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Gotthard Graubner


Gotthard Graubner, "kornata", 1993-96, acrylic and mixed media on canvas over synthetic wool on canvas,
207 x 210 x 20 cm / 81 1/2 x 82 2/3 x 7 3/4 in
GG/M 78
November 09, 2019 - January 11, 2020
Preview on Saturday, November 09, 2019 from 6 - 8 p.m.
"Life is but light in many-hued reflection." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part II

The Galerie Karsten Greve is pleased to pay tribute to the significant German painter Gotthard Graubner. For this exhibition, the Gallery has worked closely with the artist’s Estate to select twenty pieces from the studio that were created between 1989 and 2011; all previously unseen in France. Visitors will be dazzled by the luminous Farbraumkörper (Colour-Space-Bodies) presented alongside delicate paintings on paper hung throughout the gallery’s rooms.

Born in 1930 in Erlbach, Germany, Gotthard Graubner graduated from the Düsseldorf School of Fine Arts in 1959. As early on as the Zeichenbilder series, offspring of his formal training, it becomes clear that for this German painter colour is sovereign: with sharp, precise brushstrokes, he offers the onlooker weightless, diluted monochrome surfaces. However, the 1960s would be drawing to a close before his method of painting would reach its pinnacle innovation: and then, the 1968 Nebelräume (Nebular Spaces) envelops the observer in its impermeable and opaque atmosphere. His subsequent approach to painting bore a closer resemblance to the Water Lilies Claude Monet painted for the Musée de l’Orangerie than to any of the performative art experiments popular at the time. From this point on, the core of Gotthard Graubner’s work would be the observer’s bodily experience and the painting’s somatic qualities. Throughout the early ‘60s the Kissenbilder (Cushion-paintings) colourful cushion-like pieces, would satisfy his yearning to give corpulence to colour. However, his work would not reach its complete aesthetic cohesion until 1970 when he created the Farbraumekörper (Colour-Space-Bodies) series.

In Gotthard Graubner's painting, colour becomes shape through a layering process that places natural pigment on canvas stretched across a thick cotton base or synthetic sponge material. When the resulting dual-purpose object is observed from the side it looks like a three-dimensional convex surface that permits colour to obtrude upon space; whereas, from the front, it looks like a flat surface. The intent here is to return to what colour in painting meant originally, yet not to delve into the relationship between the painting and the object itself; as was the case with the ZERO Group artists. Graubner abides by the rules of Colour Theory, applying matter in layers of varying thicknesses according to their complementarity and to the contrasting cool or warm qualities of each one. This approach gives his painting palpable luminosity. Graubner's painting was significantly influenced by the coloured shadows technique, which was perfected by painters such as Titian, Veronese or Pontormo. That same technique became the forerunner for scientific studies that Goethe, Klee and Itten would undertake at a later date on the ways colour and light interact. While at first glance we may see only a monochrome piece, the eye soon discerns a multitude of colourful, overlapping layers busily conversing with one another. A veil of orange pigment coupled with a pale green layer quivers gently next to a dab of magenta. And it is indeed this layering, and this convergence of colours and hues, that prod us towards the feeling that there is indeed light emanating from the canvas itself. Cézanne’s famous observation comes to mind: in order to paint the sun you have to hide it behind the canvas.

Graubner's artistic endeavour is purely pictorial, rooted in observations of reality and in our perceptions of the world. These are always governed by the role light plays as it reflects off objects; producing colour, and making the shapes around us visible. For Graubner, colours do not belong to the abstract, but rather they are the very entities that compose our world. With this in mind, the artist strives to use colour in his work not just as a means but also indeed as his very subject: one that he tries to condense into a quivering and breathing organism. The canvas, like a layer of skin, covers and protects the piece, allowing colour to penetrate during an osmosis process between the inside − the 'body' of the piece − and the outside − its surface. Art historian and philosopher Gottfried Boehm describes this as a subcutaneous painting; where the same pigment is partially absorbed by the sponge or cotton underneath the canvas while it also simultaneously lies on the surface of the raw fabric.

Gotthard Graubner's painting is therefore total, absolute, it does not seek to reproduce the visible but is in itself a living organism. It carries within the traces of the creative process, and it is the culmination of that action: all at once it is both becoming and being; action and contemplation.

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