Gunter Christmann, Elma, 2009 acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80cm
Eyes on the ground. Heart in the stars.
The language of a painter is visual not verbal, so sometimes I think it is a little rude to ask a painter to write about his work. It is as if we say, "We do not understand what you are saying, could you try again?" Or perhaps more frustratingly, "What does it mean?" If the only way we can understand a painting is from reading an artist statement then we may get the message, but do we really get the picture?
It can be argued that a painting can and should always be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, however, regardless of concept or precept, a little background or explanation will often enrich our experience of the work and give us entrée to a more profound understanding and allow an informed interpretation. Afterall, a new language must be learnt.
Gunter Christmann wrote the text, TERRA SUBPEDE (The Earth Underfoot)* in 1980. Rather than an 'artist statement', it was perhaps more a letter to anyone who was looking at his exhibition to help them to see that the abstract paintings were both so much more and maybe even less than they might first have thought. Less because essentially he had painted a collection of rubbish he had found on the street, but so much more because he has transformed this detritus into elegant motifs to create beautiful paintings.
There is an absolute integrity to the 'float tank' works. Objects are chosen and cast into the tank. Christmann paints the composition exactly as it is formed when the objects settle on the surface of the water. He employed a similar method with what he has termed the 'dry box' - the same concept of placing the objects within the container/frame, but the box is shaken to re-arrange the elements within.
In his text he explains that his task was to choose which of these random variations became the compositions of his paintings. There are copious notebooks that meticulously document, like a frame-by-frame animation, the various compositions as they settle. The careful selection of which configuration to paint is made where the artist sees the most beauty.
The first 'float tank' and 'dry box' paintings were painted in 1974.
Christmann explains that he has returned to this method of constructing paintings throughout the 80s and 90s and still continues in this century as it provides him with 'a richness of infinite possibilities'. He has said that working with the tanks is like witnessing a 'cosmos in the studio'. The concept of infinity is comprehensible watching the new universes come into being and vie for the honour of their genesis being painted on canvas.
Work from the street - street art - is a critical aspect for the artist who at 74 years has a much clearer grasp of 'street culture' than many of the youth to whom it is so frequently endowed. He feeds on the beat of life which pulses through the streets of Darlinghurst and Sydney and he continues to delight in what he sees around him. His hope is that others will also see that joy and beauty and life within his paintings and look at them and enjoy them as one might listen to great music. The most important thing, now that you have read his text, is to go and really look at the paintings so he can communicate with you in his preferred language - art.
A fully illustrated colour catalogue including both texts is available for $11.00 plus postage and handling.