a flatly painted plane, he uses the opaque tex­ture of the organic mate­r­ial, some­what rem­i­nis­cent of skin: there is a shim­mer­ing from within. In doing so, Girar­doni defines an inter­face between illu­sion­ism — (both “opti­cal illu­sion,” such as found with Rothko and Pol­lock, and “sculp­tural illu­sion,” span­ning from the win­dow in clas­si­cal paint­ing since the inven­tion of lin­ear per­spec­tive to spec­tac­u­lar trompe-l’oeuil pic­tures) — and the “sober” mono­chrome flat­ness of min­i­mal­ist work exam­ples of Min­i­mal Art.

Girardoni’s use of wax, influ­enced by Jasper John’s paint­ings with encaus­tic — such as Flag and Tar­get — and related to Brice Marden’s use of the mate­r­ial in his opaque, mono­chrome pic­tures from the 1960s, ulti­mately led the artist to sculp­tural pro­ce­dures: “Wax cat­alyzed the move away from ‘paint­ing’ … The beeswax allowed me to ‘build’ color.” Girar­doni prefers using wooden slats, boards, or parts of wooden beams as con­struc­tion mate­r­ial, where traces of their use have been recorded. To this the artist applies the mate­r­ial color — pig­mented wax. Through their ready-made char­ac­ter the artist instills a unique­ness and ref­er­ence to life in the objects. At first glance, the works, which are ori­ented towards geo­met­ric forms and series, seem like min­i­mal­ist art in the suc­ces­sion of Carl Andre, Sol LeWit and Don­ald Judd. The major dif­fer­ence in Girardoni’s works, how­ever, is that they have an organic and human atmos­phere, while the cubes, fences and plates, due to their indus­trial pro­duc­tion, emanate cool­ness. In Trip­tych — Tita­nium White, the exter­nal form reminds us of a winged altar­piece: as an object for spir­i­tual devo­tion. Even though Girar­doni leaves both the inner and outer pan­els abstract, he is nev­er­the­less con­cerned with a con­tem­pla­tive expe­ri­ence, and not solely with a matter-of-fact inven­tory of color, mate­r­ial, and struc­ture. Joseph Beuys had attrib­uted beeswax a symbolic-spiritual func­tion, that of warmth and energy. These may also be expe­ri­enced in Girardoni’s objects, paired with painterly, col­oris­tic, and tac­tile qualities.