Elements of a Painterly Rhetoric

Albert Oehlen Fn 26 1990

“The primary function of the undifferentiated – and pejorative – label of Neo-Expressionism was to summarily dismiss positions in painting variously described as “obsolete,” “retrograde,” or “regressive.” The widely different practices of artists from Rainer Fetting and Julian Schnabel to Werner Büttner were tarred with the same brush. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that Neo-Expressionism was a fighting word, a shibboleth, wielded to fend off the rise of the “wild painting” that seemed to flood the market in the 1980s. And because the apologists of the Pictures Generation and Appropriation art felt they were on the defensive, they understandably didn’t waste their time on forming a more nuanced understanding of what their antagonists were doing. Their perspective left no room for the idea that Oehlen’s gestural daubery might also function as a second-order expressionism. Similarly, Kippenberger’s lumpy strings of paint, takably operate as stereotyped marks signifying immediate expression and must certainly not be read at face value, as indications of an authentic mental-psychological state. In other words, they spell out the fact that they’re elements of a painterly rhetoric, which they visibly deploy. While a vestige of authenticity may resonate in these staged-authentic gestures, what is crucial is that Kippenberger’s paint turds underscore the semiotic dimension of painting. They announce themselves as a vocabulary the painter resorts to, aiming to produce certain effects.” [Elizabeth Graw on Painting Against Painting]

Charline von Heyl Corrido 2018

“Bad painting was definitely my approach back then! You need to go through a bad painting phase to get to a new place. De-skilling is like shedding an old skin, a kind of alienation that calls everything into question… Bad painting was a method used to get truly weird and unexpected results that made me uneasy, that challenged my own taste… what was crucial was that the material and the content both packed a symbolic punch. The conjunction between the physical reality of the motif and the ambivalent associations on the level of content prompts a physically and psychologically active experience of painting and its entirety… Both de-skilling and re-skilling are mannerisms, I think. For me at the time, that just meant exchanging one approach based on gestures and speed for another that favored a slow buildup, relying more on composition and effects. For example, I have a talent for the elegant line, which I can make use of or work against. And I still love elaborate over-the-top compositions, although back then I used them mainly to disassociate myself from the painting around me…. I think non-composition is exactly where subjectivity roars loudest.” [Charline von Heyl in conversation with Isabelle Graw]

Martin Kippenberger Untitled 1992

…Kippenberger and his artist friends didn’t respond solely with painterly means to the media society’s voracious interest in life-style and personality. They fetishized what they called the artist’s Halting (“attitude” or “posture”). Haltung was generally thought of as synonymous with someone’s public demeanor: his or her choice of this or that pose and this or that way of life. It counted for much more than tangible works of art, on which it would ideally be stamped as a legible mark. A characteristic part of the Haltung Kippenberger and his male colleagues cultivated was an obviously overdone imitation of the forceful and brisk movements of disciplined (and trained) German soldiers – a kind of physicality with distinctly male connotations that wasn’t available to women artists at that time. It stemmed in part from the punk and new wave moments, which similarly hewed to an ideal of “hardness.” The soldierly pose was a way of coming to terms with recent history: the artist in a sense embodied their authoritarian fathers, as though to shoulder the responsibility for the families’ denial of German war crimes. Yet the strong belief in Haltung manifestly also helped blur the boundaries between art and an artist’s lifeworld, between product and persona. The persona – that dramatization of a way of life – became central, so much so that some artists, including Kippenberger, declared the operative management of this way of life to be a work of art in its own right. [Elizabeth Graw on Martin Kippenberger]

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