dog cemetery or the mirror image of care
(for at least 40 fully transparent dogs and bitches)
The HUNDEFRIEDHOF series comprises around 40 cut-outs in egg tempera on linen. In different sizes, the works reflect the different sizes of the dogs which are of course smaller in real life. We know this, we just have to have one in front of us.
These pictures in egg tempera were painted in the period between 2008 and 2014, from small clay sculptures of my own making. It was a slow project – a dog has his life-span, that needs time.
Once again the CURA fable, told by Hyginus, plays a role here. Though the fable can not explain anything...: if this fable is related directly to ancient gnostic myths, as Hans Blumenberg demonstrates, then it becomes clear that there is apparently an important part missing from the fable – it is the one which, in the gnostic myth, brings peripeteia, i.e. the unsuspected sudden turn in a story, when, for instance, unawareness turns into awareness or fortune into misfortune, etc. – hence, a mirror function. But - the nub of the tale seems to be „cut out“ ... When “Care“, CURA, in Hyginus‘ fable „crosses the river“, her reflection - is not there!
So is the reflection missing, or the text mentioning this reflection? What do we expect when we expect a reflection that does not occur – how indeed can we expect a non-occurring reflection? Has not an expected but non-occurring reflection in expectation already occurred as an expectation?
How otherwise could we know of it, since we miss it?
Of course initially the text is missing, but it could tell of something else, of a dog, for instance, but apparently the text is missing only with regard to a reflection of “care“ in the river – for nothing else is expected from the text(!). (Reflection as reflection)
If it were about a dog, and this dog were missing in the fable, then we would first have to know whether a dog would have the expected effect of peripeteia. The gnostic myth contains nothing of the sort – only cynics kick dogs.
CURA, “Care“ moulds something – as we are told.
But what prompts her to form anything at all?
Is it an image of herself, perceived as a reflection in the river she is crossing? A (narcissistic) recognition or dénouement which would then perhaps, as the core of the fable, be the decisive motive for CURA‘s creative urge, just as the Old-Testament Creator forms ADAM “in his own image“, or Prometheus, as a titan, needed no model to create man from clay...
However, the fable gives not the slightest indication that CURA‘s creation was in her own image, since the REFLECTION is missing... there is not even the faintest suggestion to satisfy this expectation.
Jupiter breathes his spirit into the figure of clay, whose appearance is unknown to us.
The creature formed by Care, with spirit bestowed by Jupiter and body by Tellus (earth, clay) is the occasion of the dispute between J and T over the right to name it; Saturn, called upon to mediate, names it HOMO, since it was formed from humus (earth).
Hence, what is created could be an (expected) reflection. It would have to be the reflection of Care – which, however, does not appear in any text passage to fulfil this expectation, which arises from referring the fable back to gnostic myths.
These lead us to expect a reflection, for the sake of peripeteia, and because we would like to peep under the skirt of Care as she crosses the river.
The non-existent as a reflection of the existent would make our expectation superfluous; the presence of what is expected would be the reflection of the expected but non-occurring reflection, which is the arrival of the now no longer expected reflection of Care. However, Care probably forms a completely inedible rib of clay, which would not tempt any dog out of its warm basket. This is of no use to Heidegger; he needs HOMO as an image of Care. Every dog knows its own master.
But if Care forms her oh so shameful pudenda, which are reflected in the river beneath her, we are immediately in a different milieu - in the shame of Care.
IN THE SHAME OF CARE.
So upon consideration, I think it is precisely there, in the REFLECTION of Care, in this non-existent point of the fable, that the „dogged“ problem lies.
IN THE REFLECTION OF CARE LIES THE DOGGED PROBLEM – NO QUESTION ...!
The Creator’s Madness
The Painting of Wolfgang Walkensteiner
Andrea Schurian lives and works in Vienna. For thirty-six years she has been active in cultural journalism and in filmmaking. In addition to publications in the print media, she has authored numerous portraits of artists for television as well as moderating, among others, the 3-Sat cultural program “Kulturzeit”; and for its last five years before going off the air, she moderated the ORF avant-garde program “Kunst-Stücke”. Since 2008 she has been the culture editor for the Vienna daily “Der Standard“. In 2017 she was awarded the Bank Austria Art Award for cultural journalism.
