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Thoughts on Huts and Patches

Roland Nachtigäller

Translation from German by Tim Chafer


Existential localization searches in the Somewhere for the Other and finds it at the same time in the Nowhere — Olaf Quantius embarked on his pictures of his still uncompleted series entitled orten (localization) in 2007. With two exceptions, all are untitled and thus on this level communicate the indefiniteness of a search for a location expressed by the name of the series. Quantius’ approach proves to be a complex localization of an artistic position in which the entire creative process, motifs, techniques, contexts and the taking of bearings by the artist and viewer are called into question. It is also an act of selfassurance as well as a fundamental calling-into-doubt.

In this group of the orten works, centre stage is occupied by a motif that has also been thematized in the Les Chaperons series (2007—2009) and more importantly in his nomad paintings (2006—2008)—that of the solitary hut as a both the original and ephemeral protective space. In this sense, the simple, in most cases wooden shelter symbolizes the entire tension of being on the move. The hut is functional, anonymous architecture that, the very moment it comes into being, is conceived for the immediate onset of decay and in whose materiality is already inscribed the abandonment of this cultural invention to the appropriative forces of nature. To this extent, the erection of a hut can already be grasped as a taking of bearings within the shifting boundaries of the self-image, the fixing of a necessary moment in a nomadic existence that, on the architectural level alone, symbolizes the polarity between the longing for a home and security on the one hand and the latent urge to move on and to engage in reorientation on the other.

In his work as an artist on several levels, Olaf Quantius translates this definition of the indefinite into a visual language that gains a high degree of conviction precisely because of its complexity and considered contextualization. In as early as 1999, he thematized a Schuppen (shed) in a small oil and lacquer picture on canvas. In this case, the motif was similarly treated as a solitaire and localized on the canvas with a few natural elements on an otherwise silver ground. The artist has taken up and persistently pursued this fragmentation of the landscape picture again and again through to his current work. The faith in a continuum of the objectifiable gaze seems to become increasingly fragile or—viewed from reverse direction—the questioning of the nature of the image as the field of tension between the figurative and the abstract seems to become more and more complex for him. Quantius shows himself to be an uncommonly alert individual who captures the brittleness of the artist’s self-conception as well as fundamental doubts as to the authenticity of the motif.

In the orten series, this fragility of the depictive whole is intensified further by the open structure of the backgrounds of poured paint. In a confusing way, micro- and macrostructures are contrasted and cause the gaze to drift repeatedly away from the picture’s focus. Although the motifs of nature and the hut suggest detachment and distance, this taking of bearings by the viewer immediately shifts when the eye wanders over the runs and trails of paint in all directions, particularly in the peripheral areas. The poured paint in delicate pastel shades runs towards the edges due to the turning and tilting of the picture’s surface, yielding a dense  eticular structure in which the motif is held for just a moment and looks as if it has been strung up between the picture’s edges. Everything here works against the impression of the permanence of the depicted, the figurative being constantly transformed into the abstract, and structure into motif and vice versa. Such phenomena as chance and deliberation, intuition and composition play a visible role by redefining their respective ratios and standings.

