Against the Light — Peter Lodermeyer | Katalog GEGENLICHT, MAM Kunstverein, 2021

Ever since they were dealt with in the book ‘Die Farbe hat mich’, published by Michael Fehr in 2000, works by Raymund Kaiser have been regarded, exhibited and reviewed time and again as color painting. If color painting means the painterly articulation of paint as color, of paint as the appearance of color and/or as material (anyway easier to define in English because of the distinction between color and paint), then Kaiser’s works fit well in this field, since the color effect and the paint material have always been important parameters in his painterly explorations. Looking again at his work in ‘Die Farbe hat mich’, a brownish-red upright format from 1999 called BR-H3/99 (p. 7), it strikes us that even back then, Kaiser already made a theme of the duality of matte and shiny surface, or rather, of the opacity and the transparency of paint – a theme that still today constitutes the basis of his work. Nevertheless, in the meantime the focus has clearly shifted – not lastly due to his experimentation with installative formats. Color is no longer the sole theme: Now the artist’s attention also turns in particular to the factors of reflection, spatial effect and – as the title of this publication indicates – the special effect of light that that has become apparent in his works. 

In the painting mentioned above from 1999, the two zones divide the picture field into two rectangles of the same size. In addition, we can observe an ‘alignment of the painting’s format proportions (…) according to the Golden Section’ 1. Thus, with this, the double articulation of brownish-red has been fitted into a clear geometric structure. While Raymund Kaiser as author of the painting, worked up the color tone with a glazing lacquer and sealed it with glossy varnish, recreating it as closely as possible as a ‘copy’ by overpainting it in oil, the viewer is called upon to interpret the reflections in the lower, shiny part of the picture as an irritation caused by the paint, and after choosing a viewing location that minimizes the ‘disturbing’ reflections, to bring both color zones visually into the greatest possible accordance with each other. Thus, the dual appearance of the brownish-red on both the production and the reception level is the actual theme of this early work, seen from a color painting aspect. 

If we now take a look at any of the later paintings, such as BR-H1 (240214) (p. 4) from 2014, then we already see right away the direction in which Kaiser’s concept of painting has subsequently developed. The strict horizontal division of the fields has become an irregular boundary line, slightly redolent of rugged coastlines. Three dark brown islands of color, cut off by the picture edges, now stand as figures on a shiny ground sealed with varnish. Their irregular contour lines stand in stark contrast to the vertical and horizontal painting borders and also heighten the opposition between the transparent and reflecting lacquer paint and the opaque oil painting. At the same time, we see that the strict (approximating) monochromy from 1999 has since been broken up. The only thing that is still monochrome is the homogeneous, blade-coated, second layer of paint. In the glossy field sealed with varnish, on the other hand, a cloudy, vibrant chiaroscuro painting is revealed. 

The tendency to break open the original, conceptually rigid, painting design has clearly increased again in the last two years. A work such as BLROS-H1 (p. 12) from 2021 now shows on two painting levels a togetherness of blue and pink characterized by blurring and in-paintings. In addition, the painting in oil that is to recreate and ‘copy’ the colorfulness of the glazes is not applied as a smooth layer, but rather reveals dynamic traces of working with the scraper or palette knife. Compared with Kaiser’s original color and painterly picture concept, the painting seems surprisingly expressive, dynamic and ’personal‘. Hence, the new works stand out for their intensified emphasis on the sensual qualities of painting, accompanied by a certain weakening of the conceptual approach. ‘Sensual’ in this case means not only the delicate courses of the paint characterized by countless nuances and transitions, which the eye, unlike with the earlier quasi-monochromy, is scarcely able to grasp in all of its details, it also means the creamy materiality of the impasto oil paint. 

We might suppose that Raymund Kaiser has now recently come to emphasize the peinture in his pictures all the more because conversely, he pursues a second path of his artistic production all the more rigorously, the conceptual aspect of his approach – interestingly enough, by disregarding color itself. Specifically, this means here the drawings with silver text markers on transparent paper that are called TransMark, but above all, the installations he has been realizing since 2013 with lightweight panels covered over with silver mirror cardboard and also drawn upon with silver-colored permanent markers. The surface of these ‘mirrors’ is slightly structured so that reflections turn out to be out of focus or blurry. The places that have been drawn on with the marker seem dull and for the most part, free of reflection so that here as well the old duality between reflecting and opaque surface comes again into effect. The characteristic style of the flat marker strokes that add up to become irregularly contoured forms can clearly be witnessed here. The style, surface and form, figure and ground, these basic givens – Kaiser refers to them as the ‘skeleton of the painting’ – are now shifted to center stage and presented exclusively with the non-color of silver. 

