Art is a medium of encounter and transformation” (RR 1988) – Part 2

Petra Erxleben interviewed the visual artist Robert Reschkowski from Duesseldorf (Germany) for LOGON. - Openness, emptiness and processuality are pictorial compositional principles that became significant in modernism and helped shape my painting as a child of the time.

Art is a medium of encounter and transformation” (RR 1988) – Part 2

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RR  My art practice is based on a concept of freedom, as I have presented it, and is oriented towards it, both with regard to my own pictorial processes and to contemplative processes of reception. This means that my own understanding of art is oriented on transformation in terms of the process of creation, but also in terms of a possible spiritual effect, and that it is not based on a “l`art pour l`art” understanding of art.

PE  The way you have made this introduction fits your images, you fit your images. I mean, laws of a cosmic nature are expressed. We experience the process of God’s creation as children of God, and we perceive as creative beings if we are open to it. Paul Klee says that art does not reproduce the visible, but makes it visible. It not only makes creation visible, but also the creative, and that we are creative beings.

RR  What you say makes something in me resonate. Paul Klee and his paintings moved me a lot; he was extraordinarily reflective, taught at the Bauhaus and developed and taught a differentiated pictorial doctrine. It is very remarkable that he was an outstanding violinist. For a long time he didn’t know whether he wanted to be a musician or a visual artist. For me, his paintings have something musical about them, that is, they develop in time, his paintings are like a score. What visual art expresses – it depicts, it does not copy – is to make the invisible visible. For me, my pictures are scores in the sense of Klee, they can initiate and modulate melodies in us, in which the invisible becomes visible and the unspoken becomes perceptible.

PE  That’s why the diptych at the head wall of the Hermes Hall with the two triptychs on the left and right of the long walls are beautiful pictorial contours, where one picture connects to the next.

RR  I like the term “pictorial contours” and it gets to the heart of the matter; I am really interested in continuous pictorial continuation.

Through the serial arrangement of the pictures, a pictorial sequence and painterly process can be experienced that goes beyond the individual work of art.

There are other relevant aspects to my painting, independent of the serial principle, which played a major role in the Pop Art of Andy Warhol. There are three further decisive points of reference and pictorial principles of composition that became significant in modernism and also helped to shape my painting as a child of the time. These are openness, emptiness and processuality.


Openness, emptiness and processuality

PE  These are aspects that we know from Eastern painting and philosophy.

RR  Let’s take emptiness. If you ask a European what makes a hand, it’s the fingers and thumb; if you ask a Taoist what makes a hand a hand, it’s the space between the fingers. This aspect of the outer outline of any material something always articulates the surrounding space and helps to shape it. And it is precisely this aspect of space and the deliberate and purposeful inclusion of emptiness and interstice in design that is a central aspect of modernism, which becomes virulent as a design parameter for architecture as well as for sculpture and painting.

And then there is openness. In modernism, the image’s incompleteness becomes important; it no longer stands for a whole like the traditional European pictorial work, rather it only provides an image section of a larger continuum and points beyond the boundaries of the image. Such pictures emphasise flatness and interweave the pictorial figures with the pictorial plane. The pictorial action pushes forward into the real space, it comes towards the viewer, it literally attacks and involves him.

In contrast, the classical, traditional European picture of pre-modernism is a hermetically sealed whole that stands pars pro toto for the world; it functions as a window that opens up an inner, imaginary space to our gaze, sucking us in centripetally and taking us over in an inner pictorial space that illusionistically opens up depths behind the picture plane of the canvas.

The open pictorial type of European modernism, its significant stylistic-aesthetic strategies and compositional principles, such as the cropping of the pictorial subjects and its abstract reduction, flatness, contouring and ornamental dynamics and musical-like rhythmisation were inspired by classical Japanese aesthetics, by so-called Japonism.[1]

PE  And the third, processuality?

RR  Processuality and temporality already became decisive in the Impressionism of the late Van Gogh and Claude Monet, when their vibrating colour-light energies sweep us away into a temporal stream of movement.

