“For me, abstract art today is what one sees, and nothing more” (Günther Förg in conversation with Thomas Groetz, quoted in: Florian Steininger, ‘The Painter’s Coat,’ in: Exh. Cat., Vienna and Klosterneuberg, Essl Museum Contemporary Art, Günther Förg: Back and Forth, 2007, p. 13).
An exuberant, criss-crossing network of lines in vibrant hues of red, blue, green, orange and pale yellow interweaves across the surface of Günther Förg’s large-scale painting, Untitled. Executed in 2006, the work is part of a small body of six acrylic on canvas paintings that were collectively exhibited in 2015 at Almine Rech Gallery in London to widespread critical acclaim. More broadly, the present work belongs to the artist’s celebrated series of Gitterbilder, or Grid Paintings, which he first began in the early 1990s. Developed out of his earlier cycle of Fenster-Aquarelle, or Window Watercolours, the Grid Paintings are characterised by a dynamic mesh of vertical and horizontal lines that dance enticingly over the surface of the canvas. “Förg loves the ambiguous, the indecisive, the tightrope walk between roughness and finesse,” writes art historian Florian Steininger, and indeed, at once structured yet loose, open yet confined, the Grid Paintings contend with the dichotomous nature of painting in which material flatness and illusionistic depth converse and collide (Florian Steininger, ‘Günther Förg – “The Painter’s Coat”’ in: Exh. Cat., Vienna, Essl Museum, Günther Förg: Back and Forth, 2007, p. 15). Articulated on a monumental scale, these are works that call into question the very act of painting itself. As the artist himself explained, his practice sought to produce “paintings that are reduced to painting itself, to their own essence” (Günther Förg cited in: ‘Günther Förg In His Own Words’, Hauser & Wirth, May 2019, online).
Painted whilst the artist was in Switzerland, the present cycle of six works is based on a small watercolour by Paul Klee from the 1930s. Adopting a similar colour palette, Förg’s abstract compositions simultaneously elicit and challenge the notion of painting as a portal or window into another world. In Untitled, Förg at once evokes both the work of Klee and Jasper Johns, and more broadly the trajectory and weighty influence of art history; the result is a kind of sardonic and reductive window frame that collapses in on itself into impalpable and pure abstraction. Indeed, in the present work, the white primer on the canvas remains starkly visible beneath the composition, appearing almost illuminated beneath the mesh of paint that overlaps it, as if emitting a kind of light or glow. Förg’s skilful manipulation of light and shadow is reminiscent of many of Klee’s paintings which seem to produce an analogous luminescence. With a seemingly visceral tactility, Untitled conveys a paradoxical materiality that is in the same moment harmonious and in disarray: it conjures a sense of architectural weight and a layering of depth, yet just as convincingly achieves a transcendent weightlessness that is profoundly hypnotic. Intoxicating in its presentation of space, depth, colour and scale, Untitled poignantly and self-reflexively addresses what it means to create a painting. In Förg’s own words: “fundamentally, as soon as we engage with painting, we have the same problems that faced those at the beginning of the century or even before: problems around colour, form, composition” (Günther Förg cited in: David Ryan, Talking Painting, Dialogues with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, New York 2002, p. 80). Dynamic and bold, playful and raw, Untitled enticingly encapsulates the artist’s ambitions as a painter.
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