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Gotthard Graubner
dona, 2001
Acryl (Mischtechniken) auf Leinwand
über Synthetikwatte auf Leinwand
101 x 82 x 7 cm
Gotthard Graubner
muar, 1993
Acryl (Mischtechniken) auf Leinwand
über Synthetikwatte auf Leinwand
168 x 140 x 17 cm
Gotthard Graubner
aufgefächert II, 1957
Öl auf Leinwand
90 x 70 cm
Gotthard Graubner
ohne Titel (Zero 350), 1963/64
Mischtechnik auf Nessel uüber Schaumstoff
auf Leinwand unter Plexiglas
35 x 27 cm (Künstlerkasten 50 x 42 x 7 cm)

Worlds’ space of colour

The painter should not just paint what he sees before him,
but also what he sees in himself. But if he sees nothing in himself,
he should refrain from painting what he sees before him.
Caspar David Friedrich

In the summer of this year 2020, one of the greatest painters of our time would have turned ninety. Gotthard Graubner. He died in 2013, and ever since it needs to be said: he is missing. We miss his cryptic wit, his roguish presence, his amiable curiosity and the calm he radiated notwithstanding all the impatience that was part of his nature. And, who knows what pictures he would continue giving to the world if he were still among us. It is comforting to know that Graubner has left us one of the most powerful works of painting and – without doubt – it is a work in perfection.

Nowadays, in Berlin, there are two ways to encounter the work of this extraordinary painter. Following the advice of our artist colleague Markus Lüpertz, a glance at the sky will do – for it is undoubtedly the case that Graubner is responsible now for the nuanced magic of colour that the vault of heaven in its incessantly moving play of clouds brings before our eyes every day. Those prefering the work of Gotthard Graubner on earth will be able to immerse themselves in his painterly world at the Berlin gallery of the Kunsthandel Wolfgang Werner.

The selection of works currently on display could hardly be more exquisite. Outstanding works executed from 1957 to 2003 show the unfolding of what Graubner understood by absolute painting as if placed under a magnifying glass. Starting with the early twodimensional works on canvas which already give an inkling of the desired richness of nuances of a multi-layered colour space, continuing with the first experimental Kissenbilder (cushion paintings) at the beginning of the 1960s, which unfold the appearance of deep layers of colour from the colour soaking of foam bodies, to finish with the completion of Graubner’s painting in the extensive Farbraumkörper (colour space bodies). Graubner himself described painting as a »Verdichtung der Farben zum Organismus« (compression of colours into an organism). And indeed, the attentive eye perceives in the Farbraumkörper a constantly moving play of colours on the surface, an organism breathing colour. The longer our gaze rests on these picturesque skins, the more intensely we experience this quiet play of colours, which is further intensified by changes in the angle of vision and incidence of light. For in the end, it is the light that draws the colour from the depths of the Farbraumkörper into visibility. »Trampoline des Lichts« (Trampolines of light), as Graubner calls them.

Beyond the staccato rhythm with which the flood of images of our times hammers on our perception, human perception continues to be based on the slow rhythms of the human body. Breathing in and out, the heartbeat, the step-by-step walk are the parameters according to which human perception is oriented. Gotthard Graubner's paintings aim at this physically well-founded beat of perception, they seek to reanimate this decelerated perception. The sensitization of human perception as the basis of our experience of the world is the goal and open secret of Graubner's painting.

For this process of sensitizing the senses, the painter Graubner has invented a kind of laboratory situation and created an artistic space: the Nebelraum (fog space). As such a space in times of Corona is currently not feasible, the exhibition includes photographs of earlier Nebelräume. Realized for the first time in 1968 at Gunters Sachs' Modern Art Museum in Munich, the Nebelraum constitutes what is promised by its title: a room filled with white-greyish fog by means of a fog machine. In such a room the visitor loses all normal orientation and is completely thrown back on himself, a walking body in the nirvana of opacity. The visitor gropes his way forward, increasingly relying on senses other than sight, perceiving with every fibre. The uniform white-grey is getting more and more differentiated, differences in density are being identified, light areas appear as well as districts of a deeper grey, the contours of other visitors appear like shadows – a seeing begins that is sensitized and activated in a new, different way – a seeing that is challenged by Graubner's painting.

In the 1960s, a time of artistic awakening and new beginnings, which was primarily characterized by new and often shocking movements such as Fluxus, Action art, Zero, Pop art or Arte povera, Gotthard Graubner steadfastly believed in the métier of the Alte Tante Malerei (old auntie painting) and he lifted the language of colours into completely new spheres. To this day we are grateful to Gotthard Graubner for his work, which has emphatically demonstrated the contemporary relevance of one of the oldest artistic languages against all hostility to supposed antiquity. For our world needs worlds as unfolded by Graubner's painting – the artistic counter-worlds.

Carsten Ahrens, art historian, Berlin. He was deputy head of the Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, director of the Mönchehaus Museum, Goslar, and director of the Weserburg Museum of Modern art, Bremen (2005–2013).