Recent paintings by Heribert C. Ottersbach : Curtor ANN COMPTON
University of Liverpool Senate House, LIVERPOOL SENATE HOUSE GALLERY
6. October - 10. November 2000

All photographic images by Anneliese Fikentscher and Andreas Neumann.(c) 2000


Heribert C. Ottersbach was born in 1960. He belongs to a generation that grew up in West Germany thinking of the Third Reich as "an evil but fairy-tale like childhood memory that had fallen out of history." His generation's world picture was instead dominated by the realities and myths of the Iron Curtain. When the Berlin Wall came down on 9 November 1989 the conventional divisions between 'democratic' and 'communist' systems also disappeared.
Heribert C. Ottersbach: Between Strategy and Attitude - University Senate House, Liverpool, 2000

Ottersbach's generation was suddenly confronted with the need to re-orientate itself outside the former polarity of East versus West.The events of 1989 have had a strong impact on Ottersbach's work. However, this relationship is not the direct response of a History Painter. He emphatically distances himself from artists whose work celebrates, or denounces, historical events. In contrast,his engagement with history is both dynamic and synthetic.



The past is approached dialectically and theories or systems are constantly challenged.
So Ottersbach's interest in the legacy of 1989 is not an end in itself, rather, it is part of a continuing investigation into the changing aesthetic and cultural orthodoxies of the twentieth century and their relationship with political and economic systems. In this exploration, deconstructivism has been a strategy which has informed his position as a painter. Whilst not 'signing up' to a position on deconstructivism (if one exists) Ottersbach has acknowledged its presence in the titles of two paintings:
'The beginning of deconstructivism 1'(1998) and 'The beginning of deconstructivism 2'(1999). There is also evidence of Ottersbach's engagement with deconstructivism in his recurrent re-evaluation of closed systems and his assertion: "A substantial aspect of my work is doubt."

Ottersbach's paintings 'The beginning of deconstructivism 1 and 2' were based on a photograph taken after an attempt to assassinate Hitler by the leader of the German resistance movement, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg in July 1944. Hitler 'miraculously' survived the explosion of a bomb placed in a room where he had a meeting with civil leaders of the Wehrmacht. Through Ottersbach's mediation this image becomes emblematic of the 'explosion' of the modernist myth. That is: art and science had access to a higher understanding and could lead people to a better way of life which was a legacy of nineteenth century thought, and in the post-fascist era was no longer sustainable. In a series of paintings subtitled'The Physiognomy of the Modern' made in 1998-9, Ottersbach explores another aspect of modernism.

Each work is pre-fixed by a country: Germany, Italy, Russia, France, America (significantly England is absent) and represents a distinctive architectural monument. Here Ottersbach is playing on the idea that modernism billed itself as an international project but in fact had important national dimensions; artists, writers and architects vied with each other to enhance their nation's achievements. This is a phenomenon Ottersbach has also noted in relation to the Cold War era when many artists and writers colluded with their respective governments to reinforce the East-West divide. 'The Physiognomy of the Modern' series has further ironic undertones in the fact that the national monuments are actually Ottersbach's re-workings of fragments of architectural drawings and so are imaginary, not real, icons.

Ottersbach first started working with found images in 1989. Keen both to exploit a new freedom of information and to awaken a past that had 'slept' under the old regime, Ottersbach searched archives both in Western and Eastern Europe.

He has worked freely with these images, sometimes employing traditional methods of montage, decoupage or collage, more recently replacing scissors and paste with computer technology to create a "digital sketchbook or imagepool." Ottersbach is not wedded to the integrity of found material and may very well generate his own 'archival' images. His visual referencing is an Alice-in-Wonderland world in which truth and fiction are blurred: "I am not looking for truth. I do not intend to give any answers. The quality of art is not to give the right answer but to ask the right questions."

Once these real or imagined 'fragments' have been generated, as a next stage they are enlarged onto thin draughts man's paper which is then glued to the canvas. This has echoes of the traditional technique of 'squaring-up' from sketch to cartoon to canvas, though where the academic artist would adhere meticulously to the concept formulated at the drawing stage, Ottersbach views painting as a fresh beginning in the creative process: 'The moment at which the images generated digitally are transferred to the canvas, something different is created: Painting. Painting includes a physical impact, it is 'body-work' far away from written language.

It is also far away from photography and other mechanical or digital image-making processes. Between the photographer and his or her 'subject of desire' you will always find a' gadget' such as the camera and with it various technical limitations. As a painter I have a direct and inductive relation with my 'subject of desire'." This intimate relation with the canvas is conveyed to the viewer in the subtlety and delicacy of the paintings themselves. Although primarily a painter of ideas, Ottersbach's technique seduces us into a deeper sensory engagement with his art.
Eight days a week,Exhibition program.

All photographic images by Anneliese Fikentscher and Andreas Neumann.(c) 2000



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