Symphony on a piano of colours
 Gerhard van der Grinten
Janosch Vollrath
Va', pensiero, sull'ali dorate. (Nabucco)

Translated into English by Joan Bursch

Of all the German arts, beauty has always been the one to have had a hard time of it, and this irrespective of the artistic discipline. Where, if not in Germany, would a Weber, Mendelsohn, Offenbach, Heine, Wieland Kotzebue and Rückert, a Makart or indeed Feuerbach be repeatedly looked at as askance as here. What counts here - and this to the point of overbearance - are the ideals of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Beauty must needs be moral, as though the truth were always good; truth, in reality quite often terrible, to say nothing of the fact that she can be anything but beautiful...

Beuys, being asked for his opinion on aesthetics, quoted Augustinus’ remark that ‘beauty is the glamour of truth’. Note the subtle differentiation implied: glamour is more than Truth can afford to be. Beuys himself frequently enough furbished his own works with such subtle, brittle, even heart-rending beauty. For indeed, great beauty is moving; it touches, releases sensations, it confronts one with an opponent that renders one bashful. To deliver oneself to the mercy of such happiness, that would mean to summon up the courage to come out from under cover, to come out of one’s shell. Could this perhaps be the reason why here, in these parts, one is so little able to enjoy oneself without the hint of a guilty conscience? Needless to say, the ubiquitous shame for our more recent past is resonating vaguely in the background somewhere. But also the widespread expulsion of sensibility: one thinks of the functionalistic Bauhaus doctrine, the banning of consonance and of the musical tones of the new Vienna schools. One thinks, in the end, of the stuttering speechlessness of the hermetics and that of the know-it-all literati, smug in their dissatisfaction, the artistic stammering of three generations of artists at a loss when faced with that which is artistic, neither capable of new ideas themselves nor of breathing such with life, preferring instead to fabricate slogans and bills; concepts, which to perform no-one is seriously thinking of.

There is an inherent misunderstanding in the tradition of humanistic education; the belief that to have enjoyed a broad and impressive education, to then be well-versed and betitled must also mean that one is ‘deep’. A misunderstanding, as I said, since one may as easily be a dead bore. To be tragic is simple, to be comical, difficult, yet there is nothing, nothing as delicate as the ability to confer beauty upon an occasion. Nowadays it seems that one must almost be an absolute simpleton to achieve this, or indeed a Don Quixote. For, it is imperative that we should be armed with a means to oppose the horrors and shortcomings in this world. Though of great necessity, such a means is proffered all too rarely. The Arts, claiming all freedom, do they not moreover have the prerogative to be beautiful? To boast resplendent bravura, exuberance and sparkling glamour? Do they not enjoy the right to enchant, to enrapture with sweet simplicity, elegance and poetry? Only a Pharisee, a hypocrite could say otherwise; a bitter and narrowminded puritan. Or indeed both.

Janosch Vollrath admits to painting beautiful paintings. This he does consciously, as an aesthetic event and as a pleasure to the eye, without being kitschy or naive in his view of the world. To the contrary. Vollrath’s personal biography, his artistic history has been anything but smooth. It has been one on the search, insistent, and one having left sufficient bitter experiences behind. A biographical way with byways one could say, but by no means listless, for Vollrath is faithful to his calling; he has successfully completed training as a sculptor and painter, though the artist, from the point of view of his nature and temperament, has always been inclined towards the latter discipline. It is no mere chance that the majority of his sculptures are more compact, with the confrontation between the materials - wood, plaster or metal - taking place in the paintwork. Nor is it coincidental that the metal paintwork, also involving metalic colours and gold leaf, confers an almost pearly sheen. Vollrath’s sculptures are predominantly towering stems of all too floral elegance and suppleness. Where he does choose to sculpt figuratively, one can discern the marked influence of Giaccometti’s prolongated figures. Working with plastic art has, according to the artist’s own statement, instilled a consistent attitude towards work; a dialogue approach towards the piece of work in question, taking form in the artist’s hand without recourse to preliminary sketching or outlining. This attitude likewise influences the artist’s critical stepping back from the work, keen to avoid the inadmissibility of effect merely for effect ‘s sake. Thus, a work is brought to life, erroneous in its apparent facility and concreteness; a work, which may occasionally take years to complete, layer for layer, a reflection of the artist’s current situation as of his state of mind.

Vollrath’s paintings, on the other hand, give witness to a much greater diversity, as they do to more recognisable streams of development. Severe, his earlier works; chaotic and stormy of style, with dramatic topography and vague yet highly suggestive landscapes of passionate, fiery colour contrasts. Here, too, one can see the first signs of that which characterises his later works, namely the ability to put everything in the perfect place; the sweeping, blazing stroke of the brush, the permanent interchange between the compact and the diffuse, the clearly visible application of paint, the intentional use of the clotting, flowing, of the varnishing, drying and crackle techniques. One increasingly runs short of words and becomes laconic. An end, therefore, with these concrete references, applicable though they on occasion may be. Let us rather draw closer to the colour-filled rhapsodies of Delauney, Max Bills and of Kandinski. What is happening on the surface may well be geometrical; circular shapes, right angles, rectangles and notches, recurring correlations and blocks, bows, beams, compartments, circular segments, may involve winding movements, sweeping lines encompassing the entire canvas, may divide into different parts and give response. This geometry is ornamental. Decorative, in the best meaning of the word, adornment being a form of expression for the festive soul. In several of Vollrath’s compositions one may clearly ascertain a principle of bi-polarity. Placement on the one hand, counterbalance on the other. They may be interpreted as circumstancial: ‘Balance’, there where an equilibrium is maintained, ‘Connections’ possibly symbolising a circuit, or lifelines. The titles, in any case, added during or after execution, consequently exercise an indubitable influence on the further creative process so that, in the end, one may no longer distinguish cause from effect. What is shown in the paintings may well be symbolic from a descriptive point of view, which however does not mean that it must be explicable. The inspirational moments could come from a biographical anecdote, like the experience at the concert with the trombone player Lindberg drawing movements in the air with his instrument.

Polarity equally characterises Volrath’s use of colour; brightness placed against depth, complementary colours flowing from one into the other. If the earlier works were still somewhat cloudy, then the current possess a plethora of shining tones, colours of the spectrum, pure, at the very best, translucent. A firework, a cascade of tones. No black, except for the rare use of charcoal. No earthy colours. Rather, the brightening up of a work through the use of the colour white. It is true that colour releases sensations, subjective in the end since no two pairs of eyes will see one painting alike.This notwithstanding, when it comes to the psychology of perception, one is unanimous in this one point; that there are colours which may have an oppressive effect upon the observer, and others which may lift him up, satisfy and make happy. Several of Vollrath’s works appear to be studies of that which sound alone is capable of: colour dimension. Colour inebria. Painting; as a physical pleasure, playful and nonetheless as a calling. Often on the border between that which characterises painting and that which could be cristal clear ringing. Convincing, each and every time. One such painting is entitled ‘The Great Adventure’. This is painting and what it will always remain.


Gerhard van der Grinten