For almost thirty years Günter Umberg has been painting black pictures, sometimes green, on rare occasion orange ones. They unfold their haunting presence in the space, they vibrate on the walls, and their effect changes depending on the viewing angle and how close or far away the viewer is standing. Günter Umberg achieves the intensity of the color by applying multiple layers of pigment and damar resin. Umberg sees this repetition of the painting process – often up to a hundred times – as an existential state “so as to get closer to the color, beginning to move towards a picture” and “to transform material into a picture. When I talk about the closeness of a color, I am always also speaking about the closeness of a picture. To be more precise, that involves how a technical process becomes an intellectual process.”
Günter Umberg developed his particular manner of painting not in order to study the physical properties of color, but rather to define color in its property and meaning as the main medium of painting. “At the moment when I comprehend black as a pigment and the binder as a liquid without any quality of color, when I view both as separate items that have to be brought together, I generate what in painterly terms is a color.” In doing so, Umberg develops an intensive physical sense for color, he internalizes color from picture to picture.
Umberg’s dense and intensive paintings are by no means autonomous entities, they allow no distance between the work and the observer. They exist only in the direct physical relationship with the observer, who has a decisive part in giving the painting meaning. In this connection, seeing should not be subordinate to the thought processes; it should be more like assimilation. Günter Umberg uses architectural interventions to create a specific place. The process of entering this space, turning to the picture, the passage across the threshold into another, hidden world, is something Umberg refuses to leave up to a neutral, randomly found architecture; he wants to be the one to determine the possibilities of closeness and distance between the painting and the observer. “The observer must have a possibility of making free decisions in these rooms. The pictures must be presented there in such a way that this freedom is not restricted – and they must do justice to the space… If those conditions are present, space and picture can become a unique event.”
All quotations from: Günter Umberg /Jan Thorn-Prikker, “Black Sun – A conversation about the art of painting a black picture,” transl. by Tim Nevill, in Günter Umberg, House of Paintings, Shadow Space, ed. Brigitte Baumstark and Dorothea Strauss, Zurich 2006.