"Each painting is an act of rebellion, but also one of the many parts of an ongoing revolution to free painting from the tyranny of mundane representation or color field annihilation." - Francesco Bonami
Rudolf Stingel's Untitled is a dazzling mesh of red and black tones, dispersed rhapsodically across the canvas in streaks, flecks, smudges and striations. Executed between 1996 and 1997, the work is a magnificent example of the distinctive abstract paintings produced by Stingel during these years. Created by spraying paint onto canvas through carefully positioned swathes of gauze, this select series of works develops the innovative technique deployed in Stingel's silver paintings of the early 1990s, and distinguishes itself through striking color, richly variegated tactile texture and intricately detailed surface pattern. Within an oeuvre that has sought to redefine the nature of flat art through a variety of media, these abstract works are complex in their materiality, caught somewhere between painting and printing whilst simultaneously confronting the viewer as ornamental, almost architectural constructs. In this regard, they weave together multiple strands of art-historical lineage, ranging from Gerhard Richter's painterly abstractions, to Andy Warhol's aesthetic of reproduction, to the material concerns of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg. In the present work, we gaze upon a vast terrain created through imprints and residues, a visceral display of mark-making that invites us to explore the depths of its filigree surface.
The method employed by Stingel in these works was first documented in his 1989 book Instructions, which provided a step-by-step guide to producing his paintings. His silver works of the early 1990s were key initial exponents of this technique. Paint was applied to canvas in thick strokes; gauze or tulle was then strategically placed upon the canvas before further layers of paint were added using a spray gun. The material was subsequently removed to reveal the finished painting. In these early silver works, the result was an iridescent layering of muted color, in which the undercoats of paint glimmered through the overlying metallic sheen, creating an almost classical illusion of luminous space. In the present series of works from 1996-1997, this effect is transformed through the use of vivid tones: "Stingel has unmasked the canvas, defogged the surface, and revealed the body beneath. Each work is a dazzling color...that sweeps across the surface, dynamically patterned and fully vibrant against the dark background," (http://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/24 [accessed 17 March 2014]). Treating the gauze less as a filter and more deliberately as a stencil, these works blur the boundary between painting and printing, since the artist's hand is mediated by the intervening fabric screen. Stingel's ironic attempts to codify his own methodology in his Instructions is certainly redolent of Warhol's aspirations towards formalized factory-style reproduction; yet, in Untitled, the unique formations, rivulets and conglomerations of paint re-inscribe a sense of the lyrical upon the pictorial surface. Perhaps Stingel's method may be better understood in comparison to Richter's squeegee technique, in which the mediating tool--in Stingel's case, the gauze--serves to guide, rather than to prescribe, the articulation of paint across the plane of the canvas.
The vivid textures resulting from the material trace of gauze reintroduce a sense of the figurative into Stingel's abstractions, in the sense that they reconstruct the painted canvas as a physical object in and of itself. As Reiner Zittl has written, "Stingel may be categorized in the group of artists who passionately pursue painterly effects that for the most part appear almost autonomously on the picture's surface. The texture of the material's surface is proof of its manufacture," (R. Zittl, 'The Trickster,' in Rudolf Stingel, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2007, p. 32). Indeed, much of Stingel's oeuvre has been directed towards a reinvention of the picture plane as a material surface, rather than as a field of representation. In addition to the abstract paintings, another prominent series of works features Styrofoam canvases, imprinted with footprints as if upon snow, transforming pictorial space into traversable ground. This notion is expanded to literal proportions elsewhere within the artist's output, and has given rise to the conceptual use of carpet and laminate flooring as performative artworks--surfaces that become progressively worn and besmirched by the continual traffic of gallery visitors. In the artist's major mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2007, Stingel covered the gallery walls with metallic Celotex insulation board and invited viewers to draw and write on its soft reflective plane. The almost topographical surface of the present work may be said to resonate with these endeavors, mirroring the rugged texture of Styrofoam, the complexities of woven carpet fabric and even the scrawled etchings of graffiti. In this sense, the work may be said to transcend simple abstraction, conjuring instead a multitude of material associations.
Stingel's abstract paintings from 1996-1997 may also be understood in relation to another significant strand of his practice: his exploration of the ornamental. This tendency is most clearly encapsulated in the artist's abstract stencils of Baroque-style decorative motifs, which recall the wallpaper-inspired paintings of his contemporary Christopher Wool, as well as in the highly patterned carpets that recently graced the walls and floors of Stingel's 2013 solo exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice. Further parallels have been drawn between Stingel's highly textured works and the stucco effect of Baroque architecture, in which design becomes an integral part of structure. Growing up in the Italian Tyrol and Vienna, Stingel was exposed to a fusion of Baroque and Rococo aesthetics at an early age, and attended a high school renowned for its expertise in Baroque church woodcarving. Whilst the present work avoids explicit quotation of this language, its combination of vast scale and intimate detail creates an almost antiquated sense of decorative artifice that belies its contemporary method of execution. Indeed, we may be said to experience the work as a fresco of sorts--as a fragment extracted from a larger vista and placed before us on the wall. As in so many of Stingel's works, the painting is transformed from a canvas into a piece of interior architecture that resonates across multiple artistic registers.