Gaping holes. Strange, amorphous creatures flying across the canvas, pink vulvae, blackened mouths wide open, stones, marine fauna, starlike tank traps, Europa stars, stars in the sky, birds, sinking ships. Everything. And yet none of all this. A good way to approach the art of Wolfgang Walkensteiner is by means of association, or better still – to be in a state of bewilderment. For art goes beyond the boundaries of what can be explained, it is literally unexplainable and, as Artaud says about “all true language”, “incomprehensible, like the chatter of a beggar’s teeth.” (“Tout vrai langage est incompréhensible, comme la claque du claque-dents.”)
Indeed, when one contemplates Walkensteiner’s imagery, Artaud inevitably keeps crossing one’s mind, this poet, philosopher, actor and director who shattered conventional theater to pieces and reassembled those pieces to create something new. The fact is, Walkensteiner too is constantly creating something new from what has been destroyed; he cuts forms and motifs out of painted canvases in order to adapt these memory fragments later to other paintings as inlaid work, thus creating, in a highly complex process, a new reality. Destruction and retrieval. Healing art with art – it takes a very close look to see the cicatrization that occurs at the place where past, present and future intersect, a place where a fissure literally opens up into the great void, that zone that has always had a great power of attraction for artists.
“As a matter of principle, I avoid the rational,” says Walkensteiner, “but what I have in mind is not irrational, rather arational. As a rule, I begin with a vague idea, I give shape to it in a painting, I cut out parts of the motif and replace them with other elements – or I leave holes. I’m interested in creating a kind of event on canvas.”
Light and Shadow
The worktables are strewn with hundreds of cut out shapes collected over the years, and lying next to them, small, pale objects made of clay, and a few larger figures hanging from the ceiling.
All of these constitute Wolfgang Walkensteiner’s universe of forms; they are autonomous works of art, and at the same time objects that provide him with inspiration. One could say that Walkensteiner paints from nature, except that he creates his world-view (Welt-Anschauung) material himself.
This is true because, before he begins to paint – the canvas covered with a network of graphite lines so delicate that they seem to be wafted by the air, as well as turbulent snarls, intense, gyroscopic swirls, nervous brushstrokes or bold strokes in monochrome egg tempera –, he first kneads these little clay sculptures “in a kind of creator’s madness, like when God formed Adam out of clay.” On the basis of these three-dimensional “sketches”, he studies the relation of light and shadow, transfers it to the canvas from various perspectives, combines imagery, layering and interleaving different levels and shapes and colors, bits and pieces from the past, drawings and paintings, one on top of the other, one next to the other, and thus creates the illusion of an (unintelligible) narrative, the venturesome utopia of the endlessness of being – in space and time: “It’s all about space, the permeability of space; and wherever the space is too unambiguous, I infuse it with a different space. The objects have real form, but at the same time nothing to do with nature. I like this paradox, it’s my idea of artistic freedom.”
Bodies without Organs
Life, wrote Antonin Artaud, consists of burning up questions. Art even more so. More than by the great names in art history, such as Francisco de Goya, whose feel for atmosphere he admires, or Jan Vermeer and his subtle treatment of light and shadow, more than by Diego Velázquez, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp, Walkensteiner is inspired by poetry and philosophy: he names Georg Trakl and Friedrich Hölderlin, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. Incidentally, in his book The Logic of Sense, Deleuze borrowed from Artaud the phrase “body without organs”, a notion that Artaud himself describes thus: “No mouth / No tongue / No teeth / No larynx / No oesophagus / No stomach / No belly / No anus / I will reconstruct the man that I am.”
It is these bodies without organs that also inhabit Walkensteiner’s pictorial realm, all of them thrown into a great meandering river of time, signs and colors. “What interests me is the question concerning man in the broadest sense, the question of man’s purpose in the world,” says Walkensteiner. “A central question is that of death seen as the most important event in every life.”
Consistently, then, he leads himself and the viewers to the abysses of human existence. Where do we come from? Where are we headed? And how do we create a path from here to there? It is all about life, and nothing less. It is about love, death, about the delusory certainty of the visual world and that unknown universe behind this world of ours that is supposedly so real, that unknown universe where understanding ends and art begins. Walkensteiner goes about this in a vocabulary of shapes and colors that is totally individual: night green, hyacinth and autumn yellow, berry red, vapor blue, cyan, magenta, pale pink – here and there as diaphanous as the gossamer-like colors of Georg Trakl, a poet whose verbal imagery Walkensteiner loves.
Color alone is the place “where our brain and the universe meet,” said Paul Cézanne.
