Born in Düsseldorf in 1940, Ulrich Erben is one of Germany’s preeminent colorists. His vibrant canvases explore the atmospheric possibilities of color through bold use of pigment and geometric abstraction, recalling the work of Mark Rothko and Josef Albers. Curated by Necmi Sönmez and on view at art ON Istanbul through October 18, The Recollection of Colorsis Erben’s first solo exhibition in Turkey. Encompassing 40 paintings created between 1999 and 2014 on both canvas and paper, the show suggests the vast arsenal of connotations that different combinations of color can elicit in viewers of distinct geographical, cultural, and personal backgrounds.
Though they are often recognizable for their bold, even brazen, juxtapositions, Erben’s compositions are occasionally shaped by a softer sensibility. Indeed, the subtlety of his touch seems to have evolved over time; earlier works, such as a pair of works from 2002, both titled Bagnoregio II, which feature colored grids and stark abutments of purple and orange, or blue and gold. The handling of paint is varied, incorporating thick impasto with stretches of thinner paint, aqueous and streaky. Moving into the middle of the 2000s, Erben began to tone everything down, delicately modulating distinctions between his hues and allowing them to bleed into one another, as though viewed through a mesh strainer. Two untitledworks from 2009–2011 recall Albers’ iconic “Homage to the Square”series, using the compositional device of a frame to create hypnotic windows onto deep, muddy pools of maroon or indigo.
Blau and Rosa, both from 2012, take those misty fields of vision a step further. Oriented horizontally and nearly monochromatic, they feature nuanced variations on a theme—blue, in the former, and pink, in the latter, which have been mixed with varying concentrations of white pigment. Formally, they evoke the spare, minimalist striations that became the signature motif of American artist Agnes Martin, or a dainty reconsideration of Barnett Newman’s zips. Their visual effect is both overwhelming and disorienting: akin to getting lost in a snowstorm, these canvases suggest near-total whiteout, intimations of form and color suggested through a smoky haze.
“The Recollection of Colors by Ulrich Erben” is on view at Art ON Istanbul, Sept. 16th – Oct. 18th, 2014.