Beautiful Ground | Reinhard Ermen | Catalog Paintings 2000-2006 | Translated by Elizabeth Volk
What is to be seen? The eyes search, the viewers themselves begin to wander around in front of the object; paintings such as these beg to be researched, they require perception from changing perspectives. Minute changes in the light lead to a different result. Time is needed to find what is essential. This is why these paintings are so difficult to reproduce. A print can capture a condition, a moment at best. But here we are dealing with a very simple fact: Upon a softly reflecting ground, matte surfaces lie. What is confusing, and thus a reason for asking the introductory question, is the fact that the color tones of the ground and the surface (perhaps one should even refer to spots here) lie close to each other. This proximity is a constituent element of the work. The term ‘monochromy’ comes to mind. Apparently there are two different manners of approach in this painting. The one furnishes the foundation which glows crystalline with its sumptuous charm. The other establishes surfaces broadly and richly with material, rising from out of their surroundings like islands or continents.
Actually, Raymund Kaiser paints two pictures each time. The first one is slowly built up in layers, with a patience recalling that of the old masters, and then sealed, as it were, with a color glaze. The process takes its time, demanding technical sovereignty as well as a sensitive handling of the paint. Relatively long drying phases accompany this step. What emerges is a beautiful carrier, which we described at first glance already as having sumptuous charm. This is no longer a ground. The body of paint emancipates itself as an independent realm of color: thoughtful, transparent and shimmering, unnoticeably shaped by traces of the working process that must also protect the panels created in this manner from all particles of dust. “Noli me tangere” is what these sensitive, narcissistic beings wrapped up in themselves seem to softly call.
In the face of such untouchability the second step to the picture almost appears like a defloration or, to put it in somewhat less spectacular terms, like taking clear possession of it! Every mark on a white page, every brushstroke on a freshly grounded canvas is such an intervention with corresponding claims of ownership that are only legitimated through purposeful work. But in this case the intervention appears to be more significant, since it is carried out upon an especially well-prepared, as it were, pre-finished panel, calling its existence into question first of all. The act of partial overpainting defines itself with a sort of ‘camouflage color’, the meaning of the second, the actual painting act, is enhanced by means of this monochrome proximity. In the final analysis we are not dealing with colorist contrast here, but with two fundamentally different manners of approach. The other paint with its different, if you will, even one-dimensional and at any rate terse, consistency, the change in technique from fundamental composition work to prime painting, appears in the working process as a significant moment, the results of which are irreversible. Once placed, there is scarcely a possibility for correction. The moment of this crucial action, violation even, has been written into this work, evoking a feeling full of tension. It lives from this friction between the two gestures. With only a relatively few strokes, the piece, arduously begun, achieves a different level. Possibly it may be compared with pole vaulting: the actual physical act is preceded by a much longer concentration process, before the run-up is even started. The vaulting itself only lasts a few seconds. The preliminary work done in monologue gives birth to a short, intensive dialogue, which echoes in a metaphorical sense, gelling into the concrete relief. The dialogue partners themselves may have entirely different names, something like layered and prime painting, fast and slow, or transparent and opaque; two principles clash, no, follow one another, formulating the ultimate painting.
Such fundamental dialogue has always characterized the work of Raymund Kaiser. In the early 1990s there were paintings on chipboard, where the one half was made with a rich oil tone, while the rest, separated precisely from the first half, leaves the ground open to stand as it is. ‘Ground’ nota bene – the first pre-finished painting is still a far cry away, but the principle is already there. In a further phase he then comes closer to the two equivalent phases, with the preliminary work emancipated in the process. The first paint, or rather a self-confident grounding, is a photograph; not a reproduction, but a detail which has been enlarged to gigantic proportions, essentially a color, which Kaiser approaches in oil, in order to fill the (larger) rest of the carrier. The wholly different materiality of the photo-color, be it found or purposely sought after, already displays the contrasting gesture of his present works. A free oscillation, sometimes also distant remnants of contours, individualizes the first step. Occasionally Kaiser still relies on such preliminary photography work even today, particularly because it sometimes also reveals smooth transitions and deliberate nuances in the painted grounds. For a long time both fields were also clearly separated from each other by a straight line. In the meantime he has completely abandoned a further characteristic feature of his earlier works. The chipboard carriers he preferred had several rough edges. He finally relinquished altogether these expressive ends, ultimately reducing it to only one of the four edges, by which the panel, so to speak, was opened into the room. The painted ground would be a contradiction to the break, which was anyway only the clean-cut edge of the photo paper. With the charming, arduously produced bodies of paint the picture is sensitively completed. The work has become quieter.
