Martin Prinzhorn
Between the fields -
Herbert Brandl's Painting of the Transitions

For all its being unmistakable Herbert Brandl's oeuvre, as far its surfaces go, is very diverse. It hovers between traditional motifs like flowers , landscapes, or mountains on the one hand and non-representational textures and planes on the other; as well as between nearly sculptural masses of oil paint and watercolour-like, almost immaterial hues or huge, black and white works in Indian ink on paper. During a first group exhibition in the early eighties an unframed canvas, 4.2 by 2.4 meters, crammed into the space at hand, formed the centre of an installation situation in which the painting material, abundant inside the picture, spread throughout the gallery space.
Thick, seemingly dirty paint covered the canvas and became a rudimentary system of signs that, beyond the two-dimensional, referred to painting as activity and action in three-dimensional space. In precise contrast to the "wild" painting in vogue at the time this was not a work in search for the autonomous panel thus aiming to deliberately distance itself from non-painterly artistic practice. It was much rather an attempt to define painting inside a context encompassing and processing conceptual installation or action1st techniques. The materiality of the colour here is being set against figurative content.
Yet not, and this is relevant for Brandi's entire work there alter, in the sense that this materiality were to replace content, Le. become a means of abstraction. Even in these early works it becomes obvious that he will never be about deciding between figure and the potentials of the medium, reaching as far as the monochrome, or to formulate any decisions at all at this stage pointing into one direction or the other.
In other paintings of those years, when figures reminding us of Art Brut once again superimpose each other before a complex background, these seemingly abstract signs themselves become a part of a totally different abstraction or figure and in this way are embedded in the picture in a manner that makes it impossible to regard them as either the starting or the end point of a figuration or abstraction. With the flower pictures and landscapes painted during the same years much of the same applies: It don't seem to be brushstroke, colour and texture that distort an image of nature, are drowned out by the subjective points of view of the artist. The figures, rather, often seem to arrive in the picture only at the end of the artistic process, are therefore less a starting point than an end point.
The images are never the reason for a picture. If a dark expanse takes up the bottom verge a landscape may become of it. The figure, as a result, Is not excluded but equally in no way compulsory and therefore laden with a secondary meaning at best. At the very next moment the swathes of colour and the shadings once again disperse in a way that makes it impossible to finally reconstruct a figure, a landscape. And still the artistic method, the internal grammar are visible in a forcefulness that makes it very hard indeed to draw a dividing line here.
Since his pictures of the early eighties the relationship between figure and colour with Herbert Brandl has invariably been a very open and dynamic one and in the last instance one consistently is at a loss to determine what brings about what. One moment the painting generates a meaning and in the next covers it up again. In a picture from the year 1982 there is a dark green, almost black swathe through which, near the middle of the panel, bright yellow is shining and thus hinting at a centre. The line from dark green to yellow, though, again is broken by the mingling of the green with white paint that evokes much colder grey hues. The swathes of colour thus emerging on the one hand support the composition of the picture with its bright centre.
On the other hand they also seem once more to cover up this centre and to position themselves in front of it while the yellow appears to shine through the dark.
This contrast yet again is broken when in the right picture half the yellow hues mix with the grey ones and in this way suspend the layering in other places. In the bottom right-hand corner the whitish grey hues touch on the very edge and thus appear to enter the picture from the outside, as it were. The brushstroke is clearly detectable. In many pieces, in some it aids the construction of a centre, in others it contradicts the later and seems to point in a totally different direction. The game with figure and colour here also turns into a game with figure and background, will a layering that it is hard to decipher or that is full of contradictions. Just as there is no given direction, in Brandl's pictures- from colour to figure or vice versa there equally is no anchored plane starting out from which the picture might be structured.
This floating works in all directions. Points of reference like, for example, a landscape are no more than ostensible, neither starting point nor post-modern quotation. The medium, its tradition and possibilities are worked over by the artist with a directness and a lightness that make a positioning superfluous and impossible.
On a series of white pictures from the year 1984 a naked female figure is depicted with its head lilted to the side immediately calling forth reminiscences of a painting between Jugendstil and Munch-like expressionism. Looked at from today's perspective, and in the context of Brandl's entire oeuvre, the tradition and the historical weight of the motif surely lead us on a wrong track just as the other motifs do. Maybe this is just a quick reference triggered by the glimpse at an old piece, no more.
There is no dissolving of the figure in the sense of the abstraction of modernity. Again it is not the starting point for a depiction process and then dissolution thereof but enters the picture, in Dur perception, at no definite point. On the one hand it may be a simple joke yet it also is an important detail that the inclination of the head seems to be motivated by the format of the canvas.
The artist does not want to get closer to his motif and its substance, the motif props up the picture in a manner turning it into a completely abstract component. Of course the artist thus categorically denies the possibility that the observer really might be able 10 reconstruct content with all the weight it carries. With him content matter becomes a part of his grammar of painting.
The reference to a field beyond the picture in this way turns out 10 be arbitrary and irrelevant.
The reason for the picture is not an outer object. In fact there no longer is the attempt to set up a relation between the object and the picture. The figure has strayed here by chance and has not arrived at this point at the end of Its path from the outside or through art history. The monochrome pictures from the second half of the eighties too differ substantially from their late modernist counterparts.
They do not pretend to be pure picture, beyond any objectness, on the contrary: their thick, brittle layering suggests a spatialness and an objectness reminiscent of installation and minimalism.