'The title Zero was the result of months of search and was finally found more or less by chance. From the beginning we looked upon the term not as an expression of nihilism - or a dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as the countdown when rockets take off' (O. Piene, ‘Die Entstehing der gruppe Zero’ in The Times Literary Supplement, 3 September 1964).
With its geometric composition and burnished appearance, the shimmering gold and flaming red surface of Otto Piene’s Untitled (Rasterbild) is an exemplary example of the artist’s series of Rasterbilder, presenting an intense vibrating grid of infinitesimal dots. Evocative of the blazing sun, Untitled (Rasterbild) invokes the life-giving and ethereal power of sunlight, which recurs in several other important Rasterbilder from this period, including Soleil (Sun), 1967, housed in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and Ein Fest für das Licht (A Feat for the Light), 1958, held in the Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf.
Piene’s Rasterbilder were a ground-breaking group of paintings begun in 1957 which coincided with the launch of the highly influential 'Group Zero', which Piene co-founded alongside Heinz Mack. Taking its name and meaning from the moment of a rocket's lift-off and aimed to shoot the viewer into space, the Zero Group's ambition was to make a radical departure from traditional painting techniques, ultimately awakening a new era of possibility. The immediacy and boldness of Rasterbild is the result of Piene's drive to develop new post-War artistic tendencies.
Abandoning conventional methods of creation, Piene developed new spatial possibilities through the medium of light, fashioning an innovative system of relief paintings by employing immense perforated screens to produce a dazzlingly tactile surface of repeated, raised dots. The present work emulates and extends this sense of new spatial possibilities; inspired by Yves Klein's ‘monochrome propositions’ and Fontana's punctured canvases Piene’s Rasterbilder sculpt space, time, light and motion rather than the traditional materials of painting. Executed in fiery, elemental red on brilliant gold, in Rasterbild Piene’s palette is deliberately evocative of the dazzling and pure effects of light. He claimed that the luminescent quality of these hues was intended to flow ‘between the work and the spectator and fill the space between them. This space cannot be quantified because the spatial properties of the work are irrational - the work “as space” is irrational’ (O. Piene, 'Paths to Paradise', in O. Piene, H. Mack, Zero, Cambridge 1973, p. 46)
'Vibration', the artist poetically suggested is a 'living growing nuance, that which prohibits contrast, shames all tragedy and disbands all drama. It is the vehicle of frequency, the blood of colour, the pulse of light, pure emotion, the purity of a picture, pure energy' (O. Piene quoted in Zero Künstler einer europäischen Bewegung, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg 1956-2000, exh. cat., Salzburg 2006, p. 122). Indeed, the title Rasterbild is derived from the German raster for 'grid', which recalls the regulated pattern of parallel lines produced on cathode-ray tube televisions, a novel mid-twentieth century phenomenon which represented a new kind of imaging technology. Oscillating between art and technology, Rasterbild emits a vibratory power, resembling radar waves invisible to the naked eye. As the titles of these works reveal, Piene's Rasterbild served as the springboard, not only for the artist's later smoke and fire paintings, but also for his celebrated Light Ballet works of the early 1960s.