Translated into English by Joan Bursch JohBursch@aol.com
‘To boldly go where even the bravest stand still’
Studio exhibition of paintings and sculptures
By Janosch Vollrath
Saturday, December 6th 1997, 7.30pm
35 Friedhofstrasse, Stuttgart.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For four years now, on and off - and, alas, sometimes more ‘off’ than ‘on’ - I have been following the artistic development of Janosch Vollrath. Almost four year ago to the day, December 4th 1993, I had the pleasure of being asked to introduce Vollrath’s paintings for the first time in the Themo Gallery in Stuttgart, pleasure being the operative word here . I was delighted to be given the opportunity to describe and interpret these cheerful, colourful pictures which so fill one with a sense of optimism.
Vollrath, in the meantime, has been making progress; has gained maturity whilst being faithful to his earlier motto, ‘a homage to life’. Even in the case of his most recent works exhibited today, his ocre-red, a colour which postively beams at one, irrefutably catches one’s eye. Having said this, Vollrath likewise has recourse to darker tones nowadays, mixing them into his pictorial world. For the better, in my opinion, since it is through the contrast with life’s darker side that one becomes fully conscious of life’s bright plenitude. True to his old, gay, indeed merry style, ladies and gentlemen, is the painting familiar to you from the invitation, and bearing the unusual title ‘to boldly go, even where the bravest stand still’. This vertical format painting, like all the others here, is an acrylic painting on canvas, the title of which could well serve as a second motto for Vollrath’s complete works to date. To push forth, to cross the borders, to boldly break through to ever new dimensions in painting - these are the conspicuous motives in his artistic work. Vollrath, in an act as brave as it is bold, uses the practically pure complementary colours of blue and yellow, of ocre-red and green, pitting them against and into one another, uniting them into a furious compostion of circles. Will he or nill he, the observer is sucked into this dynamic hurly-burly and given a good spin himself. Entertaining though this may be - like a dance or a carousel - it is by no means all. No, this twirling around in which everything is literally thrown off course, merely serves as a means to entice one away from conventional coherences into higher spheres. In my opinion, this is represented by the white and blue into which the movement appears to run. Even in Vollrath’s earlier work I find a noticeable synaesthetic component. By this I mean that certain paintings, with their harmonies and dissonaces, have the effect of painted music. And even in the title painting of today’s exhibition, music has played a considerable role, helping the picture to see the light of day, as it were. After an evening of classical music performed by a brass ensemble in the Liederhalle, the public demanded several encores. All of a sudden, a Swedish trombone player... but let us allow Vollrath to narrate to you as he did to me during our first meeting (tape 1). So we see, not only the music of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms may stimulate painting, but an expressive trombone player, impassioned to improvise as well as to act, may equally do the same. The name of this musician, by the way, is Christian Lindberg. Vollrath does not belong to such as wish to claim all the glory for themselves.
Vollrath is an abstract artist with markedly expressive traits. In this respect he permits the observer’s fantasy full reign, leaving him free to interpret the work as he will; to find the inspiration that the artist himself might well have sensed in the creative process. Vollrath’s paintings, extremely subjective and introspective, bear precious little resemblance to the concrete reality of the outside world. Occasionally, one believes to recognise fragmented objects, though they are of little use when it comes to interpreting a painting in the usual sense. And even the titles do nothing more than to lead vaguely along the path of understanding. One will find it of considerable more use to simply step into Vollrath’s pictorial world, open and unprejudiced; to let the forms and colours take their effect, unassisted by the classical props to interpretation. Only thus can one feel the ideas, the sensations that filled the artist in the process of painting. Since, at least from the point of view of content and theme, there is very little difference between his current works, all but two being completed in 1997, I choose to make a distinction in appearance between two groups; the one involving rather calm, partly ‘organoid’ formulations, and the other, dominated by rather dynamic, partly ‘technoid’ structures.
I shall begin with the calm, partly ‘organoid’ works. The horizontal painting entitled ‘Window’ (Fenster, 97) is the first to attract one’s attention since it is quite different from the Vollrath paintings we know. Here, we have a practically monochrome blue surface, with structure being conveyed merely by light and dark shades. On the right-hand side of the painting, this structure creates a barred pattern set with a window framed in ocre-red; a last sign of life, as it were, in this wall of blue bars. And yet, the very window itself is barred horizontally, with a mere ventilation shaft in the upper section of the wall seeming to establish a tenuous link to the outside world. Enclosure and imprisonment are evoked. Confinement and isolation, I believe. The painting entitled ‘Light Body’, (Lichtkörper, 1997) likewise has a dark-blue background, though here this simply acts as a necessary contrast to the fantastical light apparition. An ocre-coloured figure lined with green appears to be holding an ethereal body of light in its arms, whose red centre changes into a yellow-white glow before transforming into a light celestaial blue. The figuration releases a monumental effect - one thinks of the birth of a god, of Apollo, perhaps, the god of light, born to Leto on the floating island of Delos, and sired by Zeus... It is a curious moonlit night emerging from ‘Moon over Ponte Tresa’ (97). An abstract figuration with circular forms and s-shaped curvatures lifts itself from an ocre-coloured background in this case. Vollrath, entirely heeding his subjective impression it would seem, reverses the colour values; the night becomes a warm, bright wrap, with the moon, on the other hand, a dark blue-green ball. A circling spiral form together with two closely related semi-circles hint at an erotic memory. A picture irresistable in its beauty of colour, carries as its title a remark made by Erich Kästner: ‘Who does not see is not seen’ (Wer nicht sieht wird nicht gesehen). A night-blue background for flowers with their rounded blossoms, or could they indeed be eyes? Each competing in their beauty, yet what is the good of such immense beauty if it is not recognised as such? This is the question posed in this painting which could be interpreted as a metaphor for the necessity of recognition from man to man.
