A cycling accident on the way to the gallery prevented me from attending the opening of Gert Rappenecker's exhibition. But this misfortune gave me a special kind of access to his new paintings. Needing to keep to my bed for a few days, and consequently starved of stimuli due to a lack of optical impressions, my perceptual apparatus 'voided' itself: my eyes, my optic nerves and brain-cells recovered from the deluge of colour that is now our everyday condition. Thus, refreshed and receptive, I was overwhelmed by the colour in Rappenecker's work. For the first few moments it seemed that the intensity of the works, generated by the luminosity of the paint and the contrasts of the colours, could not be any greater. (This should not, of course, be taken to suggest that before visiting a Rappenecker exhibition one should first spend a few days in 'colourless' seclusion.)
Although the Sublime Paintings contain only two (rarely three) colours, they shimmer with a faceted richness that is impossible to grasp. This is the result of the type of paint used and the method of production. Rappenecker paints the canvas in monochrome oils, with clear brush-strokes revealing the gestures with which the paint has been applied. Onto these monochromes he then sprays car body-paint from trade spray-cans, which is 'caught' in the peaks and troughs of the paint previously applied. The play of light and shade, the contrasts of the colours and the changing positions of the viewer in front of the painting produce a shimmer of the most varied colour tones, which could not be deduced from the original colours used.
The very sensual components produced by the surface of the painting make each of the pictures a unique event, an autonomous painting. Rappenecker, who is 40 years old and lives in Frankfurt, questions this autonomy through a number of different procedures. In using paint that is not part of a painter's normal arsenal, and which is in fact used in the industrial production of automobiles, he introduces a kind of 'disturbance' into his work. This is also emphasised in the titles of the paintings, which include the trade name of the car body-paint alongside the serial numbers of the series: Sublime Painting # 41, Ferrari 190 Rosso Chiaro (1995).
The idea of a production series referred to in these titles is also reflected in one particular presentation of the paintings. In the middle of the gallery stands a set of shelves containing a row of 12 identically-sized, unframed paintings. The serial element in this method of presentation, which deprives each painting of an individual aura, is given a further twist at other points in the gallery where Rappenecker shows his works in a way that stresses the opposite intention. Some paintings, rather larger than the ones on the shelves, hang individually behind perspex sheets fixed some distance in front of them. The impression of availability given by the dozen shelved paintings vanishes in these works. Because of their size, the fact that they are hung as solitaires and because of the perspex and the reflection that it creates, they force a greater distance between themselves and the viewer.
Rappenecker calls into question the autonomy that each part of the group of Sublime Paintings enjoys by virtue of its perceptual stimuli: on one hand through the serial way in which the works are hung, and on the other hand through the revelation of possible ways in which the autonomy of the individual painting can be constructed from its presentation. One example of this is the large painting, Sublime Painting #51 (1995), made of several canvases, and the project for a wall-painting that is presented in the catalogue.
The 'sublime' referred to in the title of this group of works is apparent on two levels. Firstly, it is depicted in the paintings themselves. Although they are abstract, the viewer connects what they show with depictions of overwhelming nature: endless space, the fascinating glow of the northern lights or majestic cloud formations, for example. Here Rappenecker is playing with the very examples used in philosophy (particularly in that of Kant) to distinguish the creative potential of the human imagination from reason.
The second level on which Rappenecker's paintings thematise the sublime, transfers the questioning of autonomy from the viewer to the artwork as a product of their imagination. Due to scientific progress, 'nature' has become less and less of a restriction upon human potential. It has been supplanted by art, with painting as one of its most important forms. The individual work has thus acquired an aura which has fed into the cult of artistic genius and the other-worldliness of art. Outdated as these terms and ideas may be, they live on as relics in the sphere of art appreciation, and a much-needed critique of the conservative impetus to re-establish painting as the chief medium of artistic expression is built into Rappenecker's Sublime Paintings.