Oil and lacquer on canvas and wood
Dimensions: 70 x 37 cm 70 x 63 cm 45 x 50 cm
Reference: ACF0380
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At first glance, Helmut Dorner's work is difficult to understand. The spectator is captivated and intrigued by the forms in his paintings and rebuffed by the difficult readings of the piece they are looking at. This contradiction is the first tool the artist uses to suggest a set of rules for contemplating the artwork that diverge from the customary ones. This is not an easy game to play. On the one hand, to arouse our interest, he works in accessible formats, very close to the sizes we are accustomed to seeing in our everyday environment, although he likes to contrast different sizes in his diptychs and triptychs. He also works with a combination of form and colour that does not stray far from our potential idea of beauty. However, and in sharp contrast to the aforementioned, Dorner uses incomprehensible titles, filled with vague references to obscure puns and a range of references taken from reality that do not assist the spectator in understanding the work. His determination to place special emphasis on the content of the work is accentuated by his use of three-dimensionality. We are accustomed to seeing a painting on canvas a few centimetres from the wall, separated by a frame that is entirely practical in its function. Dorner, however, paints on enormous panels of wood or mounts his canvases on thick bars. In both cases, his aim is to separate the surface of the painting from the wall on which it is hung. Rather than isolating both planes, his intention is to interfere with the spectator's perception of the pictorial plane. His paintings can be grouped according to the appearance he gives their surfaces and the materials he uses. The first group comprises oil paintings with a thick finish. The legacy of Richter, who was his teacher, can be clearly seen here. Unlike Richter, however, Dorner does not compose his figures; he follows criteria of pure abstraction. A second group consists of paintings that go beyond that abstraction, with such intensely saturated oils that it is difficult to distinguish an image at all. The third group is composed of paintings in hard lacquer displaying simple geometric motifs. They seem to be fragments of some larger schema, but they never appear in a composition that can stand on its own. They are vaguely reminiscent of the designs on a textile print. He combines these three types of painting in his work. On the left of his triptych TT, for example, is a composition in two shades of brown; in the centre, a very dark lacquer piece in which we can recognise the outline of an everyday object, a cup; and on the right, an oil painting whose accumulation of pictorial matter draws all attention to how the artist works with the line. The simplicity of the forms oscillates between the apparently deceptive and the decidedly confused. Although each panel suggests basic ideas, the complex syntax of his group compositions forces us to interpret them through a combination of emotion and comprehension. That is the case with AS, two paintings that stand in sharp contrast to one another due to the nature of their arrangements and how the ideas that they sustain are interwoven. Through these succinct images, Dorner offers us several ways of approaching a reality that has no need for further explanation or comment. His questionable idea of beauty, far from the sterile positions of other painters who had a decisive influence on the evolution of art in the early eighties, is proof that artists can unite their most personal form of expression with the adoption of a critical stance towards certain artistic expressions. BSTO II, meanwhile, belongs to a later period in which Dorner made artworks using only hard lacquer on canvas. In this triptych, he once again plays skilfully with the spectator's visual perception, accentuating the idea of lightness and light. Unlike oil, lacquer allows Dorner to achieve a finish that emphasises both those concepts, though always within his deliberately limited repertoire of geometric forms: a web of metallic varnish defines the two elements at either end, and, in the centre, there is a dark surface where we can make out indistinct forms, possibly belonging to a graphic code of some sort. The American critic Donald Kuspit, talking about Dorner’s first exhibition in New York, wrote “Helmut Dorner's work is post-Modern painting at its most masterful and convincing: an ironic, hybrid reprise of Modernist modes handled as measured nuances. [...] He has opened a new territory for painting, or, rather, shown that painting can still map a terra incognita”.

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