What You See Is What You Get? The Law of Spontaneous Composition
By Magdalena Kröner (2012)
Translated by Petra Pankow
The painting in question is monumental. Measuring 16x4 meters, it continues to grow as this text is being written. This unusually large and altogether unusual picture-project is the brainchild of Düsseldorf-based artists Walter Eul and Marc von Criegern (deckkraft). Photos show both of them together, in black and white, wearing breathing masks, at work on a canvas splattered with an abundance of painterly gestures. As if there wasn't just one but two Misters Pollock and as if Abstract Expressionism wasn't part of a rather remote history but of the immediate present. Photos like this suggest an art-historical continuity, which provokes instant opposition: What is it trying to be and what is it trying to become? Great artistic coup? Pure Megalomania?
Upon regarding this image - what has already been painted, what is still going to be painted and what, in an ideal world, will never be completely painted - it asserts itself through its sheer presence: it carries the entire world within itself, shimmering in a colorful, complexly interwoven multiplicity, playing with fragment and form, line and plane, figure and abstraction. A variety of forms are developed, vaguely reminiscent of something familiar, without the need to become unambiguous.
In an age of digitally-rendered and perfected surfaces in photography, film, architecture, and design, this monumental painting, which is being created for an exhibition at the Kunstverein Mönchengladbach, features classical painterly qualities: original and originary gestures, created in a process characterized by the sort of equitable cooperation only few painters are able to achieve. The work, evolving in a largely spontaneous, unguided collaboration is both a seismograph and a transmitter of time, movement, and physical presence. This kind of emancipated team work functions in the context of competition and complementation and especially as an ongoing challenge for both participants. Each painterly gesture exposes itself to immediate scrutiny, becomes assailable, relative. The autonomy of what is one's own is absorbed by concerted action in the image.
Observing the painters at work is like watching two modern alchemists who attempt to spin simple things into gold and seek transformation on their path to the grand opus, regardless of the constant possibility of failure. At the end of their process, these two modern gold-makers are hoping to create a collaborative work, which is more than the sum of its parts; something, above all, completely different from what each of them could create individually.
At the center of Marc von Criegern's work in painting to date are spatial arrangements informed by figuration, clear composition and a reduced use of materials. Architectures with a frequently modernist background; People involved in cryptic work processes, like cut out of the early Industrial Age - von Criegern operates with elements of modernity, arranging them into an originary painterly chronology.
By contrast, Walter Eul's abstract works explore the possible infinity of any composition: his paintings are often conceived as modules, which result in serial compositions and can be regarded from different directions. The painting and the gestures it contains moreover play systematically with anti-painterly means, such as the integration of chance or digitally-created structures.
Perhaps what happens through the cooperation of both artists has more in common with music than with wondrous natural science: Walter Eul and Marc von Criegern are improvisation artists, determining both theme and variation. However, sampling plays a role in this process, too, in the sense that different elements are combined, which remain visible as individual parts but nevertheless bring forth something new.
Sampling, Composing - the age of universally available images via databases, blogs, and websites has long tainted these terms with an aura of inflatedness. Seen through this foil, the two artists dare something simultaneously old fashioned and outrageous: the direct surrender to the creation of a single, non-reproducible artwork; to open-ended process. The painting, work on which will be continued on site in Mönchengladbach, thus reveals itself through its event-based nature as well as the sort of directly legible physicality, which is missing from the perfected surfaces of digitally generated images.
The painting's surface, while appearing flat at first, enters into a direct dialogue with the viewer, which surpasses the generation of retinal stimuli. The haptic and coloristic immediacy contained in this painting, which overflows with colors and forms, manifests itself as a sensual presence, which sketches out a dense imagery free of object-centeredness. Here, the "WYSIWYG" popularized in the computer-age receives an altogether new meaning: What You See Is What You Get: the surface marks the essence. The emerging painting thematizes the tension between imitation and original.
The apparent flatness and at times aggressive coloration of painterly gestures and forms or the sparsely placed male figures, which remain identifiable as stencils, are of particular appeal in that they strategically obscure origin and character of what is shown. Everyday objects emerge as sprayed-on shadows and are reminiscent of something equally amorphous and technoid, impossible to describe in concrete terms. What remains visible are outlines and shadows. What becomes palpable are a perpetual implication and a sort of loose grasp that doesn't cling to its object. What finally emerges is a painting like an unstable force field, which briefly attracts surrounding objects, only to catapult them back out into the world a moment later. By verging on chaos, the composition thematizes and fathoms its own disappearance with each gesture.
A process without hierarchies generates an image without hierarchies: everything seems equally flat, equally important. The assessment of what is pictured and its classification in the sense of a surveying gaze become impossible. This painting brings viewers down from their sentinel's peak and says: "Come closer. Loose yourself in me." A monumental painting project like his one thrives on openness and spontaneity at the same time. "Of course everything has been painted before, that's why we pull everything into the picture," Eul and von Criegern say. That's why the paintings they created together brim with an immediate sense of containing the world while simultaneously remaining abstract and approaching the limits of compositional principles.
The exhibition space becomes a stage for a monumental painting whose visual appeal results from a variety of pictorial interventions and gestures, which, each on its own terms, aim to evoke shock, sentiment, irritation, and enthusiasm in the viewer. Just like all great works do.