‘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.’ – Günther Förg
This scintillating pair of complementary paintings by Günther Förg is a resplendent example of the artist’s lead paintings, an extensive and renowned series of works which are held in the collections of public institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate Modern, London. To achieve the luminous surface, Förg applies strips of acrylic paint over the leaded surface to form spectacular mutations, which curator Paul Schimmel has described as ‘rich halated coloration’ (P. Schimmel, Introduction to Günther Förg: Painting/ Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport, CA, 1989, p. 14). In the present works, a single band of colour – fiery red and a thicker purple – cuts each composition into two unequal sections of oxidized lead, whose distinctive blue-grey patina is a constant surprise of infections and indentations. With its strict architectural divisions and dissolving frame, these paintings are formally reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s Neo-Plastic compositions which, too, vibrate with the tension between colour and line. Operating in critical dialogue with his forebears, Förg believed that abstraction as a visual language no longer needed to be defended or theorized, but instead had become simply another mode of image-making; in his practice, Modernism’s ideological underpinnings are absent. Writer Bonnie Clearwater describes Förg’s practice as one that ‘embraces ambiguity’ writing, ‘He contrasts systems of perception only to shake our belief in their apparent logic… Ultimately, we arrive at the realization that no system is reliable and all resolutions of order are merely momentary’ (B. Clearwater, ‘Günther Förg: Beyond Painting’, Günther Förg: Painting/Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport, CA, 1989, p. 23). Begun in the mid-1980s, Förg’s experiments in lead fundamentally challenge the supposed limitations of painting, and by wrapping around their wooden support, these surfaces seem to extend outward, asserting their existence beyond two-dimensional considerations. As the artist explains, ‘I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness. It gives colour a different density and weight…with the normal canvas you often have to kill the ground, give it something to react against. With the metals you already have something – it scratches and scrapes’ (G. Förg in conversation with D. Ryan, 1997). At its core, these works embody Förg’s profound contemplation on the relationship between space and materiality. Forever transformed by volatile natural processes, the lead surfaces, here, generate an abstracted pictorial depth, spontaneous and capricious, a counterbalance to the imposed rigidity of the chromatic bands.
‘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. With the metals you already have something – its scratches, scrapes.’ – Günther Förg