Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to present the solo exhibition of Raimund Girke (1930 - 2002, Germany), Dominanz des Lichts. This show highlights the final decade of Girke’s oeuvre by focussing on key paintings that are characteristic of the artist’s work between 1989 and 2000.
For Girke, the best art was that which brought the approach of absolute reduction to its essence. He wanted to create art that went beyond mere abstract representation, and that presented nothing but the elementary. Indeed, his paintings do not really represent anything, and are radical in their absence of the figurative. The artist was looking for a reductive expression without having to step away from the traditional European way of painting, so he kept the oil paint, the brush, and the canvas.
Girke did not see works of art as objects, but as visual happenings which were the result of a collaboration between paint and the brush. At the same time, he guarded both the aesthetic and the intensity of simplicity with great concentration. All of this is clearly visible in his precise technique of rhythmic abstraction through the study of colour, movement, and structure — a method of creation that he utilised with discipline throughout his oeuvre. The process of creation was definitely one of his passions. Individual, traceable brush strokes give way to his concentration and his structured way of working. Girke’s paintings are a com-bined action of cohesive lines that evoke an almost vibrant movement, stretching across the canvas with determined gesture and controlled expression. In addition to the repetitive, every brushstroke remains unique, which gives the works their particular structural movement.
Since the mid 1950’s, Girke reduced his paintings to a select few shades, working with a dark-and-white palette. His works from this period were dominated by strokes of white on a dark background. Within his passion for monochrome art, white fascinated him the most. He called white “the Queen of Colours”, be-cause it is the brightest and most intense shade — it almost embodies light itself. White is emptiness, evokes the immaterial, and shows quietness, all qualities that Girke felt would only get obstructed by other colours. Even more, he held the opinion that “white demands meditation”. Dark colours like black and grey, on the other hand, intensify and sharpen white, which is why the artist turned to use the contrast between light and dark over and over again. Overlapping strokes of partially transparent white let darker coloured blocks peek through, preventing Girke’s white from becoming static. Like his brushstrokes, the colour white is constantly moving across the surface.
Different to the majority of the pieces on display in this exhibition, are three works from the late fifties and two from the early seventies. Untitled (Uberlagerungen) (1959) shows a striped, multi-grey band that cuts the otherwise white canvas in the middle. The grey middle section has a rather distorted feel to it, while Progression III (1970) is a completely grey piece with a smooth surface and a faint colour shift that leaves the eye at ease. In the seventies, Girke walked away from his brush and spatula, and picked up an airbrush instead. Through this tool’s haze of paint, he was able to create a subtle transition of light hues, without loosing structure in the composition. Though these paintings look like an anomaly among the works from 1989 until 1999, they are nonetheless rooted in the same structural arrangements and overall objective of Girke. About the evolution in his work, the artist noted:
I’m inclined to believe that since the early 1990s I’ve been going through another phase where I’m increasingly referencing my paintings of the early 1960s and 70s, where the paintings are becoming more tranquil again, more cohesive, more open-ended and yet more unified, where the colour or pictorial field is not ploughed up by brushstrokes. (…) I believe that right now my paintings are again imbued with a largesse, a certain tranquillity and peace.
Certainly, the brush strokes employed in his paintings from 1989 onwards are not as rough as in earlier work, noticeable in the piece Untitled from 1959 which is included in this exhibition. The works at the centre of this solo show — though also built up out of noticeable brush strokes — have less material relief, giving the surface a much smoother and more tranquil look. They are lighter and feel almost ethereal.
Overall, Girke wanted to elevate the observer to a new level of concentration, and his deceptively simple paintings have the potential to do that. The clear structure and the analytical painter’s controlled touch have a sense of rhythm and depth that, in combination with his favourite pale shade, avoids both the solely objective and purely reductive. Through his painterly exploration of light, motion, and vibration, he managed to focus on tranquility and silence. By activating his paintings with a serene quality, Girke knew how to reach for the core.