The exhibition brings together two artists working in two different media: paintings by Lucas Reiner and sculptures by Johannes Esper. Informed by a profound engagement with their specific material, both artists rely on a subdued palette to create raw yet delicately structured works that are striking in their poetic subtlety.
In the last years Johannes Esper has focused on creating hand moulded sculptures and wall objects in stoneware, a specific type of clay that is fired at high temperature in an industrial kiln. A beautiful matter of factness and an economy of means characterise the new sculptures in the exhibition. Some are reminiscent of Bruce Nauman’s early polyester resin sculptures or Carl Andre’s stacks. The deliberately untitled works are primarily based on one simple, irregular rectangular shape, that Esper at times stacks, strings, folds or cuts to create more complex forms. Their surfaces become richly nuanced and structured by merging the traces of the hand, remnants of sand and the possible glazing.
Conscious of working with a highly determined medium, considered one of the oldest and oscillating between utilitarian and artistic purposes, Esper is careful to disperse any overt links to tradition and challenges our usual ways of interpreting things. His sculptures could be prehistoric ritual artefacts, ancient bricks or petrified dough, Japanese wall objects or simply remnants from a kiln. They are all this and not, revealing art as a haphazard system of codes and signs. This becomes a productive tension for the works, which by their material are seemingly rooted in the human history, making apparent our involvement in the complex process of “creating” the artwork; what Arthur C. Danto called “the transfiguration of the commonplace”. Lucas Reiner’s most recent series of paintings includes large-scale monochrome canvasses as well as smaller works portraying solitary trees abstracted from their original urban settings. Each work’s surface generously conveys its singular history through material traces that disclose repeated modifications and erasures, layered colours and altered forms, visibly articulating creative decisions revelatory of the artist’s conceptual process.
Collectively titled “Himmelsleiter” (which in German affords no differentiation between sky and heaven), this series refers to the iconography of Jacob’s Ladder connecting heaven and earth, inviting migration between realms both real and transcendent. Inspired by Reiner’s fascination with Berlin’s seasonally grey sky, his commanding monochrome paintings initially appear to be opaque; however upon closer engagement the subtle modulations of hue and texture found in these works convey an immersive impression of unfathomable depth. His rich, intimate tempera paintings are based on pollard trees that Reiner encountered in Chernivtsi, the hometown of his grandfather in western Ukraine, which for him uncannily evoked the radically trimmed trees characteristic of Los Angeles, a subject of the artist’s previous comprehensive body of work. In these new works the crucial perceptual relation of figuration foregrounded against monochromatic backgrounds reflects an impulse to equalize the introspective and the observational, the subjective and objective. Beyond their aesthetic virtues, Reiner’s paintings evoke an open, contemplative space that invites us to embrace an expanded empathic vision of the world.
Johannes Esper was born in 1971 in Cochem and lives and works in Karlsruhe. His sculptures have been shown in galleries and public institution in Germany and in Europe and are found in private and public collections. Institutional exhibition venues include Kunsthalle Baselland (2017), Wilhelm-Hack Museum Ludwigshafen (2013), Museum Wiesbaden (2009) and Bundeskunsthalle Bonn (2005). Lucas Reiner was born in 1960 in Los Angeles, California, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles and Berlin. Widely exhibited in the United States as well as internationally, his work is represented in private and public collections, including Colección Jumex, Mexico City, Diözesanmuseum, Freising, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München, among others. A monograph of his paintings titled Los Angeles Trees was published in 2009.