Born in 1949 in Klagenfurt, Carinthia, Walkensteiner studied architecture at the Academy (today University) of Applied Arts in Vienna at first. However, he soon realized that in mathematics and subjects in construction technology he would never be able to keep up with his fellow students who had attended a polytechnic school – “I had no feel for proportional relations” – and he switched to the Academy of Fine Arts, where he attended the painting class of Max Weiler. Similarly to his meister, the young artist, who, at the age of 26 – along with Joseph Beuys – took part in the Venice Biennale, began by doing abstract painting of nature, later doing informalist painting, “But that was too vague and undefined for me.” Nevertheless, he continued to have interest in informalist drawing and flat, abstract painting – if only as far as the background and the undercoat were concerned. “I like this approach, which allows me to let myself run free in the background in an informalist way, virtually without a plan, even if I already have the basic composition in my head. I get completely into it, I want to know what I’m doing and to be in control of what I’m doing.” Brief pause. “I want to keep myself in the spirit, so every once in a while I also have to make it difficult for myself.”
This searcher on a life’s journey has always remained an outsider with respect to the art market, a market conditioned to all that is loud, to self-marketing, to sensationalism, to smooth urbanity.
And yet, “I believe in art! It’s alive! It’s not only a financial investment.”
With this unshakable faith, Walkensteiner enters his atelier early every morning, mixes colors, models objects from clay, does cutting out and inlay work, researches, experiments, delves into his own world and, for mood, listens to the Rolling Stones – “always have, always will, without compromise”– but especially contemporary music, Alfred Schnittke, Krzysztof Penderecki, Hans Werner Henze, Friedrich Cerha, Bruno Strobl. “It took me some time to acquire an ear for it. Now this music leads me to the abysses that I’m searching for with my art.”
From Biomorphism to Cosmology
Yves Kobry, born in 1949 in Paris, art historian and art critic, freelance curator, member of the International Art Critic‘s Association AICA (Association internationale des critique d`art); Yves Kobry has curated numerous exhibitions in Paris for the Musée National d‘Art Moderne (Centre Gerorges Pompidou), the Musée d‘Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Musée Maillol and for the Société du Salon d´Autumne, as well as throughout France and abroad; he was director of the Galerie de la SEITA in Paris.
In the 1980s, after Wolfgang Walkensteiner had worked as a conceptual artist in his youth, he approached painting (once more) with a fierce, even brutal rendering. Inspired by Picasso and Bacon, the human being was mixed with the animal in a kind of archaic and fundamental chaos. This already presaged his return to the source, this retrospection, the transition from the living to the mineral, from micro- to macrocosmos by means of increasingly abstract painting, that is to say, more and more synthetic, refined and restrained.
The human hybrid body bursts and makes room initially for viscid, wavy, entwined forms reminiscent of underwater waves, swarming cells seen through a microscope or a cross-section of the intestines. While he staged a hovering and swaying world, Walkensteiner also painted twisted, clear and volumetric forms – sometimes chopped off at the ends – which, due to its plasticity, contrast with a monochrome background. This form was inspired by a common stove pipe lying around in his workshop. Despite its expressiveness, the object was dematerialised and virtualised. Detached from its surrounding and its function, it was no longer identifiable based on its characteristics, and was given an imaginary dimension as well as a mysterious direction.
This transition phase allowed the artist to go from the living world to inertia, from biomorphism to cosmology. This transition started with a series of studies, variations which took place in both painting and sculpture. Starting-point and model were two readily identifiable objects: the egg and the human skull. A giant egg and the merely sketched skull of an ape, the two universal symbols of beginning and end, of life at its source and its relic. A simple form, then, which he breaks, hollows out, dismantles and reassembles, while multiplying viewpoints, changing texture and playing now with impermeability, now sometimes with transparency.
Soon Walkensteiner was to move away from nature and his models, the egg and the skull, to create a whole series of small objects representing an exceptional personal collection in which he rummages as in a tool box. The objects serve as an opening, a trampoline for his creative inspiration. This move will illustrate the search for focus, or even a symbiosis between the work as a painter and that of a sculptor.
The reduced hand-moulded model takes on a monumental dimension on the canvas. A round or oblong, but in any case irregular shape with hollows and cracks worked into it, is marked by light, shade and by tonal modulations, lending it incredible plasticity.
