Full Speed Ahead!
Text by Oliver Kossack
“They [the pictures] are going to stand or fail ultimately on their visual content, not on their visual content, not on their storybook content.”
Ever since Frank Stella, we know that ‘what you see is what you see.’ In his mostly large scale paintings, Tobias Lehner [born 1974 in Regensburg] seems to depart from the same premise. He show the viewer his major concerns as a painter. He shows that, which he sees. And we see what we see: abstract shapes of colour, tectonic collisions of fields of paint, atmospherically charged geometric and technical forms, a profuse mass of organic mutations, rudimentary scriptural marks, dried paint flows, patterns, grids and Industrially printed by-products. This roughly summarises the output of a young painter from Leipzig, who seeks to visualise-with emotional eruptiveness and painterly acumen-that, which other painters around him [who paint what they ‘know’] consciously evade, namely to represent in their paintings the seemingly unknown.
Tobias Lehner starts from nothing, in the nothingness on the empty canvas, with a line, a trace of paint, a blob. This minimal, original gesture is suddenly in stark contrast to the void of the white canvas, giving impetus to a turbulent examination of nothingness in canvas. Lehner’s inner sense of harmony repeatedly drives him to set the picture plane into a seething unrest. His extraordinary energy fills the canvas to the brink of exploding: resembling a mental and spiritual map, traces of movement in time and space remain-as well as their disappearance and disintegration-as pictorial constellations.
Once again, in Lehner’s works the primary object of investigationis painting itself. Lehner seeks to reflect and open up the tautological cycle [i.e. viscous circle] of the process inherent to the medium: although created in groups and series, each picture is to be viewed as the unique document of a painter’s examination of painting’s devices and possibilities. Lehner is driven by the opportunities of painting itself. He quotes from the rich inventory of gestures, fractures and styles offered by [post-] modern painting, between avant-garde optimism and modernism’s traumatized aesthetic. The bundles of lines, puddles of paint, grid, geometric divisions, and archipelagos of blips of colour, break up the homogeneity of the picture plane in a fractal manner, offering the viewer’s gaze a plethora of visual detail. Lehner’s paintings combine aspects from the visual world of comic and techno, advertising and Photoshop, colour field painting and abstract expressionism. Within the bounds of this fragmentary pictorial universe, the overall perspective seems to shift between seeing aerial views of landscape, cross-section of geological stratifications, and the illogical, intangibly crystalline visions know to the human brain only in certain phases of rest. Thus, through constantly shifting perspectives, Lehner develops a large-scale, multilayered and openly gestural mode of painting that reflects and questions its own inception as well as its associative potential, lending him an inimitable artistic voice. His paintings describe an atmosphere moment of precarious balance between internal and external reality, the macrocosmic, between the conscious and the irrational.
Cosmositionally, the paintings refer to their inherent constructions as well as their plausible disintergration in equal measure. Lehner’s abstracts seems to deliver a basic outline of the collected dilemmas of painting: horror vacui; of the painter’s pathological urge to forcibly expand the restrictive rectangle of the canvas; of the fear of having to represent as much as possible without necessarily adopting as illustractive style; and particularly of the fear of not being able to achieve anything with a mode of painting that purportedly represents nothing other than itself. Lehner’s approach to painting thus seems to question itself as well as criteria of both abstract and representational painting.
Considering Lehner’s impressive and varied output in the past two years, his incentive pulsates with the velocity and energy reminiscent of a speedway, as a race in images against time-in today’s time. With praiseworthy painterly talent and a richness of optic invention, this painter has shot off on the slot car track of his career as an artist: Full speed ahead! Occasionally, circular forms resembling targets shimmer out of the depths of these harmoniously, neo-baroque paintings. Perhaps they suggest that he has achieved his goal for the time being. However, as spaces of absence within the pictorial mesh, they seem to function as uncannily transcendental openings toward new spaces of visual discovery.