Titled “Figure in Motion”, Galerie Thomas Modern is presenting vividly coloured, gestural tempera works by Otto Piene. In these until now little-known works, the artist uses - at first sight - unusual figurative representations and impressively reinterprets his great artistic themes of light, colour and movement.
As one of the co-founders of ZERO, Otto Piene saw light and colour as the determining elements of an art that wanted to break free from the outmoded rules of visual language and achieve a new validity. With his light ballets, kinetic light objects and the fire paintings, Piene explored this artistic effect, which, while direct, also allows for the random, unchecked play of material and light.
The tempera paintings are dominated by vigorous colours in contrasting combinations and show expressive figures. The primary colours of red, blue and yellow, as well as black and white, in combination, generate not only a strong colour effect but also a light effect. The painting technique as such translates the light vibration that is so important to Piene in painting.
Almost all the works are actual pictures of movement of individual figures or figure groups, some show the cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman, so that, as in the blue works quoting Richard Wagner, music is present as an immaterial, temporally bound art of sound. Other works explore variations on the motif of the eye, which has always been regarded as a symbol and equivalent of light, entirely in keeping with Piene’s philosophy according to which the world and things are only brought into existence by light.
This also embodies the interest in the dematerialisation of the art work, as sought by Piene and the ZERO movement. Otto Piene, in pursuit of this trend and in his effort also to represent movement, and – as is often forgotten – time, the passing of time, created large air and sky sculptures, so-called “inflatables”. As early as 1968, Piene was thus realising the paradox of the transient, the immaterial, with great visual, vivid and luminous presence. The sculptures of these Sky Events are often reminiscent of huge flowers or stars, which, monumental in size but with equally great lightness, sway in the wind against the blue of the sky or, at night, in the light that illuminates them – a motif that is repeated decades later in the tempera works exhibited at Galerie Thomas Modern.
Otto Piene himself characterised his paper works as “subject to freely phrased, lively processes”. He writes: “spontaneity and intuition – the lightning-fast idea to the lightning-fast realisation – are typical elements of artistic freedom in the paper media, and the result is spontaneous, subjective expression."