Harmless pictures ?

Expansion of painting – a trial of position-fixing


by Wolfgang Hock 2015

My artwork is figurative, i.e. you can recognize persons, portraits, landscapes, architecture etc.
If you visit today many exhibitions, you see especially so-called “abstract art”, i.e. non-figurative pictures, derived from art of the 40s and 50s of the past century (abstract expressionism, informal art, Pollock, De Kooning, Soulages, Twombly etc.), which were overcome for me since Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg with the combine paintings already at the beginning of the 60s.

Today those epigones – insignificant imitators without own ideas – are still more decorative and nice, the only important thing is to get money quickly and much. Mostly the paint material is visible, approximating those pictures to handcrafts, applied arts.

This approximation, better non-definition between fine art and handcraft, is very dangerous because it takes away the actual importance and relevance of art and makes it harmless. Artistic talent has nothing to do with craftsmanship.

However the breakage took place already around 1910 – more than 100 years ago – with the Dadaism (Marcel Duchamp with his ready-mades) and the first abstract pictures (Wassily Kandinsky: About the intellectual in art from 1912), described in 1948 as the loss of center by Hans Sedlmayr, the professor of art history from Munich, loved by conservative circles as criticism on modernism at all, with impacts until today.

That loss of center was that the world has been lost, i.e. the moral and esthetic center point. On these grounds was developed the term of “vanguard”: Non-figurative abstract art was the radical, something what challenged the traditional art. For a long time the verdict was valid that figurative art couldn’t be vanguard, it was classified as unprogressive.

Today in the twenty-first century the situation is entirely different, it seems inverted indeed: The abstract pictures in their nice and pretty version have become socially acceptable, totally integrated by the so-called “mainstream”.

At this state it’s clear for me that there is no chance to do so, otherwise my pictures are simply harmless.

I want to do something vanguard, progressive, revolutionary, subversive. My pictures have to resist the established, against the conformism, but within the panel painting.


Returned in 2011 after 18 years in Brazil, a very young and multicultural society of a so-called “emerging country” – whatever it means – as an immigrant, not as a homecomer back to the “old homeland”, to a reunified Germany.

Much to my surprise I found that it wants still hold on many old traditions and identities (“the goody old times”), till to those Germans who want encapsulate themselves away from the “strange” world with so many strangers and continue as nothing has changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.

To that applies e.g. the constant ignoring of the digital, virtual world with all its global effects with positive and negative impacts.

To face this all in an academic professorial way is no possibility for me and makes no solution.

I was born in Germany at the time of the so-called “economic miracle”, raised in that Germany occupied by the Americans (“the Amis”). In 1993 I went to Brazil and stayed there all together 18 years (Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba and Fortaleza), where I got to know the pretention of superiority of the western countries with its negative impacts.

These ideological confrontations in the past of German history scared me so much that I neither felt as a German nor as a Brazilian. The whole traditional idea of nationality, according to the German tradition with blood relationship from the nineteenth century, is absolutely strange to me.

From that comes my aversion that you have to be true to the system. 25 years ago it was the “bad socialism”, today it’s the “bad Islam”.  But exactly through these sociocultural conflicts I get my stimulation for art.


The withdrawal from the recognizing seeing confronted painting with the problem how to face the new practice of perception. Exactly here I see the interface for my pictures.

My artwork shows objects, nevertheless it is abstract in its painted execution. Similarities to the reality, to a certain person, are only secondary, I am not interested in physiognomy or the psychological state of mind. The object is only the cause of the picture, but it is not the aim of the representation. The choice of the object is caused by personal affections, but is not important for the contemplator.

The picture removes itself from my intentions during the painting process and gains its own existence. To invent painting newly, the foreseeable has to be taken off by doing that what people don’t want to see. Disrespect is needed.

For that reason you have to turn away from existing pictures and to lead the contemplator to unknown terrain. The balance, harmony, finally the beauty of art appears during the process of painting unintentionally. The intention and the road are different.

The painted transformation cancels the content and symbolism, together with the unpretentious representation is created an antithetic of subjective view – personal reading of the motive – and objective reality of the painting.

Different degrees of abstraction, experimental formal approximations to the object between concentration and dissolution move the picture to more abstraction.

Watching closely you can see only the paint brushes, linear elements and transparent layers of paint mixing with paint layers below and aside. This causes a content emptying of the things in favor of the abstraction of form as autonomous function of the picture. Important is to show, to unmask, not to hide the difference to the recognizable.

