‘I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness. Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling – it gives the colour a different density and weight. In other works the materials would be explicitly visible as grounds. 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’
A rare early work, Günther Förg’s Untitled (1987) is a prime example of the German artist’s celebrated series of lead paintings. Comprised of alternating bands of intense mint green and bare lead, the work bears a palpable materiality and monumental form, two concepts central to Förg’s oeuvre. The unique texture of lead – a substance at once heavy and malleable – provides a distinctive surface on which to explore the work’s physical presence. The uneven, wrinkled appearance of the metal is juxtaposed with the smooth, level application of paint, introducing a strange and wonderful tension between the brushstroke and the unexpected richness of the raw picture plane. A relative outsider to the canon of contemporary German art, a generation after Gerhard Richter and aesthetically separate from the Neue Wilde school of the late seventies and eighties, Förg’s artistic practice remains distinct; he is a crucial maverick in the conversation about post-War abstraction. With artworks housed in major museum collections such as the Tate Modern, London, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Förg has been hailed as a true ‘painter’s painter.’
In Untitled, the inconsistencies and irregularities of the lead act as the essential ground for the artist to disseminate his study of colour. With its crinkles, furrows and lines, the lead stimulates the chromatic planes, providing a vertiginous depth against which the stripes of thrilling green pulsate. Förg’s lead paintings have been associated with the longstanding Modernist discussion of abstraction, and as such, of colour – from Piet Mondrian’s concept of pure reality ‘as a pictorial grid of intersecting straight lines’ to Barnett Newman’s sublime ‘zips’ to Gerhard Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder. Förg seems to simultaneously operate upon and exploit the basic tenets of this conversation, once claiming: ‘I think if we take a broader perspective we could say that, 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’ (G. Förg, interview with D. Ryan, Talking Painting, Karlsruhe 1997, n.p.). Executed with a keen awareness of this history, Untitled undoubtedly references the masters of abstraction – Mondrian, Malevich, Newman, Rothko. Yet concurrently, the artwork is transformed and removed from any high-minded sense of spiritual purity or Romantic sentiment through Förg’s choice of material. He delivers, instead, a work of irony, ambiguity and what appears to be an objective jab at the subjective.