‘I don’t want to dress up a picture with just my face’
‘Simply that it goes, to bring things to a point of lightness. That’s the most difficult place to get to with painting. The work that went into it shouldn’t show. Beauty always lies in between’
A lambent field of quartz pink is framed by four bars of black, magenta, red and peach. Imi Knoebel’s Grace Kelly is born from a series of works by the same title (1989-1995) that each employ this inset format, creating a dance of colour and edge. Aglow with radiant shades that can be configured in endless variety, the works create physical interplays of chromatic nuance that go beyond mere seriality to the realms of the infinite. As redolent of window or doorway as of a highly schematic human face, the unfathomable variations of life and sensual pleasure are brought forth in boundless hue. Each work is a unique individual, yet the delicate contrasts of subtle and vivid tone convey a limitless luminosity, bringing to mind not just the beauty of life itself but its endless potential: colour and form, ultimately, as a mode of immortality.
Preoccupied with the encounter of colour with its material support, Knoebel’s geometric abstraction builds on the legacy of Mondrian and Malevich. His interests are often traced to his study under Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he met – and shared a studio with – Blinky Palermo; this period, however, was predated by the Bauhaus influence of the Darmstadt Werkkunstschule, where Knoebel learnt the colour theories of László Moholy-Nagy and Johannes Witten. This eclectic and cerebral range of influences fostered a vivid, clear-sighted outlook that is distinctively his own, producing works of clean graphic force and serene emotive resonance. True to Knoebel’s resolutely formalist practice, Grace Kelly’s five separate painted wooden elements – the four framing edges and the central plane – construct an intriguing hybrid of painting and sculpture. The result is an apparition of both tonal and tactile fascination, precisely demarcated but thrumming with feeling. While utterly abstract, the work gestures to the titular film star: her iconic radiance, it is implied, will endure in the eternal domain of beauty, which, for Knoebel, is supreme and self-justifying. ‘What can I say about my works that they don’t say? When I am asked about what I think when I look at a painting, I can only answer that I don’t think at all; I look at it and can only take in the beauty, and I don’t want to see it in relation to anything else. Only what I see, simply because it has its own validity’ (Imi Knoebel, quoted in J. Stu¨ttgen, ‘“I wouldn’t Say Anything Voluntary Anyway!” Interview with Imi Knoebel,’ Imi Knoebel: Works 1966-2014, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, p. 24).