Essay and text
The Refuseniks Quotidian by Shaheen Merali
„Im Schatten der Meinekestrasse“, Gespräch zwischen Ulrich Volz und Jochen Schmidt, 2009
The Refuseniks Quotidian:
In looking at images that evoke rather then represent by figuration we are left to ponder.
Our enquiry is rendered heedless, distanced by the necessity of striving to construe meaning; eventually the gaze finds itself locked into a mysterious interlude, unsure of how to proceed to deepen meaning, or how to pursue narration without the aid of those signs that help representation. We are simultaneously left stranded and derided.
Hovering in this stasis, the mind wanders, visually groping, scrutinising the corners and the edges of that which we face in order to glean something from it, so that we can approach the work knowingly and calmly address the anxiety that it evokes from its initial unrecognisability.
This has been the prevailing condition, in viewing much of what has been termed as abstract art, a term which has come to represent a turn in the mid-twentieth century, specifically applied to the school of painting. Abstraction has become renowned as an intervention, one so forceful that it is even mandatory, in a plethora of artists’ work from the period that followed the Second World War. Abstraction came to be recognised as part of the aftershock, a much needed venting and an expression that tended to illustrate the atrocities of collective experiences especially in the western world.
Proponents and admirers of abstract art proclaimed its advent as the dawn of a period of freedom. Its main explorers and exponents saw its advances as a vigorous attack on the long and settled notion of art dominated by concepts of representation.
An attack on the interiority of art.
Dwelling in a prolonged guarded space, art had remained solely bounded by its power to represent by the use of figuration, set in continual motion by the saturation of pictorial inventions as a programme through which to narrate.
The unfathomable avant-garde of the twentieth century shaped by its sudden abandonment of the figurative, pre-empted an unfolding, leading to a critical drama with its own prologue. This criticality was shaped by this reception, providing both new heroes and new villains, but more interestingly, new terms which started to float in the ether surrounding its critical inception. Specific terms grasped the recesses, even the extraterritorial, in an attempt to extrapolate meaning. Terms which frequently used notions of the borderless, developed further terminologies which included the memorable use of “inscapes”, the profound “happenings” and the congenial “spiritual spaces” etc. A sense of the extraneous started to develop both as a form of linguistic and semantic sensuality-a sensuality that tried to frame the times, where freedom was obliquely grasped from the vast follies of continental fascism.
The consequence of such a deviation as “letting go”, can be termed as a historical rupture. This allowance, an unadulterated, (un)pictorial interpretation, allowed a new set of framing strictures. The desire was to provide a set of new tools and to enable the critical measurement of the visual impact produced by abstraction’s sensuality; a set of tools by which to possess, to assist in construing meaning, for the discerning viewer, collector, critic, student and history itself.
The overbearing narration, the arrest of framed picturing, of a parallel grounded “here”; which had became the norm and was rendered as the classical approach to image-making, a representational representation through art, which had been austerely guarded for centuries under the guidelines of patronage and lineages constructed around aesthetic value systems, was finally halted and challenged. Even the frothing duress of the Impressionist movement, with its avid de-characterisation of figuration and the oblivious treatment of Turner’s landscape had provided superannuating reflection, supplementing developments in abstract art; but none so vehemently as what later was termed as the abstract expressionists.
It was the nauseous necropolis of the splatters and scraps of the twentieth century that left very little assured. The unnatural wonder imploded in Spinoza’s mind as idea ideae. The sheer turbulence in the peril of a world under war produced a didactic Dada and photomontage school, a sharpened Cubism, all heralding cynicism and a hard-edged intrinsic propogandist restoration of the industrial deformation.
A palindrome finally modeled a new beginning to these given parts, a relented guardianship for a new set of changing emotions and marks, a novel language for a transformed global condition, a new-look termed as high modernity.
The ‘new’ has been applauded for its argumentative allowance, for its potent ability to create a ‘more freer elated’ reading of works of culture. The consequence was the breaking of the strong-hold of religiosity, photographic, realism and monumental paradigms. These very guiding principles were the a priori containment preceding this obliteration of the habitual representation of ‘the seen or the sense of belief’.
In its poignancy, the invention of the abstract in using terms and registers which include its own all subsuming relationship to the material of its production, creates a ‘primal source of wonder’. The meaning can, and very often did, become the process. The material and the response to the material became the bridge from which to deal with and from which to view the necessary process for a competent ocular comprehension.