This rather commonplace, elementary form, resembling a eroded stone on the beach or a piece of limestone broken away from a cliff, takes on a statuesque, even cosmological dimension (reminiscent his meteorites pictures). Not content with simply replicating or enlarging the object, Walkensteiner hammers, drills and sands it, polishes it with light, colour gradations and varnishes. With tempera colours which he dilutes following a personal recipe, he plays with transparency or opacity: effects he would not achieve with oils or acrylics. The artist does not make do with rendering an object in perspective, with projecting an illusion of it onto a level surface, but he works like a sculptor who summarises the different perspectives in such a way that the object takes on a mysterious and supernatural dimension. While digital 3D- images are an illusion, here, one could speak of a „disillusion“, as the illusion is falsified.
Within ten years, Walkensteiner has abandoned flatness in favour of volume, replacing the mobility of the animated with the stability of matter, violence and the fragmentation of colour with the dominance of light and tonal reduction. Nevertheless, the artist‘s essential qualities remain throughout his development: the ability to free himself from reference or from the model through the metamorphosis of imagination, the clarity of representation, the equilibrium of composition, the concentration of creative energy expressed through the rapidity of execution, the art of working in series without ever lapsing into repetition; in other words, the rare ability to reinvent himself, to replenish his energy as soon as something threatens to become a style.
Wolfgang Walkensteiner –
a world explorer and a powerful painter
Genesis of a unique Austrian artistic position
1966 born in Klagenfurt, studied ethnology and art history in Vienna and Graz from 1985–94, worked for the research section of the Carinthian Landesgalerie from 1995–2002,associate director of the Carinthian Landesgalerie from 1996–2002, director of the art collection of the Province of Carinthia from 2002–10, director of the Carinthian Museum of Modern Art since 2010, a member of the Carinthian Arts and Culture Committee from 2004–13.
Wolfgang Walkensteiner is an artist through and through – with heart and soul and in mind. Over almost five decades he has created an œuvre which not only stands out through its extent and variety, but is particularly impressive in its sheer intensity, which evinces his amazing creativity, his real passion for creating. This intensity conveys Wolfgang Walkensteiner‘s view of art and life as directly connected, and for the artist (nolens volens) congruent, demonstrating that all thought, all actions ultimately result in the artistic process or, vice versa, originate in it. It also shows that body and soul are not only in dialogue, but can also keep pace with each other. The theory expressed in Walkensteiner‘s work does not lead to over-cerebrality, nor do pure emotion and physical expression – the artistic gesture – predominate. Philosophically, Apollonian and Dionysian nature act in unison, both equally fostered and cultivated by the artist. In his work, both these poles claim their rights; they are mutually dependent and related. This dual constellation is presumably also responsible for the apparent inhomogeneity and the consequent striking diversity of his œuvre. The thoughts guide the artistic work, which in turn allows the mind to develop – a quasi dialectic cognitive process, the progress of which is evident through constantly new topics, dealt with through cycles of artworks.1 The changing topics stand in direct relation to his current personal life situation and are based on specific experiences of the artist, to which he turns his attention. It is, however, not the outside world, not the tangible things of life, that determine the creative process, but rather the intellectual debate which finds its subjects in concrete reality. Philosophy, mythology, history and literature – these provide the inspiration for Wolfgang Walkensteiner‘s work – their concerns are also his.
On this basis, the artist has developed over past decades an extensive, heterogeneous œuvre – with emphasis on the media of painting, graphic arts and installations – which can be structured into different work phases, clearly defined by technical as well as formal aspects. The constant throughout all these changes has always been – since the artist‘s period of orientation in the 1970s, in search of his personal direction within the broad field of art – the kind of topics he chooses to explore. In a profoundly philosophical existential and ontological discourse, his ideas (in the spirit of Heideggerian analysis) constantly revolve around the fundamental questions of human existence – his own as well as existence in general, questions of being flung into this world, of being in the here and now, with all its requirements and conditions. This search for meaning occupies the artist, guides him, and is articulated in his artistic activities as he attempts to approach reality (and truth).
The formal and technical aspects, never an end in themselves, are subordinate to these matters. The question of representationalism or abstraction is obsolete, for what we are talking about here is not methodology or mimesis, but the artistic and philosophical exploration of reality in the creative act, the questioning of existence, of being, entity, things, concepts, not of external apprehension, but of comprehension from the very nucleus outwards. In this respect, current ideas and trends in contemporary art have never been of great significance in Walkensteiner‘s work; he cannot be categorised. He was able, he had to and still has to rely on his subjective path, for it is not primarily a question of the concerns of painting – rather, the artist puts the potential of the medium at the service of his own concern. Art is his tool for understanding the world, for lending structure to reality, and of course, as he emphasises, technical skill and consequent assurance in its use are indispensable.
