A larger-than-life canvas, a dark, nearly pitch-black background on which seemingly haphazard abstract areas of color are in motion, each shifting from a subtle rose tone to a lush, vibrant pink. Strong contrasts between light and dark, somber and pleasant, lightness and heaviness, subtle and harsh—at first glance Austrian Ingmar Alge’s large-scale painting can be described in essentially these terms. Some viewers will even feel pulled into the depths of the lush and multi-layered application of paint. As viewers, the work’s enigmatic, ambiguous message does not let us go; captivated by its magical aura, we look around for answers: What does it want to show or tell us? What does it leave out? What might it even be purposely concealing from us? At second glance, it seems like it wants to give us hints—subtle, inconspicuous, hidden—prompting us as viewers to search for clues like a detective: and in fact the dark background releases fragments of human silhouettes—skin reflecting a faint light. Hands hold up illuminated areas of pink color, legs jut out from underneath, a face in profile emerges in between without revealing the person’s identity, obscured too heavily by the darkness of the shadow.
Protest—the title evokes associations but is too ambiguous to answer every question we have as viewers when approaching the canvas. We might identify the pink areas of color now as protest flags, as placards that people carry, swing around, and hold up high, and yet its central core, its essence, remains hidden in the dark: who is protesting here and against what or whom? Where is the historical, cultural, and social connection? Artist Ingmar Alge has specifically omitted this from his painting, as if he intends to deny us these answers, to continue keeping us in the dark. He uses photographs as templates for all his works, randomly selecting these from the anonymous flood of mass-media images. Rather than transferring these to the medium of painting on a one-to-one scale, however, he moves increasingly away from the original image-template by taking away and repainting layer by layer photographic elements and details of actual significance. As if on a journey, he moves steadily away from the external image, thereby getting closer to himself and his expectations as an artist. It is the process of continual over-painting, altering, sharpening or blurring that the oil paint makes possible and which is so important for Alge. He paints until he is satisfied with the results and finally arrives at the painting’s essence. Rather asking himself, “What do I see?”, he is instead guided by his intuition and the questions “What do I want to see, what do I want to feel?”. He embarks on this search in an almost blind manner. Only in retrospect does the “why” of his painting become apparent to him—the same was also true for author and philosopher Roger Willemsen, who recently died. In his most recent and final publication Wer wir waren, he describes the present through an imaginary lens of the future. It is this way of observing—looking back on current events and circumstances that are not yet assessable or recognizable today—that the artist finds exciting and applies to his new works.
Ingmar Alge triggers our collective visual memory with his paintings. As a result we automatically ask ourselves: Haven’t I seen this somewhere before? What does this image remind me of? We link the images to our own experiences, memories; we dig something up that we may have repressed long ago. Via the image we enter into a dialogue with ourselves. The work of “searching” also works associatively. And once again, the title is somehow significant but imprecise. What’s depicted is also simplified and removed from its original context to such a degree that one can only speculate: Perhaps it’s a refugee boat in the depths of the ocean searching for land? A lifeboat after a shipwreck? Or just a group of people on a boat—place and time unknown. Ingmar Alge raises questions but provides no answers. Their blurred quality, or the almost violent manner in which the faces are painted over, also makes identifying his portraits elusive. Their mask-like effect is anonymous and eerie. What essential about a portrait or its function as an image of an individual’s personality is eliminated. And yet we still ask ourselves: “Who is this person? What makes them who they are? Where does he/she live, work, make an impact? What is his/her story?”. “My paintings should know more than I do”—Gerhard Richter once spoke about his work in essentially these terms. It would seem that this also applies to Ingmar Alge’s paintings.