From the Catalogue: Otto Piene

What is a picture? A picture is a force field, an arena where the author’s energies meet, are melted, poured into the movements of colour, received from the depth of the universe, conducted into the capillaries of the open soul of the viewer.” (Otto Piene 1959,cit.: Künstler Kritisches Lexikon der Gegenwartskunst, Ed. 13, p. 2)

When Otto Piene, pioneer of Light and Fire art, took up the post of visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1964, he was already highly recognised and valued in Germany as the co-founder of the artist group Zero. The group, which he founded in 1957, together with Heinz Mack, postulated a radical, fresh start for art after the war. Instead of using paint and brushes, Zero artists experimented with new materials and with the elemental powers of nature: light, movement, wind, fire, air, and energy. New and spectacular creative processes emerged from this: nailing (Uecker, Aubertin); painting with smoke and fire (Piene, Aubertin); cutting and piercing canvases (Piene and Fontana); filing aluminium (Mack). A new identity had developed in relation to the reproduction of nature and its phenomena. Nature was no longer to be reproduced as a copy, but in fact used as a means of expression by the artist. Artists would then free themselves even further from the classical painting process: the creative process would become a “performance of creation,” as it was named in the 3rd edition of the Zero journal. The act of creating would become the art, just as much as the end product of the process.

Otto Piene first approached the element of fire as creative material through his smoke drawings. The smoke took on the function of paint. At the beginning of the 1960s, however, he went further, allowing the fire itself to create the form of the picture. During the short process of burning, the flammable paint would coagulate on the picture surface, forming, colouring, and transforming it. After the flame had been extinguished, the autonomously created structure would be finally secured, and hence the organic process of nature would be brought into opposition with a controlled artistic intervention, using various creative tools and resulting in a synthesis. The “hand” of the artist is replaced by the natural elements.

In the powerful work Das Schwarz ist heiss (the black is hot) both the choice of title and the colour combination of red and black make reference to the creative process. In the present work, this explicit reference to fire and the related phenomena of transformation, destruction, soot, and heat, skilfully combine Piene’s artistic goals. Only the incline and the distance of the canvas from the source of the fire, as well as the moment when the burning process was brought to an end, were actively determined by the artist, so that the full force of the fire is brought to bear within the picture.

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