Wolfgang Walkensteiner‘s early work can be placed in the time frame from the late 1960s until about 1980. Developed against the background of Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Minimal and Nouveau Realisme, together with influences from his teacher Max Weiler‘s painting, it is marked by intensive search and experiment in order to transcend various influential artistic models, and by exploration of the various techniques, media and methods used in contemporary art (ranging from graphic arts through painting, photography and object art to room installation and performance). Clearly influenced by current Conceptual trends, reinforced by the direct confrontation with the art of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys during the artist‘s participation in the 1976 Venice Biennale, in this early period, the work is often predominated by the artist‘s intellectual enquiry, particularly those works which go beyond drawing and painting. Walkensteiner integrates photographic documents and also textual elements which he still frequently uses. Objects or narrations which were originally illustrated on paper or canvas are now spatially realised or staged. By means of trivial „simple materials“ and mundane things in restrained minimalist installations, in a sensuously suggestive and associative way or in performative actions, ideas are conveyed, connections established, meaning created and also stories told.
The works of this period already show that Wolfgang Walkensteiner‘s work is strongly subjective in content and that the artist focuses on his individual experience and thought, in order to visualise and express his identity, his own idea and in particular his personal concept of life and the world.
In sensitive, almost fragile drawings and paintings, Walkensteiner designs peculiar, poetic, magical, spiritually meditative, fantastically surreal landscapes and spaces of enigmatic signs and symbolic forms, mysterious, undefined allegories, taut, deserted and unfathomable, frequently associated with the unconscious, with dream worlds and myths – „questioning reality“ in the sense of the „individual mythologies“ of the 1960s, based more on „introspection“ than on the exploration of the real, material world. These early artistic works were still influenced by Far Eastern cultures, Indian philosophy and religion, which Walkensteiner studied and from which he was not to critically dissociated himself until the mid-1970s.
At the same time, after the artist settled in rural secluded Hagenberg in Lower Austria, he began a period of intensive landscape study, processing Max Weiler‘s artistic impressions in painting. There emerged emphatic approaches, sensitive, evocative, mystical interpretations of nature – animated nature which the artist attempts to comprehend in its very essence – in delicate pencil drawings, filigree, translucent watercolours and colour-intensive tempera paintings, which owe much to Weiler‘s characteristic artistic formal vocabulary as well as to his pantheist perception of nature.
In the second half of the 1980s, there followed expressive, abstract pictures, which are obviously derived from the landscape paintings, but which can, however, only be classified in this genre through their titles. They show dynamically free painterly gesture and intense colouration. The bold brush strokes, colour and formlessness can quite readily be seen against the backdrop of current international trends of Neoexpressionist painting. However, Walkensteiner‘s sensuous, formless painting is developed strictly from his own work and cannot be seen, as with the Neue Wilde, as a reaction to the conceptual, minimalist intellectualisation of art. Moreover – at this point – there is still a lack of narration and figuration. With Walkensteiner, what looks like spontaneity, is in fact always thought out, planned, tested and cultivated – yet it is wild and powerful, vital and impulsive. Even what seems to have been casually tossed down there, has grown organically and in this respect is related to landscape. In Walkensteiner‘s work there is no „great abstract“, no absolute non-representationality, no purely formal conception – there always remains a conceptual connection with figurativeness.
The abstract picture concepts and landscapes of the 1980s are superseded by an intensive orientation towards the figurative. His work is determined by man and his existence.