For this I develop again and again new methods of picture producing which are all conceptual. The synthesis of concreteness and abstraction is a precisely elaborated picture structure of reasoning and spontaneous expression. It’s important for me to break down the picture formally and contently.

This antithetic is taking place also at the level of the medium:
My newly artworks since 2008 are not painted with traditional materials like oil paint or watercolor, don’t belong to intaglio printing in a traditional sense, are mostly made at and in the computer, painted with computer pen and tablet. Normally the computer is not related to fine arts, it is related to mass use, quick fully automated processes, commercial applications for consumption, ready-made pictures without any originality, at best to applied computer graphics and design.

For many people fine art with its handmade artworks of real paint represents the last bastion of the analogue world, not yet taken away by the digital, after photography lost everything what is was before. Especially the idea of vanguard holds on an analogue picture-world (also black-and white photography and even Polaroid photography) and shows with this the typical inversion again, as seen above between abstract and figurative.

But exactly this antithetic between traditional painting and new digital possibilities challenges myself so much to contest the repressive-conservative attitude in the reunified Germany, which doesn’t allow again any divergence from the social, political and artistic consensus.

My pictures are totally handmade, the subjective hand painting and drawing can be seen everywhere, however they are painted not with oil paint or watercolor and don’t imitate those materials.

They are painted traditionally in a new “inartistic” medium. They are printed in big size on deckle edged paper or canvas – as intaglio prints in a small edition. Are they reproductions ? Beside the small edition, they are all originals from a digital original as the plate at traditional intaglios.

Today is printed digital photography in big size. The digital professional cameras have improved more and more in the last decades, in matters of high definition and picture sharpness, overtaking the analogue photography by far: 24 megapixels are standard today, Hasselblad goes on even more to 50, even 80 megapixels.

The development is in full progress. Thereby big sized prints can be produced with unknown definition and accuracy so far. The pictures appear more real than the real world, the colors glow luscious and the world appears more beautiful than it is, or better even truer than known until now. The pictures of reality appear more powerful than the reality itself. Baudrillard was right when he developed his theory of media in 1972.

My pictures are digital prints with high definition up to 200 megapixels, even much more than a digital photographer can produce at the moment. But they don’t show any photographic representation, any photographic details, any photographic fine structure, they show transparent areas of color, lines, brush marks as details, they show painted, handmade, hand drawn pictures, which are, seen from some distance, figurative.

As well here at this point, new visual experience is created because the medium with its material and space is new: no oil painting, no intaglio printing, no offset printing, no photography, no reproduction.

The pictures look as oil paintings, xylography, big-sized water color paintings, serigraphy, and yet they are different from all that. Traditional expectancy of the painted picture, the printed intaglio or digital photography is challenged.

This causes skepticism. Many contemplators refuse my artwork, others who are more complaisant, think that they understand it, but in doing so they repress mostly one aspect which they don’t want to see because it would disturb their understanding. The skepticism against my artwork is still very keen. They mistrust: Could this be original artwork, such a thing made by computers?

But exactly this shows to me that I’m on the right path because my pictures refuse the expectancy. They don’t whitewash, don’t harmonize, in contrast they show the breakage. They irritate, but they don’t criticize educationally, they alienate in three respects: The figurative motive with its symbolism and content, the painting dissolving the objects beyond recognition and abstraction and the medium, the digital print, but handmade and original.

The picture painted in the computer is at the end a panel painting and expands the concept of painting formally reminding of a traditional oil painting.

I stay in permanent conflict with the society with its automated norms. Painting my pictures is the only possibility for me to feel free intellectually and spiritually, getting rid of the tyranny of society.

The avoiding of traditional categories is forward-looking to the future in which the categories will begin to totter and will be irrelevant for artists, even if critics and art historians insist on them not to lose their pillars.

It is not the point to irritate the middle-class art lover and the academic critic, but to dissolve absurd social prohibitions and taboos. Although I am quite good in art history, I try to work without expert knowledge and experience or skills in a way which I don’t know yet.

The banal theory of esthetics of imitation - as you can find today in high definition photography and HD-television pictures - , from what our theory of esthetics never got away because of the slavish dependence of our idea of formation by Aristotelian concepts, made us blind for the real psychic qualities being point of departure and aim of all production of art.

by Wolfgang Hock 2015


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