Throughout the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, avant-garde works by Action artists such as Joseph Beuys were being paraded in galleries throughout the world. But East Germany - hidden behind the iron curtain for more than twenty eight years - stayed locked in a bubble of artistic isolation. Concentrating on the discipline and practice of figurative art - life-drawing and perspective models, for example - art schools east of the Berlin Wall drew from the traditions of the 'Socialist Realist' schools of 1950s Stalinism, Max Beckmann and further back to Lucas Cranach.
"The disadvantages of the wall are well known," confirms Arno Rink, the 65-year-old recently retired professor of painting who served as director of the academy in Leipzig both before and after the Wall came down "If you want to talk of an advantage, you can say it allowed us to continue in the tradition of Cranach and Beckmann. It protected the art against the influence of Joseph Beuys."
Dresden, situated in a valley, famously suffered from bad reception for the illegal radio and television broadcasts forbidden under the DDR regime, making it even more of an oasis sheltered from the rapid change and events in the West. Thomas Scheibitz, born near Dresden and an art student there, grew up in this concentrated environment. He has since become one of the foremost new painters of his generation in Germany, sharing, along with fellow Dresden-based painters Eberhard Havekost and Thoralf Knobloch, a belief in the traditional medium of painting's ability to respond to contemporary circumstances. While grounded in representation, their work incorporates uncanny and fanciful perspective, space-bending shifts in scale and irregular sight lines. There is a tendency to focus on the quotidian and mundane; works sometimes depict dream-like or surreal imagery. Archetypal figures, grouped together or alone, are engaged in ambiguous or indistinct activities, as if locked in some futile social model. Alienation and uncertainty weighs them down. Architectural features dominate, especially interiors that are slightly derelict, yet monumental and expansive - the vestiges of a once proud civilisation. East Germany is populated by such buildings, marked by entropy and decay, principally because so many were neglected during socialist times. Landscape is frequently only a backdrop, brought into submission by man-made structures and governed by artifice. Common to much of the work is a subtle dislocation of the psychology of the everyday. Threads of confusion and despair are woven through human interactions, coupled with a stubborn interiority. Motives are never clear, and shrouded in doubt. In the words of Robert Storr, professor at NYU's Institute for the Fine Arts, these are "artist's who are going back to literal descriptive figuration and giving it an air of anomie". They depict a condition of contemporary malaise, and the diminution of values.
Thomas Scheibitz's paintings have a distinctly Post-Cubist orientation. His puzzle-like forms are carefully composed in tightly connected compositions locked into shallow space. The forms he uses suggest fragmentary landscape and architectural elements, at once recognisable and abstract. Coupled with his unique sense of colour, Scheibitz's paintings have been described as a cross between Expressionism and Japanese cartoons. Forms can appear undetermined and composite, but wherein is revealed the artist's working method.
The style of Scheibitz's work is often referred to as post-Cubist. Subject matter is broken down into an interconnected system of flattened, distorted shapes and tense, matte surfaces, generating a highly complex system of spatial illusion. The architectural forms and plastic colours reference art history, as well as contemporary digital compression techniques. In fact, Scheibitz draws much of his influence from artists such as Josef Albers, and in his art he seeks to update, or revitalize the Utopian principles put forward by the Bauhaus and Constructivist movements.
In Brillux, the figurative elements are in fact representations of representations, taken from an archive of media clippings the artist compiles, and randomly files. The collection recalls Gerhard Richter's Atlas, but differs in crucial ways. Whereas Richter organizes his material by subject matter or chronology - generating a narrative shape - Scheibitz eschews any classification system. What interests Scheibitz is a kind of public visual memory. A collective storehouse of images culled from obscurity, divorced from any sociological or biographical dimension. The chosen subjects are then transformed beyond recognition, fragmented and elongated into uncanny familiarity. Their alienation from reality reflects the mediated reality of our media- saturated society. To add to this sense of the banal made monumental, the title, Brillux, refers to a paint manufacturers, not the sophisticated acrylics used by the artist, but rather of domestic paint. From this starting point, the commonplace is conflated with a higher aesthetic ideal. The artist seems to revel in a kind of glamorous banality. What he seeks to convey is something innate to the possibilities of painting itself. A painterly expression that uses everyday images to convey the sensations of inner experience.