In the Dada movement of the 1920s and in the Happening and Fluxus of the 1960s, the factors of time and processuality are virulent and thematically central to the artistic work of very many artists who have exerted a strong influence on other artistic disciplines, and of course in a special way on the artistic thinking and work of Joseph Beuys.[2]

Independently of the sensual experience and empathetic encounter with my visual art (which is actually quite sufficient), these can be supplemented by a deeper understanding of the forces of influence on European modernism, which are also important for my artistic work.

The Élan vital

In addition to the aspects of emptiness, openness, processuality and the Japanese aesthetic strategies mentioned above, there are two other important points of reference for understanding my artistic-painting work: on the one hand, Henry Bergson’s Élan vital concept, i.e. the principle of an all-pervading energy, and on the other hand, I refer quite specifically to the late Monet, especially to his water lily paintings of the Rotonde in the Orangerie in Paris. It is interesting that Monet heard lectures by Bergson in Paris and was thus influenced by his Élan vital concept. It is the counterpart in European intellectual history to the concept of chi, which is equally to be understood as an all-pervading energy that plays a decisive role in the healing art of traditional Chinese medicine as well as in Asian martial arts:

I experience Monet’s painted water lilies as energetic fields of coloured light that surround the viewer from all sides and exert a very strong suggestive effect that one cannot escape.

This inspired me to also create an energetic colour light field in the form of an environment for the Hermes Hall of the Rosicrucian Congress Centre using my own pictorial means. And so I have called these paintings the Élan vital cycle.

PE The garment of time is not only a certain clothing or appearance, but also concerns the spirituality of time, the expressive character and the vibrational level.

RR Vibrational level, that sums it up very well. I am concerned with modulations of vibrational fields, whereby I both modulate and am modulated myself in the ongoing painting process. In my painting processes, which last for hours (up to eight hours without a break), the vibrational frequency increases. If I then succeed in remaining completely focused on what I am doing and hold the energy, I am completely absorbed in it, I am in the flow and the vibrational field guides me. In this state of consciousness I completely lose my sense of time.

I experience the whole process every time as a profound and lasting spiritual experience.

PE As an artist, what do you think about perception?


Awareness and creation

RR Well, in the visual arts we don’t speak of perception, but of “artistic seeing”. Inherent in the term “perception” is per se the notion of “truth”. And there the term “seeing” is less burdened by a claim to truth. Moreover, the history of art shows us that the different pictorial works reveal to us quite different ways of artistic seeing, in which one is not more true and the other less. This is also a truism in our everyday life: a forester sees a forest differently than the owner of a sawmill or a walker. The same applies to painters.

Now I go beyond the term “seeing” and prefer to speak of “awareness”, because such awareness on the one hand encompasses all the senses and does not only focus on seeing, and on the other hand brings about awareness of both the conscious and the unconscious within us. The awareness to which I allude brings together outer and inner seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting and is interwoven with our mental processes. I experience the “awareness process” as a process of inspiration, fermentation, condensation and creative design, to which I surrender myself in order to become completely absorbed in it and to grow beyond myself obliviously. Impression and expression interpenetrate in my painting process, manifesting “image-forming” in what I do. I refer to the result of this dynamic as “perception”. In this process I experience myself as a medium, it is for me a form of energetic contemplation, in which the “secret of the creative” reveals itself to me again and again in the most diverse ways, as something “numinous and wonderful”.

Conceptually, truth is also inherent in awareness, but this kind of sensual realisation is a process of cognition that is not determined by a centring, exquisite focus, i.e. something like a closed and narrow target grasping that intentionally aims at an object of perception.

In awareness, I defocus and open myself both to a kind of wide-angle lens that captures patterns and to a probe that penetrates deeper and shines through the micro and macro structures in inner vision.

In the process of awareness, which I surrender to and become absorbed in, something intrinsically true reveals itself to me. Throughout the painting process, awareness and “giving awareness” interpenetrate.


An all-encompassing, vibrating field

In my advancing painterly processes, something essential pushes more and more into appearance. In the development of the painting a revealing vision into the essence of the miracle of creation and into the universal energy passes through me and beyond me. This kind of artistic looking and creating is like a mystical experience for me, in which I become part of the connectedness, penetration and fulfilment in an all-embracing, vibrating field. Art has become a medium of encounter and transformation for me on my existential journey.

PE Let us now turn to the paintings you have made for the Hermessaal.

