Floods of paint in blazing neon lightSince the early 1980s, Herbert Brandl’s paintings have increasingly centered on landscapes as a theme which is reflected in the painter’s nuanced formulations. These are descriptively impressionistic, eruptively expressionistic, processually analytic, sensitively painterly, or destructively “chromophobic.” In these works, pictoriality shifts in grades between painterly abstraction and motivic representation. This act of becoming both one and the other – this entwining of diametric poles – can be seen especially in his works from after 2000, when the artist began integrating mountains as concrete images in his paintings. From then on, he began alternating abstract Color Field paintings with majestic images of mountains.
Brandl’s current paintings are characterized by an overall abstract structure with a bright, exaggerated color scheme. The color is applied to the canvas in direct brushstrokes, seeming as if broken by a prism. These applications of color form a dramatic flood which rages toward us and engulfs us in the depths of Brandl’s painterly cosmos. Concrete references to nature – the biblical floods and firestorms – seem rather to belong to the romantic paintings of C.D. Friedrich and William Turner, for the drama here lies rather in the act of painting itself, even though nature always remains “in the background” – albeit perceptible only as scraps of memory.
When Brandl first saw Turner’s abstract, fiery infernos on the open sea at the Tate Gallery in the early 1980s he was impressed by the modernity and radicalism of Turner’s late works. They were almost like Abstract Expressionist Color Field paintings that seemed to exemplify Clement Greenberg’s postulate of the two-dimensionality of the picture and the purity of color. But Turner’s influence did not really take hold on Herbert Brandl until the end of the 1990s, when the cinemascope of dramatic natural events was transformed into something psychedelic, into iridescent colors. This is where the new works begin.
Atmospheric pictorial zones emerge from single patches of color, revealing a rich complexity located somewhere between opacity and luminous depth. “I develop color out of color, and not out of form. My paintings are about fields or clouds of color from which the main color emerges and floods everything else” (Herbert Brandl, exhibition catalogue, Neue Galerie im Künstlerhaus Graz, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2002, p. 16).
Hazes of color drift out of the paintings and into our viewing space like sensual, tempered sfumatos, embracing us in their mystical Northern Lights, iridescent flashes, and blazing garlands. They remind us of Tintoretto’s aureoles surrounding the Christ figure in his painted passion scenes – the mannered spirituality, the exaggerated coloring, and the dramaturgy of painted stage sets. Brandl admits he follows the tradition of the Venetian School, whose masters thrived on painting and the color value of oil paint without lending graphic form to their figurative content. And yet Brandl breaks up these solemn sfumatos with excessive, artificial luminous scenery. “The bright, painful light of day paled, changed into red-pink-light-blue and merged with the dirty haze of the contaminated city. A maltreated body and its tortured spirit found redemption and sanguinity in the decaying evening light. Only a few moments more now. Cool darkness. Venice and so, sfumato and so on. Titian and so on. And Tintoretto and so on. And neon light and so on…” (Herbert Brandl - Adrian Schiess, exhibition catalogue, Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna, 1998, p. 25)