Günter Umberg »Paintings«
Berlin, October 13, 2001 - November 15, 2001
The German artist Günter Umberg allows his paintings to pose the fundamental, but nevertheless irritating question whether we shall regard the paint materially, as a substance of pigments or immaterially as an illusion of space. This question can never be decided alternatively, since the perception varies between contradictory impressions that arise from his specific method of painting in which he places the pigment and the binding agents in separate layers on top of each other. He coats the upright support with a natural resin (dammar), using a spray pistol; then mixes pigments (graphite, ivory black, but also Prussian blue) into the now moist binding agent. He uses broad brushes, which he moves across the now horizontally placed support. When the painting is dry the process is repeated up to 50 times.
Umberg’s interest is in the fundamental issue of painting, namely the colour as an autonomous object in and by itself. The painted colour does not express an image – since it is the image itself. It is a work reduced to its fundamentals: a pigment placed on a support. In his paintings there are never any figurative elements as in the concrete painting; and the parallels to the elaborate research projects, once launched by artists such as Robert Ryman and Yves Klein, where colour was not regarded only for its quality as a physical substance, but also in relation to questions regarding perception, are obvious. In contrast to minimalism, where painting was regarded as too historically charged as a technique and as the guarantor of the generic system, Umberg states that the painted surface never will be anonymous because of the texture stemming from the unique brush stroke. It is art interpreted in relation to individual handicraft, more than to collective industrial processes. Perhaps we can regard Umberg’s paintings as an exploration of a landscape of traces; and perhaps the words of Jacques Derrida may serve as an elucidation of our travels in this landscape as his beholders: “The trace always refers beyond itself, it must; otherwise it would become a substance. In the language of metaphysics the trace is involved in the inversion of the effacement of the trace.”
Günter Umberg is born in Bonn in 1942. In 1982 he meet painter Joseph Marioni in New York and together they formulated the principles of “Radical Painting”. 1982-88 he supervised the “Painting Space” in Cologne and did exhibitions with Brice Marden, Josef Albers, Marcia Hafif, Robert Ryman and others. He has done numerous exhibitions in Europe and in the USA. In “Body of Painting”, his 2000 retrospective at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, he chose to include works by Dan Flavins, Jasper Johns, Rosemarie Trockel, Helmut Federle and others, that maps out his own realm of painting – to always go beyond the borders and open one’s eyes to pure perception.
Untitled, 2000, pigment, dammar on wood, 2 parts, each 65 x 190 cm