However, what is undoubtedly most confusing for the deciphering of the correlations in the picture’s logic is the peculiar “patches” in bizarre shapes on the works of this series. They seem to conquer parts of the picture as if they were spreading, creeping slowly, over the canvas and “eating up” the picture’s already fragile subject bit by bit. The layering, the logical arrangement of the levels that certainly at first elicit a figurative interpretation cannot be so unambiguously defined either. Do these “blind” patches shift over the motif, or do they in fact burn from below through the canvas, spreading therefore as an opaque Something on the picture’s surface; or do they rather corrode its homogeneity and open up views through to an uncertain Beneath? Such weird patches or – which describes their shape more accurately and how Olaf Quantius himself names them — such “Fetzen” (scraps) have been figuring in Quantius’ painting since 1999 as motifs in their own right, living a life their own as abstract beings on cotton. Initially, these shapes fade out at their edges in twistings and undulations of the otherwise  sometimes sees remains of adhesive tape and paper disclosing how these motifs came into being. In later years, the sharp-edged, proliferating outlines are joined by symmetrical shapes reminiscent of mirror-image Rorschach blots. Olaf Quantius initially tears these shapes out of paper, which is sometimes also folded once down the middle. Then these scraps are applied to the canvas and masked with tape in such a way that the negative shape can then be painted. At first, their emergence fails to obey any logic of the picture, and they extend with their angular edges and invasive points almost anarchically over and into the motifs, producing a constant advancing and retreating of the various elements of the picture that consistently hampers the focusing of the eye. In their interior, the patches are a nebulous Something, difficult to grasp, and their colours fit into the painting outside in such a way as to suggest that the colours used in the immediate surroundings merge in the scraps into a kind of primeval soup, a cosmic nebula, in which the motifs implode and at the same time regenerate themselves. These scraps thus refer  on the one hand to an Outside of the figurative context and at the same time to an Inside of the painterly picture concept. The definition of the location, the localization, thus takes place in these pictures  to an artistic stance and refers to the question of an authentic language and a picture narrative that claims a much more complex reality beyond the mere recognition of the motif. In the rarer instances of axially symmetrical scraps in the picture, these charge themselves in the interior with a colour polarity that longer flows murkily together, but meets in the middle at an abrupt vertical dividing line. These also refer to an abstract Outside of the picture’s logic, but with the deceptive order of a controlled colour gradient. Significantly, these scraps in the orten series are found for their part mainly on monochrome and more abstract substrates (the sole exception being orten 25 (p. 33)). This infiltration of the reference to reality is radicalized further by the painting of the scraps on pink or dark-green woollen blankets, which Quantius embarked on in 2008. Here there is no need for the painted invention of human protection, as the blankets themselves as real objects providing warmth and enclosure stand for an act of protection from a potentially hostile outside world. When Olaf Quantius now applies his scraps, which in the early years started out on ungrounded and often found cotton remnants, to the felt of a woollen blanket, he succeeds in achieving a separate realities. With a format adapted entirely to human dimensions, in art history almost inseparably associated with Joseph Beuys and defined anthropologically as a source of warmth and as the simplest architectural material, woollen blankets serve in his works as a bridge between minimalist gesture and emotional charging. In this dualism, the scraps painted on them have a dual function. Whereas the materialization of a protective location dissolves in their presence, they also mark at the same time the irruption of a reality of the Other. In both interpretations, they are the Outside that both deconstructs and transcends the real. This means that the principle of oscillation is retained: the gaze shuttles between near and far, while only being able to focus, both in the concrete and metaphorical sense, for a moment. What remains is productive process of emptying, a clarificatory process of charging. Definition in the indefinite, onepointedness in diversity — this is possibly a stance that remains for the contemporary artist and, more specifically, for the painter today as the only strategy in the face of a virtually unfathomable plurality of forms, styles and positions. We owe it the quality and precision of Olaf Quantius’ works that the power of the new in his case ensues precisely from his conscious treatment of this diversity of possibilities, not in an egalitarian coexistence, but in the intelligent and considered utilization of and quotation from entirely different pictorial traditions and painting styles. If a superficial consideration of his more recent pictures reveals references to drip painting, Photorealism, Fluxus, model-making and to such paragons and mentors as Gerhard Richter, Luc Tuymans and Dirk Skreber, it shows that this artist is moving with assurance on supposedly familiar terrain in order to ultimately create something entirely his own.

The painting of landscapes with huts alone fascinates the eye with its deceptive toying with the imagination and fragility. Every second, the illusionism of representationality seems to be seriously at threat, in the isolation of its motifs, in the repeatedly opened up views of a Beneath and Beyond, in the abrupt alternation between composition and painterly gesture, and in the omnipresent switching between excessively sharp contrasts and the nebulous merging of colours. In Olaf Quantius’ pictures, a world in its own right arises in which the Other is eliminated as the longed-for place and as a threat. In the multifaceted layering of the visual and semantic levels, we witness the emergence of a complex approach to a contemporaneity that no longer knows sharp lines of demarcation between Inside and Outside, between the factual and the speculative — and ultimately between the Self and the Other. It is perhaps in this that lie the setting- off and looking-ahead into a societal future outside the picture: approaching the lucid definition of ambiguities with sensual acuity, searching for the resolution of contradictions in the paradox, and taking latent uncertainty as a strength-imparting certainty