A further interesting development, admirably articulated by the American artist Joan Mitchell is the propensity to intensify and integrate …..“I am not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and colour. I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in- drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or an idea. It doesn’t matter if it’s different from mine as long as it comes from the painting which has its own integrity and intensity.” (1)
The notion of producing effectively from a personal set of registers or ‘from’ the enclosures of one’s own mind, desires and universe started to be realised as an informed genre of accuracy, an agency beyond the calls of an emotional journey. These very spectres and force fields that had remained conjectures and became an accruement, started to provide a combinative formulae of spontaneity and clarity, fashioned and suggestive within its own terms. In realising this potential a large group of artists decamped from the figurative world to process their thoughts and to unconditionally procure that mark, which is ready to oblige, in claiming a voice and circumflex for the imaginary and the profound.
The work of Berlin based artist Ulrich Volz, is similarly committed to interpretations that have emerged from this discourse, of spatial concerns about the organisation of colour. Volz’s larger works are often structured to create a relationship between the colours, in the way tension between marks and negative spaces are used to make a meaningful dialogue. Here the totalising mannerisms and experiments, so fore-grounded by his predecessors including Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Goodnough are further ‘influenced’ by CY Twombly-like choreographic lines. Volk, in providing these contrasting set of spaces, provides a sense of dispersal, especially of energies. The presence of loud spectral spaces dispersed with dark and light areas provides a network of atmospheres. Darkness and lightness, loudness and silence seem to be the main senses which are cultivated. These duel analogies of atmosphere and contrast persist in many of his works, embellished by a fibrous structure which helps maintain the relationship that the artist wishes to evoke in his translation of the world.
One interesting facet or event associated with Volz’s paintings, can seem to stem from his long goal which he has pursued in his work within the community. Volz’s commitment is to a local life, organised as an open dialogue within which communities are able to realise their creativity and share the pleasure of art and art-making. (2) This conjecture provides an interesting point in understanding Volz’s attitudes as to why an artist needs to use the forms available in his/her life to both contrast the multiple roles of these areas and to further create a provision for an expressive other.
In reading his work as an entangled facility, sited somewhere between a dialogue and a translation within a shared space, one begins to understand the place of the wanderer and the safe place in which to rest. In Volz’s canvases, the eye is allowed to wander the surface looking for clues, constantly travelling in search of clues that sometimes might, and sometimes do, facilitate an interpretation.
A further formal invention, which entitles the reader to an interpretative stance results from allowing the gaze to follow the line of the panels, which are sewn together to form the large format canvases. This panelling provides a secondary structure- a concerted ‘looking for the line’ that both discourages a holistic space but simultaneously remains a guiding part of our survey. A constant, which both interrupts and divides the search, one which starts and stops the process of interpretation. We become impotent in this stop/start mode, always trying to retrieve meaning when maybe none exists or maybe attempting to analyse when nothing needs to be resolved.
The artist often paints from many directions onto the untreated canvas laid out on the studio floor, to further seek an image that has a continuous space to go beyond and beneath the remits of the allocated area of the canvas or painterly marks. In incorporating the history of his space and his actions as part of the work, he suggests “without the aid of a stretching frame…….which leads to unusual effects….the paint takes on patterns from the floor surface and sparks something new as the colours blend into each other at the edges, with watercolor-like effect. Figures, objects and faces are not directly represented, but the viewer may find allusions to them in the flow and loading of the paint. Frisky swirls structure the surface of some canvasses. They serve as foreign objects in the paintings and turn the background into a wall.” (3)
This notion of ‘the beyond’ is pervasive in his image - made visible by the formal construction of his work. In treating the canvas as a four-sided space as well as hung from all sides, he makes it absolutely visible and available from all angles. Here the notion of gravity itself is challenged as the spill sometimes seems to wander upwards like a spiralling typhoon in an antediluvian fashion; a wandering surface that is partly responsible for the way the final image is derived but also the final reading is evolved.
In the medium-size and smaller paintings, grids, star-like shapes, dotted lines, bird-like creatures, faces, telephone booths, woven baskets and broken lines all occasionally feature, displayed against formless forms. Here meandering mappings of spaces, fragile forms in flux and dripping velocities intermingle in layers, which hide other layers. Like unplanned coincidences in rendered open source space, certain notions seem to appear; boat like figurations, vessels carrying broken meanings seem to float, becoming a shared metaphor for our restless gaze.
