Please come in, but do not enter:
The representation of visual space Most people react alike when they take a first, superficial look at Herbert Brandi's paintings. The pictures trigger all associations, with painters from the past, from Turner to Gerstl, or motifs such as landscapes, or ethereal feminine shapes (possibly equally past). These reactions come as no surprise when a painter such as Brandl is devoted to a kind of painting that is neither part of a mainstream defined by context or surface, nor part of American traditions built one way or the other on Abstract Expressionism or monochromatic painting.
In certain respects the associations are not wrong, but become somewhat arbitrary upon closer perusal- a support structure without necessity; somehow disappointing, too, since they do not sustain much projective loading no landscape to enter, no woman to embrace, and the gaze from within the painting never really emerges either; there is a depth, but it seems only to be contemplative, like an Invitation printed on an insurmountable obstacle. In his earliest works, painted under a condition of collective intoxication that satisfied the craving for pictures, Brandl also wields a neo-expressionist brush, but instead of easily legible icons and figures, he creates an abundance of symbols and references heading nowhere in particular, targeting no specific point.
The implicitly anti-conceptual attitude of this re-emergence of painting is reversed in his pictures. They seem to dissolve under a barrage that comes from "outside of painting" and to want as a consequence of this impact to redefine easel painting. In the mid-eighties follows the closest approximation to figurative references - beyond the visual level, sky, water and earth become collective metaphors.
The result is not sell-contained painting that cares II we or nothing about what is going on outside, for here the external reference seeps downwards rather than beyond the edges. The edges are normally never entirely covered, or at least the paint is so diluted that all Interest in them is dissipated. It is precisely for that reason that they point in a different direction. Never, not even in the abstract compositions, is there a centre. The way up (or towards the outside, tot that matter) is barred too, so that the only way is into the deep. What remains on the surface is so obvious, self-evident in its representationality that representationality itself, in all its complexity, is up for doubt.
This point is developed further in the drawings, albeit in a different way. The most obvious motifs are named, and if there are narratives, they are so crystal-clear that they cannot be the whole story. Celestial and terrestrial/ bodies, blown up sexual organs, actual/y ward off the sexual level in the representation while still alluding to it somehow, without, however, disclosing piece, form or meaning. The concept of over-draught referents is translated into visual reality; the traces of discharge can still be felt. In the course of the nineties, more and more light seems to emanate from Brandl's paintings. Figures, forms and oil paint dissolve ever further, without ever vanishing completely.
The surface becomes ever more delicate and translucent without al/owing the gaze to see through it. Sometimes, the stroke of brush is the most prominent moment, producing an effect similar to one in homeopathic medicine where only the trace releases the substance; except here, the drug is colour. The boundaries of colour and form almost disappear or vanish completely, to re-emerge in a different place. Sometimes the light seems to shine through other layers from behind; sometimes touches of light appear to have been added on from the outside.
Instead of a barrier of form and colour, we now see a delicate surface pretending to be transparent but still covering something concealed as it constantly oscillates between all kinds of locations, edges and colours. The beholder feels like a robot trying hard to find its bearings, to orient its built-in colour and pattern recognition function; laying again and again, but running on regardless. In the most recent paintings in this show, the oein: is absorbed by the primer so that the colours blend into the canvas, and melt like a pastel.
The flowing transitions look as if they have been tipped out of reality the whole visual structure could take on a one dimensional shape. These paintings are about things located beyond light and colour, not yet become form. For a moment we get an idée of it somewhere in the distance it might be possible to find it. In a strange way, this oscillation does not mean undecidedness, it forces a calmness upon one that may perhaps not be genuine. It is also a comment on the picture per se, regardless of whether it 's meant in the artistic sense or not what its blocked by all this back-and-forth movement is the fixation of the quantity of visual stimulation. The excess and serenity of images are inseparably juxtaposed, pain and meditative calmness as opposites are consequently ruled out for the eyes of the beholder. The oil paintings in this exhibit/on lead to a different notion of representation than the one we are used to in painting. The picture as an artwork exceeds in its representational content that which it represents.
The spectator in front or within the painting represents an additional content without which the text of the artwork would remain incomplete. In abstract painting in particular this knowledge is used in a highly strategic way by creating the spaces in which this representational surplus becomes possible. Brandl's paintings invite us into such spaces where access is denied. We can neither enter into anything within the painting, nor project ourselves anywhere onto it. The paintings indicate spaces that we have to search for elsewhere. This is what makes this art aesthetically borderline.
As invitations, the paintings are very close to the idyllic - almost nothing more than triggers. At the same time through the dynamic described above the painting as an artwork is delimited, and thereby defined as an autonomous medium. The oil paintings in the exhibition with their watercolour-like qualities are juxtaposed with a huge India ink pipette whose format is reminiscent of an historically overloaded monumental painting, in substance a maze of symbols in the snaps of figures and characters. Fencelike, the picture is yet another comment on the relationship between static painting and the capability of being fraught with projections.
In his art, Brandl always aerates a subversive text by allowing tor all those prototypical forms, but at the same time he suppresses and forbids important partial functions, thereby creating surprises in places where we would never assume them.
Aus: Herbert Brandl, Sezession Wien/Kunsthalle Basel, Wien, Katalog zur Ausstellung, 1999 Übersetzung: Elisabeth Frank-Großebner
Martin Prinzhorn ist Sprachwissenschaftler und freier Kunstautor in Wien