In the 1970s, the artist was already dealing with this theme. Mid-decade, he created his first anonymous, abstract figurines, generated from vegetal landscape structures and sometimes connotated with archaic mythical symbols2 such as a recurring (bull‘s) horn. They are considered not only thematic, but also formal predecessors of later human images, referring particularly to the clarification of the figure-ground scheme. At the end of the 1970s/beginning of the 1980s, Walkensteiner worked on portraits presaging his tendency towards the dissolution of corporal integrity. This series of self-portraits analytically questions his own person. That is to say, the focus, which thus far – in a mythical sense – generally pointed towards landscape, nature and the basic conditions of life, is now directed at man himself and more precisely, at his own person, as exemplary for the Great Whole. Negotiation with the self, the approach to one‘s own physical nature and psyche, leads to images in which exterior aspects are linked with the inner world and with non-visible phenomena to form a kind of „virtual anatomy“3, for which the artist establishes a pictorial equivalent which manifests a correspondingly high degree of abstraction and grotesque distortion. Symbolic coloration and expressive gesture are the vehicles, deformation and dissolution of form the result. The primacy of realism, which is classically required of this genre, is – in keeping with Expressionist tradition – abandoned in favour of an expressive psychologising representation in which the subjective experience of being guides the artistic act and determines the end result. Walkensteiner‘s portraits are not, then, traditional likenesses, but rather expressions of feelings and thoughts in the context of visual perception.
In the 1990s, the human being became the main subject in painting, together with the animal, the monkey as an ironic example of comparison and primarily the horse (which has figured constantly in his œuvre since his early works) with its distinct physiognomy and complex iconography, with all its historical, mythological and symbolic significance, embodying male and female, as a sign of both life and death, (sexual) urge, pride, power and wild strength. Both animal and human – whose encounters in Walkensteiner‘s pictures are not in a hierarchical relation, but rather in a common fate where one can stand for the other – are seen equally as thrown into the world, exposed, driven, tormented creatures, objects of a debate on existence, and as vehicles of violence, suffering and transience.4 His 1990s motifs are mythological figures, masculine types, socially marginalised figures such as beggars and clochards, the feminine mother figure, so-called couple poses where man and woman conjoin, opposite them stallion and mare as their animalic counterpart – a reference to the creatural in man, and ultimately once more his own self. The artist appears as an autonomous type, a painter in a self-reflective mise-en-scène. All pictorial content can be ascribed to private experiences, the descriptions to empathy and sublimation.
Essentially, it is all about the basic things in life, being human, the (primitive, instinctive) nature of man, and about pure existence – unadorned and beyond civilisation and culture. Even when the painter takes his personal, most intimate aspects, he is speaking of general things. Precisely where life comes closest to him, in pleasure and suffering, when it gets under his skin, so to speak, he comes across the elementary which applies to everyone, and exposes it in a drastic way, turning the innermost out (at the same time artistically generating his method and his style).
With the exception of the erotic scenes, the individual figures appear inactive, self-referential, emotional, agitated, in situations of existential significance formally reflected in the expressivity of the graphic design elements, in the faceted contours and animated use of line. The line not only draws the motif in its intensity, but is also a kind of seismograph of the artist‘s emotional state; the intensity of expression corresponds to the intensity of his emotion – and both to the urgency of the content. The facial expression, the agonised gaze make plain the figure‘s distress. Even the representation of the love-play excites a shudder, showing as it does not fulfilment of desire, but rather the horror of a dance of death . violence and transience. The bodies are broken up, disintegrating into bones and organs, into mobile features and individual colour fields, blotches and patches, and mutating into a form of suggestion, a state of being. The dissolving body forms a clear contrast to a demonstratively flat, homogenous, monochrome background, which becomes more differentiated only at the end of the decade. Space, time and place, not specifically defined, are thus universally valid. Occasionally a flat, oval form similar to the later oft-quoted egg form appears in the pictorial structure. Here it is either used as an internal platform for the figures, which appear as though in a spotlight, or else it is taken representationally, as a mirror provided to the figures as an instrument for self examination – just as the artist himself uses it.
After this decade, the dominance of the human figure disappears. Walkensteiner‘s ideas expand into a wider frame of being, penetrate into the depths of matter and the expanse of space.
Pictorially, from the individual parts of the disintegrating bodies there have developed formal tokens which now achieve validity as autonomous symbols. They are characterised by a powerfully associative organic form which, with its sinister holes and dark cavities, protuberances and convolutions, are reminiscent of bodily orifices, sexual organs or entrails. They do not leave the viewer unaffected, since they take him subconsciously back to the elementary level and touch on what is collectively suppressed, raising questions of becoming and passing, of life and death, directly addressing the physical in eroticism and transience, subtly violating boundaries of the taboo. It is not, however, provocation or elucidation that interests the artist; he conducts his intellectual debate as a subjective cognitive process carried on pictorially, undeterred and independent of reception. The work is a product of this cognitive process, a concentrate of ideas and experiences, acquired knowledge and insights, that exerts a suggestive effect on the viewer, but as a pictorial result achieves autonomy and acquires intrinsic value in the context of art.
