Song about the Midway: Bertold Mathes at the Kienzle Art Foundation, Berlin
By Emilio Corti
Bertold Mathes’ show, on display ‘till spring 2015, is a combination of visual events living in a space of intense beauty of painted, constructed and invented surfaces.
This show, titled “SONG ABOUT THE MIDWAY” is a big artwork made with artworks from a 32 years time span, a complex cosmos, a big architecture where time has many directions and space explodes.
There is clearly no chronological approach, and the combinations of paintings and sculptures live in the absolute present. An attempt to trace a history of Bertold Mathes’ art is just a subsequent analytical moment.
Starting in the early eighties, right after the big wave of the New Expressionism, Mathes, born 1957, has an immediate attention for the logical element in a painting that is nevertheless extremely powerful and vibrating. The oldest piece on show (Das Dorf, 1982) burns a country village in black and red fire, but each movement is geometrically controlled and “fire” is clearly “only” a gestural pattern of yellow and red.
(Messer, 1982) plays with humour between signifier and significance, a painted knife cutting the painted ground, while enjoying the pleasure of matter and color.
Mathes starts then building “partitures” that will play an important role in his whole production. (Partitur (Gelaender), 1983), a work in 5 parts, is a bright example in yellow, black and white, with a playful mixture of techniques that build a language made of forms, a language that speaks to us even if we don’t know the meaning of it. It’s an interesting paradigm of the artists’ play with logical thinking. He plays with logic.
Many experiments and research with space, sculptural combinations (ETRE-TAT, 1984), during the eighties, lead us to reliefs, explosions of painting-sculpture that walk in the space (Happy Cosmos, 1986) leaving colored dots in the multifaceted experience of the viewer.
Bertold Mathes spends then some years in Palermo, Sicily, the chaotic potpourri of Byzantine, Arabic, Normand culture and Sicilian disorder “all mixed up together in a bucket, with the eggs on top” (Monthy Python)
and what happens?
He becomes orderly.
In the mid of chaos his art reaches a new step of abstraction, a sort of dematerialization, that is well represented on show with the comparison between two paintings with some similarities painted one (O.T., 1986) in Cologne and the other (O.T., 1987) in Palermo. These two welcome the viewer entering the show with a paradoxical bouncing of forms and styles.
Images: Courtesy of Kienzle Art Foundation
The nineties see much work on systems, soft, open systems made of colors (Song about the Midway, 1993), the construction of a secret vocabulary where numbers are associated with colors. Some paintings include colors and numbers to the extreme of (PENSUM-12 (Count Down), 1999), almost completely made of numbers that represent colors which are NOT displayed. A secret vocabulary, an algorithm of an (ill)logical procedure. There is absolutely no symbolism. As Picasso would say “if I don’t have red I use blue”.
In those works color is purely “conceptual”, but realized with paint, it is as well present, visual, emotional and sensual.
There is a “tekno” attitude in the playful crazy combinations and a refined language of details in textures, blank spaces, hard and soft edges, always in a magical balance between lyricism and method.
The game of combinations becomes self-infinitive, with lots of sketches of possible combinations that approaches perilously the infinite.
Then another blow.
In 2006, after a further period of more “hardcore” systematical painting (HIN UND HER, 2003), the artists suddenly reaches a status where this combinatory play leaves room for a sublime intuitive composition of all that has been.
Huge compositions (Bild-121, 2010) of hard, geometric languages and floating nuances and dreamlike shapes.
All the process reaches a sort of new dynamic composure, a wide-breath space made of everything possible.
(Booking-1, 2013 / 2014) is a composition of 40 book sized paintings, a year time-span painting which occupies an entire wall like an enigmatic captivating puzzle.
This painting installation represents something like an index of the actual body of work that the artist has chosen and combined for this presentation.
And for the viewer it may work as a mirror for his individual experiences with this diagrammatical show.
The most recent painting, (O.T., 2014) is a small, very emotional work looking in the depths of intimacy with renewed freshness.
This chronological “map” is just an attempt to trace a history inside this big artwork that speaks immediately yet hides a whole cosmos.