A late disciple of Clement Greenberg, Förg and his Lead Paintings mix the formal techniques of Barnett Newman, Brice Marden and Mark Rothko with references to the modernist grid and rationality of high modernist architecture. A master photographer, Förg has concurrently produced a body of work photographing iconic modernist and Bauhaus buildings, slowly their aesthetic has infiltrated into his painterly experiments. This emphasis on line, balance and a modular approach to the construction of a painting is exemplified in Untitled. Reworking the composition in bold building blocks of four raw colours, each painting presents itself as a construction, almost sculptural in quality.
A reinterpretation of the De Stijl grid championed by Mondrian, Untitled is though far from an essay in flat formalism. Staring into the sections of colour field painting, one becomes absorbed in the complex interplay between pigment and the lead beneath it. Trapped inside the ridged grid are passages of expressionistic paint work that engage and enliven the eye. Key to this is Förg’s base material – lead. He says “I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness… 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 – its scratches, scrapes’ (Günther Förg in conversation with David Ryan, in: David Ryan, Talking Painting: Dialogue with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, London 2002, p. 77). The surface of each board is enlivened by the texture of the metal’s natural oxidation, which is in turn heightened by gestural brushstrokes. In this, Förg is both artist and alchemist.
Paint is rarely considered for its physical properties, or chemical makeup. It is disregarded as a complex compound drawn from earth. By uniting paint with lead, Förg reinforces in the mind of the view the metaphorical proximity both substances have to the earth. A challenge to the idea that the aesthetic positions of early modernism and abstract expressionism cannot be bridged, Untitled is a celebration of form, colour and shape, but perhaps more importantly, the inherent materiality of paint and its elemental construction.
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