Submerging in colour space
Abstraction by Torben Giehler
"Falkenrot Preis 2008"
Bethanien Berlin, Germany
It is as if the virtual had become tangible: in the paintings of Torben Giehler impressions of immateriality and artificiality are linked with those of painterly presence and powerfully coloured plasticity. When viewing these pictures one might spontaneously think of artificial spatial constructions such as one could find in computer games, flight simulators, or CAD animations. Giehler is clearly interested in the gaze specific to the generation of space: a gaze inherent in imaging techniques and applications such as those. He is fascinated by virtual spaces which, even from the outset, always illustrate realities that are just possibilities – imaginary worlds floating between planning, construction, and unconstrained fiction. The fact that the virtual is thereby particularly linked with the idea of surface, because there the idea of space is played out in two-dimensionality, just makes it more interesting for him as a painter. In classic panel paintings Giehler exhausts the fictional potential of this type of desktop realism, the spatial depth of which is borrowed from the light of LCDs, where even extremely long views seem strangely flat, and where dimensional axes appear surreally distorted and dramatically dynamic. Giehler brings the view of reality implied by one medium into conflict with that of another, blending the aesthetics of simulation into the domain of a translucent painting style that is definitely oriented on material. In so doing he intensifies the tense relationship that exists between the spatial and depth illusion, and the painted surface. For example, his paintings simulate a clean, overly cool slickness, while simultaneously owing their inner appeal to a specific technique that has been completely developed in the process of painting.
In previous works one can see various phases in the transformation of such theme and motif contexts. While earlier works such as “Alexanderplatz” (1999) or “Circuit City” (2000) can still be seen to draw their formal vocabulary from an allusion to artificially generated cityscapes, after about 2001 Giehler began shifting the visual potential of the virtual towards a freer, abstract handling of form. In his painting practice he contrasts media-based modes of representation with autonomous pictorial space in an ever subtler manner, thereby progressively shifting the aesthetics of simulation towards nonrepresentational abstraction. He often achieved such effects to begin with through simple yet effective basic moves – such as by obliterating the viewpoint-regulating horizon line against which his earlier compositions were almost always placed. This transition can be followed clearly in paintings such as “Operating Tracks” (2002) or “Circling Overlands” (2002). Their strongly dynamic, characteristically linear compositions are oriented on the line bordering the paintings’ upper edges. Often tersely formulated and sometimes tilted, the horizon still juts into the paintings there. While it does incorporate a focal orientation, thereby creating a top-down perspective like that of a computer game, a couple of the coloured planes and axes nonetheless break away from the spatial structure’s flat expanse, running crossways, seeming to tip down and away, and in so doing they undermine the assertive strength of an illusion trying to be complete and self-contained. Giehler’s painting style thus develops towards the depiction of hybrid pictorial realities, defined by multiple vanishing points and an enhanced rhythmic character. In succeeding works he continually takes such intentional contradictions of pictorial logic farther, orchestrating them ever more ingeniously. This is true in paintings such as “Total Recall” (2002) and “Sex Beat” (2003), for example. While these works still contain a viewpoint-guiding linear structure, here Giehler experiments with multi-focal spatial constructs, and composes suggestive pictorial details that draw viewers in: complex configurations of lines and networks, which spread with forced dynamism across contrastingly coloured patterns. This makes it seem, pictorially speaking, as if the painter had zoomed in on the micro-structures of those virtual landscapes he had construed as panoramas in older works. Since then Giehler’s pictorial logic has been oriented more closely on the transitional moments when complexly constructed spaces turn into pure abstraction – and which therefore allow, by way of artificiality and virtuality, a new, more dynamic concept of space: perspectives oscillate, break points are emphasized, and the gaze seems to have been accelerated. In newer paintings such as the three by two-and-a-half metre “Stareadactyl” (2007), or “Easter Romantic” (2007) any association with landscape has been obliterated, although they are practically overrun with skilfully contrasted spatial effects, and the paintings have been packed with meaning, loaded with tension, and furthermore linked through the guiding qualities of the richly contrasting colour choices.
Subsequently, with his completely freely developed pictorial structure made up of such irregular cubist elements woven sometimes as planes and sometimes as lines into an interlaced filigree jungle of forms, Giehler’s work can be seen overall as following the tradition of non-representational constructive abstraction. He has also been making this clear through allusions and citations. Thus one may find references to paintings by artists such as Mondrian and Blinky Palermo. The earliest evidence for this is “Boogie Woogie” (1999). Here Giehler directly refers to “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” (1942–43), one of Piet Mondrian’s last works and an icon of non-representational painting. He uses the composition like a quotation, placing it within his painting as a perspectivally tipped plane (with one corner jutting off into emptiness), and this makes it seem as though you were viewing the Mondrian work from a virtual flyover. Paradoxically Giehler thereby contradicts the work’s strictly planar approach – for Giehler’s painting simulates space – while also fulfilling that approach and making it literal in another, surprising manner. By depicting the Mondrian motif as a pure plane, his painting may be an abstract composition of fields of colour when viewed as a whole, yet as an artistic “implementation” the space-creating moment of transition also exemplifies an illusionistic space of the second order. Here, this makes the citation of Mondrian suddenly seem like a virtual city map, and that is precisely the interpretation with which Giehler reveals yet another layer to his reference; for although Mondrian’s art is expressly non-representational, this is rescinded at the same time by cosmological and natural references. For him, the horizon and the vertical were always core elements of a reduction intended to express, on an abstract level, the elementary correlation between humans and their world. The rectangular linear forms – particularly of later works the artist created during his exile in New York, such as “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” – draw their dynamics and musicality from a similar but very specific inspiration: Mondrian was enthralled by the skyscrapers of this New World megacity. For him they embodied something utopian. He was fascinated by the view through the deep canyons of Manhattan’s streets, which from this perspective he saw as a right-angled grid animated by cars and pedestrians.
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Torben Giehler website
Represented by Leo Koenig Inc, New York
Represented by Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve, Paris
Galerie sixfriedrichlisaungar, Munich
Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin
Arndt & Partner, Berlin, Zurich
Torben Giehler on wikipedia