RR My paintings are actually not abstract, but concrete. However, I do not depict objects, but qualities that are nourished by my experience of the world and nature, especially here in the Westerwald and the wonderful park of your centre in Birnbach. They are impressions that can be triggered in the viewer by the pictures.

We immediately associate a sensual experience of the plant-like, the wood-like, the flesh-like. Independent of their colour-psychological effects, colours experience a strong symbolic power that is culturally shaped. Purple, for example, has a spiritual quality for me. It is the marriage of red and blue – red, the carnal, and blue, the celestial, come together in violet; I experience violet as magical in its effect on me.

Very strong contrasts are, independent of the colour contrasts of the primary colours (red, blue, yellow), the complementary contrasts (red/green, blue/orange, yellow/violet), they cause dynamics and liveliness in the picture. Contrasts of warm and cold, of silvery and golden colour quality are sensual mood forces that create atmospheres and moods. These are the means by which I orchestrate my pictures, when I either contrast colours harshly or let them blend into each other in a nuanced and gentle way. Closeness and permeability, demarcation and distance, penetration and fusion, approach and distance, dissolution and condensation, transformation and metamorphosis are means of design and formations that are able to trigger social-psychological and inner-psychological references in the viewer’s experience.

PE Could you apply this to your pictures in the Hermessaal?

RR I am not a maker of images, but a producer of images. These are vehicles to our inner soul landscape, both to archetypal image processes of our collective unconscious, of which C.G. Jung speaks, and to transpersonal and non-dual states of consciousness, as described by Ken Wilber and also by David R. Hawkins. My pictures are not autonomous works of art in the sense of “l’art pour l’art”, but “devotional pictures” and instruments for contemplative processes.

I have arranged these six “structures” into an environment in the Hermes Hall, so that the two triptychs on the respective left and right longitudinal wall with the diptych on the head wall spatially figure a crucifix that encloses the viewer and generates an energetic field.

PE You mean a common oscillating field is created?

RR Yes, you can experience very different pictorial correspondences, echoes and resonances in the field. The vibrations can be disharmonious or harmonious. Visual vibrational fields have different material-sensual qualities that we experience as solid, coagulated, soft, angular, sharp or supple, dull or brittle. And we experience different speeds and qualities of movement, there are accelerations, decelerations and standstills, flowing movements, fluid passages, pulsations. We are never beyond our corporeality and sensual experience of the world, of which, however, we can certainly become aware as something essentially spiritual. And art can be helpful here as a stirrup holder. However, the viewer must persistently expose himself to the vibrational field and swing himself into the saddle. For neither meditation nor praying happens by itself, nor does the aesthetic-mental and spiritual content of a pictorial figure reveal itself without the participatory devotion of a viewer.

PE Thank you very much, Robert, for this interview.

[1] The term “Japonism” was coined in 1872 by the French art critic Philippe Burty. Artists in France who were influenced by Japanese art included, for example, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, and above all Claude Monet.

The ukiyo-e style of Japanese woodblock prints, for example by a Katsushika Hokusai, influenced the said painters, and in a special way the Japanese style also inspired Art

Nouveau with its curved lines and contrasting empty spaces, its schematised structure and the two-dimensionality of its picture plane. Some line shapes and curve patterns became graphic set pieces that were later found in works by artists all over the world.

[2] These aspects manifested themselves, for example, in the works of artists such as Wolf Vostell and Diter Roth, Yoko Ono, Al Hansen, especially Nam Jun Paik, the founder of video art, in the performances of Maria Marina Abramovic, the actions of the Austrian Wolgang Flatz and Viennese Actionism.

For the Düsseldorf Zero Art movement of Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker and Otto Piene, the temporal dimension also plays an essential role in their art, not to mention the two Frenchmen Georges Mathieu and Yves Klein; representative of painting are Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter and also American colour field painting.

In Japanese art, the “wave of Hokusei” visualises temporality in a special way, as does, for example, the Italian Futurism of Boccioni, which focuses on speed and acceleration. Even in the compositions of Franz Marc, representative of the artist group “Blauer Reiter”, time and movement are central themes, and last but not least, processuality is an essential aspect in the work of Joseph Beuys.

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Date: November 7, 2022
Author: Robert Reschkowsky (Germany)
Photo: Robert Reschkowsky

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