Volz, is an artist of totalising attitude. I would argue that the making of his work in this manner, is not a formal invention dependent solely on its post war art history, but an attitude borne out of necessity: - the necessity to contextualise the experiences of living and working in Berlin, a city full of dark and light spaces, of networks still being unearthed, having remained hidden and closeted for many years of its turbulent history.
The loquacity of Berlin is addressed in his watercolour works on photocopies of photographs that Volz records, mainly in the historic, western quarter of Charlottenburg. Here the vacuous and mundane is taken from the flaneur and given a statement of substance. In a Peter Beard type fashion, all aspects of the image are doctored; the frame, the borders and the photograph are treated like a found form. These studies of architecture, of woods and housing estates begin to describe possibilities. This all stems from indulging in a different approach but one which is consistent with Volz’s need to describe the contrast of life and the abundance of atmospheres that furnish our realities.
Volz remains an even silent recorder of our time, his quiet work could be described as seasonal, even decennial, in the palimplest use of colour and marks. The use of a careful language, the outflow of symbolic attributes reveals a constancy that marks the possibility of reading his ideas, an allowance that provides for an enriched dwelling place. These are strong attributes within a visual world that is trying to provide answers. As the artist states “gestures address the daily course of time, intensifying it through the possibilities of artistic media. Current tensions, liveliness, weakness and strain emerge from the more abstract works” Here and within, we are left to walk away engaged by the coherence of a solitary world, full of atmosphere and contrast.
„Im Schatten der Meinekestrasse“
Gespräch zwischen Ulrich Volz und Jochen Schmidt, 2009
Die Meinekestrasse führt in Berlin rechtwinklig vom Kurfürstendamm ab, an ihrem Ende steht ein Hotel aus den 60 Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts, mittlerweile sind dort Psychiatrische Einrichtungen untergebracht. Seit 18 Jahren arbeitet Ulrich Volz dort als Betreuer in einem Rehabilitationsprojekt, die Arbeit dort hat ihm Zeit, Geld und Reife für malerische Arbeit gegeben im Gegenzug dazu hat er sich dort lange aufgehalten, Gespräche geführt und auf Wunsch der Klienten eine künstlerische Förderung begründet an der Bewohner, Betreuer oder auch Umwohner des Hauses teilnehmen.
In der CD sind die künstlerischen Gattungen aufgeführt in denen Ulrich Volz sich bewegt:
Bemalte Photographien: UV photographiert aus seiner alltäglichen Umgebung und aus den Medien, diese Photographien bearbeitet er am Kopierer und bemalt sie um sie zu akzentuieren.
Große Bilder: sie entstehen in seinem Studio meistens am Boden, sie sind auf die Untergründe direkt ohne Rahmenbespannung gemalt und greifen die Struktur des Untergrundes auf und entfachen ihn weiter, die Farben grenzen sich aquarellartig aneinander und weitere Farbschichten vertiefen oder erleichtern untere Entwicklungen. Die Bilder zeigen keine Figuren, Gesichter oder Gegenstände, durch die Verfließungen und Gewichtungen kann der/die Betrachter sie illusionieren. Auf einigen Bildern strukturieren wuschige Strudel die Oberflächen. Sie dienen als Fremdkörper in den Bildern und machen den Hintergrund zu einer Wand.
Mittelgroße und kleinere Bilder: sie sind auf Untergründe gemalt welche auf Keilrahmen gespannt sind, sie zeigen manchmal auch Gesichter, Figuren und Gegenstände, die Farbe läuft in verschiedene Richtungen und wird wieder aufgegriffen und andere Linien und Flächen entfalten sich, so können die Bilder an einigen Stellen schwerer oder leichter gemacht werden.
Aquarelle: Aquarelle sind wie Pendel gemalt einesteils mit Tuschezeichnungen welche sich mit Farben erneuern und einfach nur auf den Blättern sich irritierende Striche Punkte und Linien. Die Aquarelle weben oft den weißen Hintergrund mit ein und sind so nach außen offen.
Die im „Schatten der Meinekestrasse“ angesammelten Bilder weisen kein direktes Thema auf. Die, wenn dann aufgeführten Gesichter, Figuren oder Gesten entsprechen dem Ablauf der alltäglichen Zeit und verdichten sie eher durch die Mittel malerischer Möglichkeiten. In den abstrakteren Arbeiten tauchen aktualisierte Spannung, Lebendigkeit, Schwäche und Dehnung auf.
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