Body as a staged condition
The paintings of Matthias Groebel
It rarely occurs that artists find their real mission via the roundabout
route of a completely different vocational training. Dubuffet is in this
respect the most famous example in the 20th century. Further names to be added
to the list are Rousseau, the customs official, Andy Warhol, George Brecht,
Robert Filliou or Peter Campus. Those entering the art scene in absence of the
vocational ladder, artists who mostly do not go through art college, are often
characterized by a concept of art whose reference to reality is pragmatic,
analytical and, at the same time, philosophical.
Matthias Groebel is just such an artist. Born in 1958 in Aachen, he grew up in Muenster where he also studied pharmacy in the second half of the Seventies. In 1981 he was granted his certificate to practise pharmacy. It was not until a few years later, prompted by personal freindships, that he devoted himself to painting without having studied art. Groebel's typical combining of painting and modern technologies began in 1988. Since 1990 Groebel has been working exclusively in the field of computer-supported painting.
The paintings of Matthias Groebel are anything but technological expectations of salvation or cynical self-contemplations of art. They are rather multi-medial in a substantial way. Groebel is not concerned with rescuing painting in the digital world. His pictures rather show two technological variants of occidental culture, although from various phases of its development.
Both have an indicative character for Groebel's artistic strategy. For painting represents the world model of modern times which still stamps central categories of human perception in the modern world.
Digital technology, on the other hand, points to the fundamental paradigmatic change which is at present taking place in the Occident (and perhaps also at a global level). It will present man with new ways of perception which will supersede the old categories of the Renaissance.
As the world is undergoing a transition from the old to the new order the present situation is exceedingly complicated and full of internal contradictions. In the words of Lévi-Strauss, we can define painting as "cooked", namely "cultivated", and digital technology as "raw", namely the phenomenon which has not yet become culturally differentiated.
Groebel makes no attempt at reconciliation when combining the two characterising fields in his art, but provides both painting as well as electronics with its respective field of action. As a result of their different ways of working, they are not in a centrally complementary relationship to each other but in a complex antinomic constellation: autonomous, complementary, commentating, colliding and counteracting.
Electronics provides the structural framework for a creative process at the end of which is painting. Groebel's concept of art is just as close or distant to technology as it is to painting. The method of creating images and the thought justifying this is rather the place in which art occurs.
I avoid the use of material which is identified by the observer as self seen. The television images are digitalised and - if I consider it suitable - are then installed in the computer and retouched. Dependent on the image presentation drawn up in this way, the computer controls an airbrush pistol which paints with pigmented acrylic paint on a screen of standardized size."
The image production is as up-to-date as it possibly can be: everything is found and constituted in electronics. It is only the finished picture which, in a simple step, is transferred to a different technique.
The paintings which are produced at the end of this process provide several rasters of perception as a result of the connotation field of painting and these collide with those of electronics. For example: the central perspective which has determined all pictures since the Renaissance, even the construction of the camera lens, has completely stamped our ideas of space, body and surface.
However, electronics has different parameters for portraying space and these are considerably non-hierarchic and fuzzy. For Groebel, the collision of these perception rasters form the basis of his artistic work. He calls them "work hypothesis".
The human body is the great theme of the pictures. When contemplating
the paintings at leisure it becomes evident that, independent of
formalaesthetic aspects of composition such as weighting the parts within the
framework of the given surface, local colouring and other similar things, the
human bodies or the objects made up of them have a high plastic effect, whereas
surroundings and background seem definitely flat.
Almost all social processes can be dealt with nowadays via the screen. Man no longer requires his body for carrying out libidinous or intellectual needs. Man today needs leisure time for fulfilling physiological processes. They are increasingly being separated from the relevant acts for work. This has fundamental effects on the perception of man which is nowadays largely ignored. At the same time new ethics developed on the basis of this paradigmatic change are urgently needed, ethics in which the human body retains or regains its self-determining existence.
Matthias Groebel is working on this. This is his artistic strategy which has a considerably political dimension and which consciously no longer differentiates between social fields and aesthetic ones. Groebel is in this respect a representative of the extended concept of art in its best sense.
Friedemann Malsch, 1994