In the early 1960s, Artschwager chose a grisaille palette of white, blacks and grays and a Celotex board surface for his paintings. These formal elements served to de-materialize his image to the point of allowing multiple and shifting readings when applied to the wavy and patterned surface of Celotex which had its own intrinsic visual activity. The image became a conceptual exercise rather than an aesthetic representation, and Artschwager’s paintings became an arena for challenging illusionist space and representational art. With the Celotex paintings, Artschwager drew the image on the board, highlighting it in white, followed by a thin coat of poured black acrylic which would adhere to or fill in the textured surface. He would then modulate the tones by hand to heighten or suppress the image details, obviating any precise definition. As Jean-Christophe Ammann wrote in regard to Artschwager’s monochromatic works, ``Artschwager deployed a single color as an object to be perceived specifically, concealing within itself the possibility of making stages of reality visible within the presentation field. Thus for example there is no distinction between a `Baroque’ interior and a fabric pattern, because the images tend to emerge - though perhaps not quite randomly – rather than having been created with a particular intention regarding their significance. ..Just as one’s eyes explore and feel their way over the surface like a scanner, the image grows from the outside inwards and not from the inside outwards.’’ (Exh. Cat., Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Centre d’art Contemporain, Richard Artschwager, 2003, pp. 35-36).
Visual fluidity rather than precise illusionism or representation was his objective, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, Artschwager was assured enough to expand his aesthetic practice to a grander scale and more complex imagery. His chosen subject matter was the domestic interior, devoid of human presence but emblematic of the human need for order.
In Interior (West) and related paintings, Artschwager expanded the scale of his work, aiming for a surface that encompassed the scale of the viewer in order to more directly address the conundrum of fictive reality and actual reality. Similar to Gerhard Richter, another great master of the neutral monochromatic palette, Artschwager worked from photographs sourced from newspapers rather than from life models, feeling he could manipulate or exploit the photographs for his own aesthetic purposes. Photography fulfilled both artists’ need for a visual source free from art historical associations and subjective parameters. As Richter said, ``It liberated me from personal experience. There was nothing but a pure picture. I wanted to process it and show it – not to use as a means for painting but to use painting as a means for the photograph’’ (interview with Rolf Schön in Exh. Cat., Venice Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte, Gerhard Richter, 1972, p. 23) By painting a photographic image rather than painting from a live model or reality, both artists emphasized that art is only a means of reproducing reality not of revealing reality. Therefore art is an exercise in perception not knowing – seeing but not being.
In paintings such as Interior (West), Artschwager explores the challenge of enlargement as his painterly field expands onto two-panel constructions. In discussing his first uses of the larger panels of Celotex, Artschwager commented, ``I wasn’t exactly trying to make paintings; I was trying to make big drawings ….on builder’s board. ...I never lost sight of the project, which was to make drawings on a heroic scale, of a large size, ambitious drawings that would have consequences. …’’ (Interview with Frédéric Paul in Exh. Cat., Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Centre d’art Contemporain Richard Artschwager, 2003, p. 86).
Along with his newly grand scale, Artschwager began to choose more grandiose subjects of elaborate interiors as seen in The New York Times Sunday magazine, thus introducing the subject of bourgeois style whether Baroque or Modernist. As Richard Armstrong has noted, ``in Interior (West) and Interior (North), Artschwager congeals his dusty, atomized universe into two forceful and final versions of the interior theme that introduce new conditions of light and, by implication, space into his very narrow palette. Made from two different views of the same modern clerestory space, these pictures reassemble a more up-to-date chair, table, rug, etc. The horizontally stacked panels of each painting reinforce the planarity of the modern architecture and furnishings, whose spareness allows Artschwager to isolate various textural treatments in the Celotex: a light and slightly textured wall is fenestrated by two clerestory openings, illuminated so that a darker, denser atmosphere prevails.’’ While Artschwager did not focus on social commentary in his choice of subject matter, Richard Armstrong notes the marriage of subject and intent on a deeper level. ``Paradoxically, as the images gain in widely understood and socially acceptable associations, they reveal their fundamental dislocation from reality. Why precisely would anyone purchase, hang, and revere a blurry black-and-white reproduction of a richly furnished room in the true de luxe of a real house or apartment?’’ (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Artschwager, Richard, 1988, pp. 37-38)
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