Voglio vedere le mie pittureSoftware companies, theater agencies, hospitals, and bowling alleys are named after it.It is also a frequently visited link on sacredsites.com: Mount Kailash, the holiest mountain of the Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. In Far Eastern mythology, it is the origin and center of the world – a pillar that reaches from the seventh hell to the highest heaven. The enormous mountain is also untouchable. Pilgrims who reach it after an arduous journey circle around it at a respectful distance. It is taboo for mountain climbers and summiteers. Herbert Brandl has a much more profane view of the mountain that has been reproduced countless times: somehow, the holy peak reminds him of a piece of cake or a crystal, the artist says. Brandl is interested in visual structures and cares precious little about the legends and storyboards, or about the mountain as a personality and opponent, which is how mountain climbers see it. He does, however, share a few things with extreme climbers in common: not only is his practice of painting spectacularly large formats comparable to their physical exertion, but so is the permanent threat he faces of being swept under an avalanche of paint and losing his footing. Brandl begins on solid ground when looking for his motifs, because he finds these in the pages of Geo (a German magazine like National Geographic) as well as travel catalogues. What fascinates him is not the reality but the reproduction, through which he achieves something surprising: namely, he takes the media image – the synonym of authentic reality, the image that suggests fascination, grandiosity, and singularity – and purges it of the aura of uniqueness through the traditional medium of painting. After all, whether it is a holy mountain, crystal, or a piece of cake, in the end, it is all paint on the canvas – it is a question of individual interpretation and of a willingness to overhaul ingrained patterns of perception.
Brandl has been painting cliché mountains of the world for roughly two years now. From the Matterhorn to Annapurna, these are places of longing for alpinists, and Kodak points for tourists. These gigantic canvases installed in the space let you walk through it like a landscape. Brandl has squeezed the utterly huge picture of Mt. Kailash into the gallery’s smallest room, letting picture and room become a contradiction. As beholders, we are extremely near. In place of a beautiful view from a safe distance, the inhospitable sheer rock wall looms menacingly close. Salvation seems to come from the dematerializing daylight. Unlike virtually all other subjects, mountains – with their mass, morphology, unfathomable heights, slopes, depths, and their stark shadows and bright light – lend themselves well to testing possible forms of painting, to finding another approach, and, as Brandl insinuates, to establishing a distance to abstract painting. Regarding Brandl’s painterly experimental arrangement, which is located somewhere between a pathos formula and a pictorial experiment, Peter Weibel says, “This type of painting strives for its redemption in a kind of inferno of trivial representationalism.”
Brandl has always combined his painting with a critical reflection on the medium. Out of the fundamentalism inherent to representation, the artist extracts new insights that he draws on in the course of developing his work. The mountainous realities are therefore accompanied by new pictures that seem to follow the conventions of abstraction – albeit, only insofar as he is interested in ways of painting and not in content. Brandl works with the physical conditions of color; he paints “unintentional” pictures. It is only when all ideas have disappeared and have been let go, he says, that things get interesting for him. In contrast to the material heaviness of the mountains, these works are light and are rendered in dissolved hues of color. The more recent specimens flaunt a kind of frame created by applying strips of tape along the picture’s margins. The material of paint seems to disappear, but then we notice the painterly gesture, the inscribing of the physical movement into the picture – and definitely the triumphant return of Brandl’s expansive color spaces. If Gerhard Richter claims he has no motif, only motivation, then this is also true for Brandl, who garnishes his passion for painting with a solid portion of skepticism, however.
The exhibition at Galerie nächst St. Stephan presents new pictures from the amazing studio of Herbert Brandl by leading us through both playing fields of his art toward pictures that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. As Brandl says, “It is a movement full of tension between two opposing fields, the dominant phenomenon apparently being that you stand at one point, see another, and want to get there.”