Klaus Wanker conducts a form of seeing which strives forward through painting. On the one hand, he creates series of pictures which deal with the physical act of seeing through a course of time and, on the other, content-based seeing beyond a supposedly real present time. His earlier works from the 1990s were already pictorial visions in which internal and external smoothness encounter each other in sharp edged manner. In their “overexposure” they are inspired by the arrogantly dismissive faces of models in glossy magazines and function at the same time as witnesses to the inconsistency of objective scientific seeing through the lens. In cool colourfulness these stylised colour field visions of a market-oriented culture of consumption and fetishes are irritating and fascinating; they are pictorial image visions of a world characterised by artificiality. Both in terms of form and content his approach to work has been guided by the American image tradition. His choice of outsized formats, for example, or painting style with its rich contours and contrasts pick up on the local artistic debates after the 1960s – and on the society painter Alex Katz, many of whose works evoke the purported freedom of a pop generation. However, the critical attitude of the 1990s is clearly inherent in Wanker’s figures – with their drained looks, their faces averted and with deep shadows under their eyes – and he seems equally influenced by the subsequent generation around Elisabeth Peyton or Sue Williams – who was his most formative teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

Reality is marginal. (2)

His recent works have appeared in series consisting of multiple parts since around 2011, and are once again strangely distant visions of another world. At the borders of abstraction they investigate an encounter of fiction and reality. As pictorial interpretations they are absolute in their choice of colour and use the entire pallet of light and darkness: on the one hand with a series in the non-colours of black and white right up to the series of radiant colourfulness which dominates today. They address the artificiality of a place which could originate from spatial structures visualised in scientific and technical publications or in which molecular battles become surreal and at the same time metaphysical reality under the eye of the electron microscope. As icons of research these large scale oil paintings correlate to the evocations of bleak science-fiction films and cast clairvoyant views into a worrying and already directly immanent landscape behind the everyday surface. In their technique, in their form, and in their content they reveal the basic structures of a destructive and deeply disturbing Creation, albeit one of almost Old Testament beauty. Titles such as Land(s)capes, Hybrid Bastards or Melancholie einer Vorahnung (Melancholy of a Premonition) clearly reveal just how much the permeation of circumstances, situations and techniques plays a leading role in the serial works. Educated as a civil engineer and painter, Wanker is as much interested in the physical structure of the picture, its mode of action and its construction as he is in the actual visual result. Layer by layer the image which emerges underneath his paintbrush is not only a logical procedure but also a layered process which becomes evident in the course of the (painting) time. In utmost deceleration this corresponds to the later reversed, penetrating look and becomes spatial seeing in time. Wanker builds up his pictures in as many as 40 waferthin layers while taking his artistic signature right down to complete erasure. From the pure pigment he applies one coat of glaze over the next in the meticulously researched and tested mixture of poppyseed oil and synthetic resin – but completely without opaque white; substantive form is superimposed on formal form; and what gradually emerges is a translucent structure which mixes and oscillates in different ways depending on the incidence of light. The result is a consistently smooth surface which reveals a technoid, artificial world underneath. The three-dimensional forms which grow therein are only broken through faults which have been built into the coat of glaze. By tearing out the surfaces or through the fraying of a hard border they are imbued with pictorial perfection. In some places, the use of wafer-thin, reflective aluminium foil yields a further deep structure which adds two additional dimensions to the image: On the one hand, the surface, which is as smooth as glass, reflects the visitors and the particular spatial situation in its dimensions and light; it includes and integrates them. On the other, the work serves as an image window which takes the viewer along and into another reality – in the moving depths of their own visual thinking in space and time.

Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute. (J. G. Ballard, from: Introduction to the French edition of Crash (1973/1974), reprinted in Re/Search no. 8/9, 1984

The series of images which emerged in recent years fluctuate between technoid abstraction, visualisation and representation and use a visual alphabet which in turn makes of descriptive geometry – that is to say, the constructive process of projecting three- dimensional worlds. Netlike structures constantly appear as reduced, elementary landscapes in the Land(s)capes and make the viewer think of computerbased visualisations of mathematical concepts as well as paradigmatic films such as The Matrix (3) which went on to transform our viewing habits over a long time. Lines and areas meet up, for example, in the Land(s) capes (Zernetzung) work of 2013 and mimic collisions such as those on the data highways of the information age. In addition to the vectored line, however, Wanker frequently uses the circle and all its forms, modified through different perspectives. In this regard, the circle is drawn and moved in the ellipse, the hyperbola right through to the clothoid – the Euler spiral – a form of spiral and increasingly linear curvature well known in the construction of motorways. As an infinite in motion it constitutes the ultimate, perfect form. In images such as Hybrid Bastards it is translucently superimposed, tilted, twisted and placed in the state of limbo which underpins slow-motion shots and close-ups in the hyper-real world of animated film. In Land(s)capes (Feindliche Übernahme), 2014, on the other hand, the clashing biomorphous elements have a colourfulness which is blurred between a “hard” and “soft edge”. Here, Wanker applies techniques and modes of action which originate in the all-over strategies of colour field painting and reflect the moving visualisations of organic cell structures under the electron microscope or from extremely remote stellar objects through the lens of a telescope. His pictorial objects coalesce in colour and form and find themselves in a state of drifting through the changing incidence of light, yet there is no sense of finality in the image. Consequently, nothing stands still in Wanker’s images. The relationships of light, colour and dimensions, too, can be felt in situational cadences; explosive intermixtures occur. From micro we zoom straight to macro, and so viewing the images leads to cracks in our physical self-perception. If the images appear somewhat cool and distanced despite their expressive colourfulness, they still lead the viewers’ gaze to their mixed colours, lines, points of light and dark attraction and take them through psychedelic terrains, whisking them off into worlds beyond the manifest surface. Here, we find ourselves immersed once more in nightmarish, surreal images which speak of a future of peculiar longing and creative destruction.

The uneasy marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th Century has given birth to an increasingly surreal world. (James Graham Ballard, from: Introduction of a Genius, by Salvador Dali, 1974)

Throughout its history there has been much talk about the end of modern painting. So-called “final pictures” form part of its fixed inventory. The question about the end of painting or even about the end of art in general has become radicalised and has turned into an eminently social question – since Malewitsch’s last and at the same time first new and pure picture, after the crises of technical reproducibility and depictability of horror after the Second World War. Questions about life and utopia after and in memory of the catastrophe have also become a factor for art, out of which art derives its questions and its problems. The task that falls to art was formulated by Adorno in his “Aesthetic Theory”: “Like theory, art is equally unable to give concrete form to utopia; not even negatively. The new as a cryptogram is the image of downfall; only through its absolute negativity does art pronounce the unpronounceable, utopia.” (Aesthetic Theory, p. 55) Extracted hypothalamus is the title of the solo exhibition which was held at the Kunsthaus in Mürz in 2014, and points to just such an absoluteness which shapes Wanker’s thought processes und work. So the hypothalamus is responsible as an interbrain for steering the human central nervous system and is therefore the most important interface in the construction of the human system. Its extraction would undoubtedly lead to exitus – death – and hence, based on Adorno, would probably be in one in black. And it is precisely in this way that Wanker presents two groups of his works in Mürz: one consists of the series from his first abstract creative period of geometrically structured, monochrome pictures which shine here into the dim darkness of the room. Opposite them you then have organic, colourful worlds in bright, glaring light. Both are investigations into seeing as a process in the travelling light and its complete spectrum which has its fundamental origin in being or not-being. As an overall vision the exhibition testifies to the finiteness of secular reality. For this can only represent a marginality of seeing in a science-driven perspective. A marginality which possesses an abstract centre: pure movement.

1 Marcel Proust
2 Jacques Lacan, What is a picture/tableau? From: Ed. Gottfried Boehm, Was ist ein Bild?, 1994, p. 78
3 The Matrix, directed by The Wachovski Brothers, 1999
4 Such art is one which deliberately contains the principle of negativity, of horror, of destruction and violence in itself. It is one “of the basic colour black” (Aesthetic Theory, p. 65).

Text: Katrin-Rosalind Bucher (Kunsthaus Graz)