As far as the installations are concerned, the reflecting nature of the coated cardboard and the pictorial spatiality resulting from this now stand central as a theme, as does the specific picture lighting shown inside. Color only enters in when the viewer introduces it into the look of the installations, for example, by wearing colorful clothing. It is remarkable that all of this was already preconceived in the panel paintings. Unlike with the early painting from 1999, the mirror reflection in the works with irregular contoured color zones is no longer perceived as an irritation of the ’actual‘ color tone, but as an illusionistic, pictorial space, which opens or closes – depending on the specific light situation and the viewing location chosen. This opening appears as virtual space that seems to open up behind the picture, lit by a light that also seems to shine from behind the picture level. Due to the opaque zones, this light-like opening is covered; they stand, as it were, against the light, if we understand the concept defined by the dictionary as being the ‘light that shines against the spectator’s view’ where ‘the source has been covered up [by the object viewed]’.2 

What was latently inherent in the paintings was effective to a much higher degree with the installation ‘reflect’ at the Kunstverein Mönchengladbach. As a wide-format wall surface consisting of 60 mirror panels, this installation visually contributed to enormously expanding the space, whereby the viewer qua the mirroring was inevitably included in the blurrily reflected spatial opening of the picture and partially covered over by the dull parts created with the marker. In 2014, Kaiser realized two smaller installations at the Städtische Galerie Schloss Borbeck and at the Städtische Galerie Villa Strünkede in Herne (p. 28). The special thing about them was the arrangement of the panels on two walls standing at right angles to each other so that it was possible to see reflections of the reflections. 

With the installation ‘Fluchten (Fleeting Alignments)’ at the Cologne Galerie Floss und Schultz in September 2021, Kaiser radicalized this concept by creating a space within a space that was surrounded on all four sides by his markered panels. This meant that upon entering the room, one was immediately confronted with a vast number of reflections of reflections. Since the floor was also covered with mirror panels, the reflections were doubled again so that it was impossible to reconstruct any mirror logic, any rationally plausible visual structure, in this mise en abyme of reflections of reflections of reflections, etc., overwhelming the viewer with the superabundance of the appearances. As this happened, the viewer was able to experience the paradox of both being the center of the installation, but at the same time being completely fragmented, shattered into innumerable images that again, were fragmented even further due to the absorbent areas of the markered surfaces. This paradox was enhanced by the physical feeling of visually losing the floor beneath one’s feet, even though one was perceptibly yet standing on it, i.e., having the sensation of floating in the middle of the reflection space. Depending on a person’s mood and mentality, this unaccustomed feeling of self-perception may be experienced as fascinating or frightening. Recorded electronic sounds and spoken sentence fragments that were being played at the same time, a contribution by the Cologne composer Stefan Thomas, in turn appeared to the viewer to be like reflections or externalized projections of his or her own yet unordered thoughts and feelings while experiencing the work of art. 

Visitors to the installation who are well versed in the Bible will perhaps have identified various phrases such as ‘through a glass’ and ‘face to face’ from 1. Corinthians 13:12 where we read: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.’ Thus, the themes of reflection and fragmentation are addressed here – and the Biblical quote has also been offered to us ‘in parts’, accompanied by bell-like electronic sounds in random order. In the verse quoted here from Paul’s epistle, the hope for pure knowledge and recognition is expressed, one which is put off until the next world, however. With this, the ancient theme of the mirror appears in Kaiser’s installation, a mirror that one holds up to oneself or to others in order to gain the knowledge of truth. The fact that in the here and now, even if in our perception we are set back and completely dependent upon ourselves, we can never have a pure knowledge of self and truth, this is indeed made very clear to us in Fluchten. As real persons in a virtually multiplied mirror space, fleeting in all directions, we are only able to see ourselves by covering up parts of the overall structure at the same time. We always find ourselves standing against the light. — Translated by Elizabeth Volk