The preformed oval has now established itself in the picture as an egg, a symbol of fertility and life-force, reincarnation and resurrection. It is the nucleus of life, its simplest, most primal symbol; like infinity, it contains the entire cosmos.5 Walkensteiner develops logically from it his „manic masses“, the „comets“ and „meteorites“, etc., and there emerge „foreign bodies“, in the truest sense of the word – freely imagined, hitherto unknown forms of dead matter and parallel animated worlds – for example the giraffe, and later other animals.
The representations in Walkensteiner‘s paintings allude to isolated, corporeal, abstract formal constructs based on direct or remembered visual impressions. The models are not always natural; the artist often works from prototypes he has made himself, simple sculptures of wood or wire, adhesive tape and synthetic materials, but especially clay. He forms this damp mass into small objects from his imagination. modelling them sensuously in his hands – amorphous objects with organic curves, permeated with holes and cavities, deftly palpated by the artist‘s fingers. The miniature models are put in place, illuminated or shaded, sometimes figuratively expanded, and in this way staged, mimetically transferred into a picture. In a rational, meticulous, painterly act of technical refinement which – in his fascinating inimitable style and well-considered choice of colour – lends the works on the canvas a sound superficial structure and a rich fullness, they are painted almost like portraits, executed without expression of emotion, which was already released in the process of forming the clay model, the authentic blueprint, so to speak.
The specific operation of a multiple transformation process, from the idea to the concrete object, and then to the two-dimensional illusion, produces the result in which the motif appears as a three-dimensional body. Like the Demiurge, the Creator in Plato‘s Timaeus, the artist creates tangible things (and the cosmos) from primordial matter, according to his own idea. The shaped matter becomes reality.
The pictorial space becomes, as always, an undefined depth, now interpretable as an infinite cosmic expanse, intuited as the „manic masses“ are formed and the „comets“ and „meteorites“ follow their course.
When Wolfgang Walkensteiner cuts his objects out of the canvas to use them as mobile, transitory elements, substitutes them, in a first step, like tarsia-work with other „foreign bodies“6, integrates them in collages on several levels, or – in a further step – installs them as concrete objects directly in the exhibition room, then this is merely a logical artistic consequence in which the artist meaningfully develops his method and at the same time gains a further piece of reality, lends concrete reality and a new symbolic value to the illusionistic form and directly confronts the viewer (as the person concerned).
In his pictures, various levels of different degrees of reality are dovetailed: the illusion of the object as painting and as cut-out, with the painted background depth, possibly structured in different foils which may be constructed like patchwork or like stage scenery. At any rate, the peculiar arrangement gives the impression of a dynamic stage-set in which the pictorial objects seem to glide weightlessly through the space like set pieces, not unimpressed by contemporary, mediatised pictorial worlds like electronically generated animated films.
Today, Walkensteiner‘s obsessive „orgies of flesh“ seem outmoded. The emotional, existential scream ends in a concentrated philosophical questioning of being. The struggle for fulfilment and meaning gives way to a pragmatic search for truth and reality. The driving force of Eros has been replaced by an inquiring intellect that is not content with the things of life alone, but finds its answers in the realms beyond restricted human existence. The artist looks beyond the body-related problems the life entails. The path he takes goes from the sensuous to the intellectual, from the flesh to the symbol, from entities to being. Death and transience are not questions but facts which face all of us. Splendid fleshless skulls and rose-petals replace grisly bundles of bones and organs – showing the dignity of death instead of corruption and decay. If the artist has recently attempted to move from the detail to the whole, from the human being to experiencing something about his existence in this world in order to comprehend the meaning of existence, now it is the larger things and contexts that have significance for Walkensteiner – the cosmos, the universe and all its matter – being as a whole. It is the metaphysical search for connections, for principles and systems, for universally valid structures, that the artist lays forth on a small scale, in the microcosm, parallel to the large-scale, the macrocosm.
Wolfgang Walkensteiner is a berserk intellectual, a world explorer and a powerful painter, who uses his whole, apparently inexhaustible potential in order to comprehend life and being in all facets and dimensions, relentlessly to plumb the depths of the self, to grasp it, to understand it and with every fibre to divine it, to savour it to the full, but also to experience it in suffering – deeply and completely. Painting is his vehicle and his broad path, his art an authentic testimony.