A variation of Raymund Kaiser’s principle of dialogue is also possible in applied architecture, for example the Evangelical-Reformed Church in Radevormwald, where brightly shining, yellow boards have been inlaid into the deep, slanted window sills, their light emanating into the room with matte charm. The first preparatory step in painting stood by itself in a modified version, there was no trace of a second painting, but the large free glass doors afforded a view to both sides, to the perfect exterior side and to the paint itself placed on the other side. From this vantage point, with the gaze directed forward one could speak of ‘painting behind glass’. Thus, in 2004 he transformed a free-standing pavilion into a painterly, architectural sculpture. The glass facades of a former indoor swimming pool were painted closed from the inside using dark violet. From the outside Kaiser applies the same paint onto the covered glass in the form of matte islands. The glassed, colored ground pushes into the background the first layer, the islands are emphasized. The windows deny any view to the inside, merely allowing themselves to be as they are instead, newly defined as painting. The painting, in this case a house for color, stands alone. The two phases of the work lie close to each other, and yet they are concretely separated by the glass, the color tones approximate each other naturally, the ever-present law of the work separates the paths. The external perception determines the impression.
Examples such as this one, and Raymund Kaiser’s work in general, attest to the fact that there are still untilled fields in the realm of painting. It is possible at a time in which all paintings have been made and all other circumstances have been stated and sung, to push forward into individual territories, where unmistakable things come about; these are certainly no fundamentally new inventions, but rather pieces which adhere to good, in places newly formulated, laws, and are thus built on relatively secure ground. The stimuli for them come from inside. Raymund Kaiser finds them on the painting’s way to constituting inherent laws. Paint, gesture, and the carrier are the primary elements of this self-assuring. Using the models as the measurement, the sucking dry and blowing up of false realities, which only become more false in painting, feigning familiarity to the public, all of this is not necessary. The work generates itself according to intrinsic, extremely simple intentions, and what emerges is a piece that puts the reception into motion. The light, without which painting cannot exist, is provoked accordingly, and it goes along with it. An old dream of beauty consisting of simplicity and honesty enters into the mix. Unmistakability, individuality is an important result, and why not: A thoroughly confusing moment of elegance develops a suitable rhetoric.
The discourse of the principles has not yet been exhausted. With every move made in the pre-finished, non-relational first painting, (this also applies to the ‘painting behind glass’), the natural balance of the monochrome body of color begins to sway (for the time being). By means of a quasi compositional process, which however, loses itself in the surface, the horizontal axis must be restored. The problem is nearly as old as art itself! The danger that this may not succeed is inherent. In a certain way this process may be tried out in sketches beforehand, but for the concrete work, when the broad palette knife or blade, evenly gliding, is pulled across the second paint, the material becomes independent from a certain point on. The placement of the islands, or continents, with their rich, matte color is a balancing act based on pre-planning with an eye to the balance and individuality of the material. The result is that a second, artificial nature of the painting comes about; the association with a map proves that this balancing took place.
Picture? Perhaps this conventional concept has been used too often and too easily up to now. After all we are not dealing here with a collection of signs that stand for other things, a representation, for example, or a correspondingly expressive message for the viewer. The picture is a painting, its theme nothing other than itself. The confirmation of preparatory placements, of the dialogical succession, and the series of contrasting principles, each as the concentration, run-up and pole vault; all of this is an auxiliary measure. Sometimes this is only a concentration of vocabulary words used in order to gain control of the autonomy, in order to probe sight. It goes without saying that nothing here has been abstracted from something else. But intrinsic to the basics of painterly action is the self-evident fact of a paradigm that naturalizes itself with the aid of speaking metaphors. If, in this manner the magnificent autonomy of beautiful objects, which is quite cool and in a certain way secure, is in part expressed dramatically, then this speaks for its happy arrival. The existence of this ‘picture’ is permitted, you only need to know, where it is going.
What is to be seen then? The picture, the agreement between the two paths towards itself, the dialogue of productive principles! The investigations of the recipients join together with the light, because they are dependent on that. In part however; the viewers also see themselves and their environments: blurred, unclear, sometimes covered by the matte, non-reflecting oil paint. The work, the object does not intrude. Whoever looks into it must balance between the mirror image and the elementary traces of the picture production. The constant change of perspectives is not only necessary in order to conquer the object, but also in order to perhaps avoid one’s own picture in the painting facing us or else in order to situate it suitably into the viewing process. Viewers, who make the work something of their own through their investigating, activate their perception. This is also a kind of survival training in the huge deluge of pictures. The person who is aware of this may not be bowled over so quickly elsewhere.