in Features | 10 OCT 04
Featured in
Issue 86

Anselm Reyle

These works hover uncertainly in the present

in Features | 10 OCT 04

Although armed with an array of gestural brushstrokes, kitschy found objects and outdatedly ‘modern’ sculptural forms, Anselm Reyle skews his pieces away from their retro beginnings by yoking them with such futuristic materials as day-glo and fluorescent paint, neon light, silver Mylar and sheets of mirror. The results are futuro-modern, perhaps, or retro-contemporary.
In 1964 Clement Greenberg despairingly described how painterly abstraction had become, in the hands of a watered-down second generation, ‘by and large an assortment of ready-made effects’ where ‘the look of the accidental had become an academic, conventional look’. Forty years later these ready-made effects are willingly taken onboard by a new generation, ready to dissociate them from their original contexts without the need for the self-conscious irony of their Postmodern predecessors. The drip, the pour, the stain, the gestural brushstroke all have a role to play in Reyle’s painting, as do monochromes, striped canvases and black and white Op geometricism lifted straight from Victor Vasarely. For Reyle the painterly gesture is there for the taking: it has the same potential ready-made status as a found sculptural object.

A recent exhibition of Reyle’s work at the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein was mounted as a tribute for the 90th birthday of German Art Informel painter Karl Otto Götz. There are perhaps formal similarities between their works, but for Götz, well known for his dynamic compositions, some executed in a matter of seconds, speed was the key: ‘Rapidity was a necessary means for me to reduce the degree of conscious control to a minimum.’ Reyle’s paintings, on the other hand, are dependent on a deliberate slowing down and increase in conscious control. Gestural marks in contrasting colours sit fresh on pristine white backgrounds; any wayward splashes or paint-can imprints are applied later as finishing touches to balance the composition. In the large-scale Untitled (2004) the black background sets off bold stripes of poured paint in gothic shades of purple, neon pink and metallic silver, which were appplied later, carefully traced around the outlined drips. For all their rock‘n’roll demeanour, their harshly jarring colours, splinters of mirror and nonchalant smears and splatters, Reyle’s paintings are underpinned by a cool compositional meditation.

The unfashionable painterly styles Reyle chooses to rehabilitate have a three-dimensional counterpart in the stylistically awkward found objects that often form the basis of his sculptures: a wagon wheel loaded with faux pastoral associations; an earthy pot that speaks of 1970s interiors and rustic aspirations; an abstract, angular, free-standing monument that seems to be the sculptural equivalent of Polke’s 1968 pastiche abstract painting titled Moderne Kunst. Reyle borrowed this sculptural form from a 1950s work by Italian sculptor Consagra Pietro, but in his updated version (Monumento al Partigiano, Monument to the Partisan 2004), it is constructed from mirrored glass, its sharp planes disintegrating beneath a reflective surface that allows for an almost complete integration with its surroundings.

Reyle’s revisitations of obsolete forms rely for their unsettling effects on the considered use of unlikely materials. His interventions are always as easy as possible, involving either a change of colour, light or simply context. Vase (2004) is an earthenware pot found at a flea market, now exhibited on a pedestal in a room full of Reyle’s paintings, its drippy glaze finding echoes in their abstract lines. He aims for a transparency of method: cladding a sculpture in mirror, painting a vigorous macho abstract in shiny silver and fluorescent pink, lining an old wooden wagon wheel with pale blue neon (Wheel, 2001). But despite the simplicity of such means, the results are profoundly alienating. The ghostly blue glow around the wheel gives it an other-worldly presence beyond the clichéd origins of both the wheel and the neon light. Is this a metaphor for the spiritual role of the decorative object in everyday life? A hallucinogenic homage to an emblematic form? Or just a warm-hearted jazzing-up of an old-fashioned prop?

Reyle’s approach to the past seems somehow tender, almost compassionate in the face of time’s inexorable transformation of the fresh and exciting into the lukewarm and outmoded. The newly autonomous objects and images he creates are liberated from their histories and given instead a new role to perform, in a concentrated interplay between two and three dimensions. By amplifying details, cranking up colours, tweaking the lighting and distorting reflections Reyle teases out resonances and sets up a rapid exchange of formal information that flows from piece to piece like an electric current.