The exhibition was not meant to be called “EASY.” As is often the way, it started with the opposite idea. At the time I was reading Deleuze’s late essay on Beckett, “The Exhausted,” and wanted to do a show, which would make use of its definition of the image. “It is extremely difficult to make a pure and unsullied image, one that is nothing but an image,” writes Deleuze and seeing the late Beckett plays I could believe this was the case. “Of course it is not easy to make an image…”
As all four artists – Jonah Gebka, Hannes Heinrich, Steffen Kern and Janka Zöller – work with images, Deleuze’s definition seemed appropriate. Things changed after I visited them in their studio. We were talking about the possibilities available to contemporary painting and I gave the example of Gerhard Richter – how at the time, to do both, abstraction and figuration, was a challenge that filled him with anxiety. To which Janka replied, “What, only two? Bah!”
Painting now is not difficult in the same way it was 40, 30 or even 10 years ago. Opening up to new possibilities, expanding some pre-conceived notion of what painting might be, what it might do in a contemporary critical context no longer holds the same kind of urgency. And if not, if painting is no longer defined by that kind of hardship and struggle, it would seem painting must be easy instead.
In various ways, Jonah Gebka, Hannes Heinrich, Steffen Kern and Janka Zöller acknowledge this lack of anxiety in their work. For them the fact that painting might seem easy is a strategy, offering a means with which they can engage with the viewer.
Jonah’s work is about surface. Through a variety of means (digital manipulation, engagement with printing processes, the use of mixed media) he makes the surface of the image, specifically its physical aspect, apparent to the viewer. For GiG, he shows a watercolour on paper, stretched around its wooden frame. The image is of a generic blue and white checked deck chair, like those found around pools in holiday resorts around the world. Yet the image is not found, but carefully constructed by the artist.
Janka’s interest lies in contemporary cultures, both high and low, traditional and post-digital. For her current project – and she has many – Janka combines lyrical, Matisse-like abstractions with paintings of eyes taken from her Instagram selfies. Always starting from scratch, always on the move, she paints with restless energy, quickly and directly. The two components of her work, abstraction and figuration, sit next to each other without speaking, never coming together to form a coherent whole.
Hannes works with painting’s capacity for illusion. At its most basic, a grey patch can be a shadow; a few crisscrossing lines make it clear that one lies on top of the other. Is it surprising how little it takes to produce the impression of an endless sunset? He paints wooden frames around his paintings and uses paintings of wood to make sculptures. But unlike the mythical Parrhasius he never tries to trick the viewer into believing that what he sees, might be real. For Hannes, illusion is something very obvious and in its obviousness, intimidating.
Steffen likes to transform one visual register into another, often changing the original narrative along the way. For his drawing “O.T.” he takes a performance by Ana Mendieta and describes it in a few lines of text, referring to the filmed nature of the piece through the introduction of VHS type glitches. In “Props” he takes some tools he found abandoned in an attic and covers them in black paint. They now exist in a no-man’s land, never quite achieving their fictional potential because never quite losing their status as useful objects.
Magdalena Wisniowska, 2017