For more than thirty years, Günter Umberg has been painting monochrome pictures – primarily in black, sometimes green, and on rare occasions in titanic orange. Working against the common notion of monochrome painting, he is not interested in a minimalist gesture, an analytic approach, or a demonstration of painting as a process. He focuses rather on the definition of color – its properties and significance – as the central medium of painting, on the translation of color into a picture. For Umberg, monochrome means vital energy. It is the condition for and location of unlimited opportunities; it is both a starting point and a totality.
In Umberg’s paintings, colors are neither symbolic, nor can they be explained on a material level. Their intensity is the result of the repeated application of color pigments and binders in a specific painting style that transforms the technical process into a spiritual one. The result is an arresting, vibrant, and spatial presence of the pictures. These are reduced to relatively small formats, to edges and sides (the picture supports are made of wood or polyvinyl and slant inward) and thus seem to activate the space around them. At the same time, these small rectangles draw us in like black holes – those condensed phenomena in the universe where matter concentrates in a single point of virtually zero size and infinite density.
Umberg’s close physical relationship with color derives from an inner logic and deeper layers of experience. In the last few years, he has painted pictures in colors other than black. This “letting color in” is born out of an investigation of Italian medieval, Renaissance, and Mannerist painting. His formats remind us of small condensed portraits and devotional paintings with a power of expression inversely proportional to their reduced size.
Umberg’s monochrome pictures can be hung either as individual works or solitary units, or they can be hung in groups like archipelagoes that are precisely spaced vertically and horizontally from each other. This kind of “Territorium” (territory) arrangement acts as a space of perceptual experience in a pictorial and architectural sense. It creates an open and vibrant organism within the context and site in question. A “Territorium” is thus not a serial work, but an assembly of works created at different times that are brought together in this moment of time and space to define their surroundings. A “Territorium” is a temporary and unrepeatable arrangement.
In his fourth solo exhibition in the Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Günter Umberg is showing several relatively small blue pictures on the widest wall in the first room. They are all at medium height and equidistant to each other in a horizontal row, facing the beholder like a series of portraits. On opposite sides of the second room are two “territories” of black, blue, and green works that strike up a dialogue with the beholder. In the third room are three single works – one black, one orange-red, and one black-green – the intensity of which defines the gallery space.