- Günther Förg
- acrylic and lead on panel
- 240.5 by 160.5cm.; 94 5/8 by 63 1/8 in.
- Executed in 1988.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
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Förg’s lead paintings are formed through wrapping sheets of lead, sometimes in several layers, around a wooden frame or panel, before painting directly onto them with no treatment or varnish. Thus in the present work, fold marks are visible where the ground has been physically flattened and wrought around its support, lending the work a sense of tangible materiality and bulk; this is a piece that certainly bears no representational significance, and in fact does not even seem abstract, but rather demands consideration as a fundamental object in its own right. In Förg’s praxis, the lead paintings never include more than two colours; Untitled is characterised by a single thick ribbon of deep unmodulated blue, bisecting the left hand side of the canvas vertically. However, this heavy stroke is far from the only visual interest at play in this composition. Quite apart from the aforementioned fold marks, the rest of the panel is enlivened by a translucent patina caused by the oxidisation of the lead, which, in its organic repetition and lyrical flow, seems entirely at odds with the monochrome flatness of the painted stripe. Förg relished in this effect, even taking it to the extreme in some cases: “Sometimes I would leave the lead in the rain and you would get these amazing oxidised grounds, quite beautiful” (Günther Förg quoted in: David Ryan, Talking Painting, London 2002, online resource). Moreover, even beneath these white striations, the softness of the metal causes a tantalising array of textual variance; “I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness. Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling – it gives the colour a different density and weight. In other works the materials would be explicitly visible as grounds. I like to react on things, with the normal canvas you often have to kill the ground, give it something to react against. With the metals you already have something – it scratches, scrapes” (Ibid.).
To this end, we are led to think of the precedent of Robert Ryman, whose praxis was so inherently based on materiality. Richard Serra also provides a pertinent parallel; an artist who similarly understood the artistic potential and significance of lead as a material; so dense and yet so pliable – primed to bear marks both artistic and natural. Moreover, in the unabashed boldness of the present work, as well as in its rigid geometric perpendicularity, it is somewhat redolent of Russian Suprematism. It shares with Kazimir Malevich’s artistry that mood of untrammelled artistic intention, unimpeded by notions of decoration or ornament. However, the Abstract Expressionists are perhaps the most obvious aesthetic precedent; we are compelled to think of Mark Rothko, Brice Marden, and particularly the ‘zip’ paintings of Barnett Newman. However, if their praxes were somewhat emotionally concerned – interrogations of human expression in non-figurative visual terms – then Förg was unimpeachable in his dedication to pure formalist notions.
Over a career of more than thirty years, Förg worked across painting, photography, sculpture, and graphic design. Untitled stands as evidence of the emphatic nature of his artistry, as testament to his stylistic ingenuity, and as confirmation of his innovative creative approach, focussing on the materiality of art in its most untreated state.