Since we do not wish to be accused of ignorance, let us take a look at janosch Vollrath’s more recent sculptured works. Vollrath, inclined to large-sized paintings, nevertheless impels himself to sculpt with the utmost compactness. Taller than men, his figures reach up like slender, fragile stems, from whose already emaciated bodies Vollrath still manages to scoop out hollow form. Their vertical, upward movement is additionally emphasized by means of sophisticated paintwork rich in contrasting colours. Thus, ‘The Birth of a New Idea II’ (Geburt einer neuen Idee II, 1996) is like a germ or sprout shooting lightwards, the entire strength of all its potential hidden inside, ready to unfold in all its glory at any given moment. Vollrath’s smaller tubular objects are similarly worth mentioning for the restrained, indeed muted eminence for which they are typical. Personally speaking, I think of them as models; as miniatures for the extensive, space-devouring objects to be sculpted at some later point.
Now, let us return to Vollrath’s paintwork, and to the works in which I discern greater dynamic movement and ‘technoid’ structure. In the picture entitled ‘The Great Adventure (Das große Abenteuer, 1997) one believes to recognoise a control desk - that of a space capsule, perhaps? In any case, the dark blue background framing the control desk does not exactly contradict such an interpretation, though it may equally represent a cold and worldly night through which the capsule flies, glowing red hot. The title permits both interpretations. The technoid aspect is clearly visible in ‘Labyrinth’ 1997, painted uniquely in tones of blue and white. The menacing interlacing of wheels and cogs calls to mind a mechanical labyrinth, from which there is no escape. ‘Divided Connections’ (Geteilte Verbindung, 1997) is yet another painting evoking technoid associations. Vollrath, through the trick of dividing the painting vertically into two uneven, slim panels, seems to question the sense of such technology. Despite the fact that the colours fit together precisely should one remove the space by pushing the two halves of the painting back together, one is nonetheless inclined to fill the intended space with an intermediary picture, one perhaps resembling the grinding machinery of the aforementioned ‘Labyrinth’. ‘No Title’ (Ohne Titel, 100 x 80cm, 1997) does not exhibit a conclusive technoid character, although the painting, with its evenly rowed, small compartments does not exclude such an interpretation. This particular painting has a rather friendly air about it, reminding me of some fantastic stage scenery. One can imagine the stage machinery about to be set in motion so that some merry play may commence. The association between play on the one hand and technology on the other seems to be the real theme of the painting bearing the English title ‘Hungry for Life, 1997’. Here, I think of a fun-fair or a roller-coaster. Of gigantic one-armed bandits and jukeboxes. In any case, here we have the same phenomenon as in the painting first mentioned in today’s exhibition; here we have tones and sound expressed and transmitted by form and colour. Vollrath’s works remind me of the synaesthetic demands placed by the Italian futurists in 1912, desirous that their painters should come up with a ‘screeching’ yellow, a ‘screaming’ red, or a thudding black-brown, like that of a drum beat. Vollrath’s painting, however, is devoid of the aggressiveness exhibited by the futurists. On the contrary, his tremendously dynamic, vibrant colour zones painted in bright primary colours leave one happy and optimistic, making a comparison with the playfulness of cubism more appropriate; a style particularly apparent in the works of the painter Robert Delaunay and for which the Polish-French poet Apollinaire coined the term ‘Orphism’ (after the singer Orpheus in Greek mythology). All the same, Vollrath is a contemporary painter whose pictures exhibit greater complexity than the spontaneous colour-harmonies of a Delaunay. In Vollrath’s works, one can sense how well thought out the profundity of his abstract expressionism is. In my search for a musical equivalent for this picture, I came across the expressive dissonance of the composer Francis Poulenc. Allow me to play you an extract from his Concert for Organ and Orchestra from 1947 (tape 2).
Ladies and gentlemen, we have enjoyed a glimpse at Janosch Vollrath’s current ‘workshop’. What I have proffered is my subjective interpretation. You yourselves may come to a completely different conclusion, since the golden rule with regard to aestheitic perception is that a work of art comes to life for each and every observer anew. Still, we can perhaps come to an agreement in one particular point: Janosch Vollrath is a painter with courage, ever setting off into unprecedented dimensions, making the invisible visible as Paul Klee once cared to say. May he - for his sake as much as for ours - long continue ‘to bodly go where even the bravest stand still’.
Prof. Dr Albrecht Leuteritz