Studio G7 hosts for the fifth time in its exhibition spaces the German artist Ulrich Erben (Düsseldorf, 1940), a historical representative of Analytical Painting Movement, which developed in different national declinations since the seventies. The movement was born as a reaction of some groups of artists to the conceptual dictatorship then in vogue that supported the definitive overcoming and the imminent cessation of the pictorial practice: its exponents were united by the desire to safeguard the painting and legitimize its existence by supporting the analytical methods of its detractors.
The analytical line of art examined the mechanisms inherent in the act of painting and the relationships between its founding elements (surface, support, color, sign) using the same procedures with which conceptual colleagues were in the meantime investigating the aesthetics of reality. Painting abandoned every external referent to become the subject of itself based on the assumption that the artist’s action and his trace on the canvas were able to attest the concept of the work in its purest form, sometimes preserving some emotional thrill.
The work of Ulrich Erben, from the earliest landscapes and still lifes, expresses his interest in the relationships between geometry and nature and for the interpenetration between physical and illusory spatiality of the work of art. Even if one does not immediately understand, the artist takes his cue from the observation of his memories, decanted in mental images, to create purely pictorial entities not necessarily connected to the initial object. “When I paint a surface – he explains – I give the strictly geometric form the sensitivity of a landscape, the fullness of a material, so that the surface becomes an accomplished fact in itself, that is, without any association with something existing”. For this reason, despite its apparent tightness, Erben’s painting is not based on a coldly self-referential conceptual approach, but on primary visual experiences that unconsciously also belong to the observer, who spontaneously recognizes them as pictorial revelations.
The thin layers of paint that the artist deposits on the canvas allude to the overlapping of as many surfaces that create multiple levels of depth without resorting to perspective illusion, while the incalculable differentiations of color, always understood as presence, trigger a rich range of infinitesimal impressions. Referring to the research of predecessor Mark Rothko, Erben’s chromatic application influences each other and creates energy fields that interact with atmospheric light and with the texture of the canvas, enhancing its qualities. This highly refined painting focuses on the investigation of perceptive problems and reveals the delicate balance between intuition and precision that distinguishes his approach to the visual experience. The fascination with light and color is in fact overlaid with geometric abstraction because only through the complementarity of these two aspects the image can find its own space of existence.
The Sein, Essere exhibition, curated by Peter Friese, an expert on Erben’s poetry, presents a series of unpublished works created over the last three years, which confirm that the artist throughout his long career has remained faithful to a very personal language, able to combine sensitivity and calculation without becoming rigid in sterile theorems and without losing fruitfulness and enthusiasm in exploring the possibilities of the pictorial medium. Each work is the result of a process of mental awareness that constantly declares itself by scanning the structure of the visual language and is the result of a construction that, starting from a syntactic reflection on the elementary categories of painting, comes to touch the imponderable.
His paintings are based on a solid spatial structure made up of geometric figures drawn in pencil, which the subsequent pictorial elaboration transforms into suspended colored surfaces, each endowed with a specific chromatic space that alludes to indeterminable depths and extremely refined surface values that generate images changing, in which it is almost impossible to control with the gaze the imperceptible progression of a gradation that flows slowly into another of a similar shade. Volumetry is built through the line, which defines the space by making explicit relationships between otherwise indefinite quantities and identifies the relative position between several figurative elements that reveal their mutual interdependence within the image. The apparent formal simplicity of the compositions overcomes the two-dimensional limit of the support with the materialization of multiple planes that are divided in depth by the space that separates them into a continuous game of contrasts and references.
The complex alternations of colors within the painting and the sensations aroused by the progression of their nuances require prolonged observation times and the observer’s willingness to immerse himselves in an active aesthetic experience, which culminates in the recognition of the fundamental role of doubt as the main engine of perception. The same integrated approach between intuition and analysis that guides Erben’s hand and eye during the pictorial process is also required to the observer, who is called into question as an active part in the revelation of the image and in the perception of the continuous osmosis between balance and tension that makes it alive.