It has been almost one year that we started an art project with the artist Arnulf Rainer (b. 1929, Austria). Since the 1950s, Rainer’s work has been characterized by over-painting: he uses existing images (paintings, photos, or drawings of his own art or that of others) to work over, in order to make them “better.” Besides his paintings of crosses and his finger-paintings, Rainer became well-known for his Face Farces, self-portraits showing his face contorted in grimaces and his body twisted in uncomfortable poses.
“Life, as it appears, is a pale reflection of art, of artistic creation.”
Arnulf Rainer, Untitled (Unfinished into Death), 2011. Mixed media on paper. Courtesy of Global Art Affairs Foundation.
Arnulf Rainer: Unfinished Into Death
Karlyn De Jongh & Sarah Gold
It has been almost one year that we started an art project with the artist Arnulf Rainer (b. 1929, Austria). Since the 1950s, Rainer’s work has been characterized by over-painting: he uses existing images (paintings, photos, or drawings of his own art or that of others) to work over, in order to make them “better.” Besides his paintings of crosses and his finger-paintings, Rainer became well-known for his Face Farces, self-portraits showing his face contorted in grimaces and his body twisted in uncomfortable poses. Using his own body as a vehicle, these and other self-portraits seem to have been a way for him to explore human expressions. But, after several years of using his own face and body, he became tired of himself as subject and started using other images instead, other faces to work over. Last year, we became two of these faces.
It began with our dream that Rainer would over-work one photo of us. We managed to convince him to consider including us in a series he was working on at that time, called Schleiertanz (Veil Dance), and received his letter with initial instructions: to dance in synchronized poses with a fishnet or other type of “veil.” After meeting Rainer on Tenerife, Spain last January, the veil-dance photos were now too boring for him. The project quickly transformed. From slapstick and belly dancers in Chinese negligees, it turned into SM, bondage, and, later, a series of angels, opera singers, masked gods, and even a series of orgasms. A selection of 100 works has now been published in the special edition book Arnulf Rainer: Unfinished Into Death; a set of twelve erotic photos was published by the Global Art Affairs Foundation as a limited edition.
In our numerous meetings, Rainer spoke with us about his work:
Karlyn De Jongh: Under the pseudonym “Jaroslav Bukow,” you once stated that “the act of painting determines the work.” When you paint it seems that you need a lot of energy. In this context, you have spoken of rage and anger. You are now 82 years old. What is your act of painting like now? Can you still summon the same fight and controversy? How do you go on working?
Arnulf Rainer: By strategies of slowness, by a row of works done at the same time. The brain recuperates by always forming the works differently. The change in physiognomies then has a refreshing effect.
Sarah Gold: In 1949, you discovered the “filling;” in 1950, the “over-filling;” in 1951, the “cutting-down” and reworking of a picture; and in 1954, the “over-painting” of your works. I’ve read that these strategies helped you to overcome the dilemma you found yourself in over and over again while you worked. What did you feel was, or still feel to be, your dilemma?
AR: That I become exhausted more quickly, particularly in terms of attentiveness. The convergence between hand, eye, and visual longing does not always match up. Especially when you can’t concentrate enough anymore.
SG: You regard art as something that should broaden us as human beings. What would you like for people to learn, see, feel, sense…?
AR: That people compare my paintings with the many others and in doing so, experience other paintings, or mine, in a new way.
KDJ: Your works seem to be in a constant state of development; they continue to grow. Is this something that can go on and on, or will you end it at some point? Does the painting itself also develop? Or is the overpainting itself the development?
AR: One flees from one insufficiency to the next. Centrifugal force is how it is referred to in physics.
KDJ: In an article from 1970 you wrote that, outside of art, “normal life gives me nothing and does not interest me.” What does art mean to you?
AR: Life, as it appears, is a pale reflection of art, of artistic creation.