from the catalogue to the exhibition in the Neue Galerie, Dachau 2002

Thomas Bechinger - Daily Colours

Armin Schäfer last described Thomas Bechinger's painting as "gestures without meaning"; he said there was no expression of anything to be found, "no subjec­tivity nor a psychology of colour". Before him, Helmut Draxler had already spoken of "cold gestures" which, although ?still spontaneous", are separated from immediate sentiments. In fact, in Thomas Bechinger's paintings even sweeping movements and the progressions of the paint-brush never refer back to a painterly action charged with physical or emotional significance. An emphatic or even heroic artistic attitude does not occur in his work, not even as a quotation. Instead, we see the elaboration of the painting, step by step, as it is carried out. Colour is the material which displays the beginnings and progressions, the con­clusions of painting and its resumption. Thus, Thomas Bechinger sees his painting principally as a succession of unpretentious actions, which do not aim at anything in particular but altogether produce a picture.

If we take a closer look, the painting processes become completely understandable: here diluted paint was allowed to run unchecked, here an increased share of pigments makes the colour appear more saturated, whereas in other parts of the picture the resins of the binder stick together and darken the tone. Colours - and this is what Thomas Bechinger's paintings make explicit in almost every inch - colours come only into being after the treatment of paint: its application, its con­sistency, its ground. In this respect Thomas Bechinger belongs to the analytic tradition of painting which investigates the material circumstances and conditions of painting. The examination of the foundations of painting such as the relation of pigment and binder is visible in almost all of his works. And yet this only describes a method of painting, not the essence of the paintings.

Since the beginning of the nineties Thomas Bechinger has created paintings in which the palette is at first restricted to rusty red, brown, ochre and black. Paintings that decline any fashionable colourfulness, but are reminiscent of aged or even outdated colours. At first sight, it may even be difficult to recognise the actual colour. For these works Bechinger uses ferric oxides only, i. e. pigments that are usually employed in house paint or in antirust coating. The pitiable sight of many "ordinary" facades indicates that these pigments are generally selected for their functionality rather than for aesthetic reasons. The recollection of the subdued colours in many cities is peculiarly echoed by the paintings of Thomas Bechinger. Without representing anything, they nevertheless have a mimetic dimension: they carry in them the experience, the casual perception of our daily colours. And through colour and its special treatment the painting resists affirmation - a resistance that may make us break with our everyday perceptions and reflect on them.

In the field of non-representational, concrete painting Thomas Bechinger develops (in the sense mentioned above) a realism of colour. Through this realism the sensations of colours are created, since the experience offered by Bechinger's paintings in varied ways is how the differentiated perception of colour irritates a con­sciously recalled, yet diffuse aesthetic conditioning. Thus, the painter unfolds - sometimes even with the use of one pigment only - an astonishing variety of sha­des of colour, which makes their simple description as ochre, beige or auburn seem questionable. Again and again, the dark matt finish or the greasy gloss of the binder make yellow or red strange non-colours for which we do not have any name. Seeing seems to arrive at the border of not-seeing. This is not Abstract Expressionism, however, these borderline perceptions do not have metaphysical implications, since even this colourlessness still actually sticks to the canvas. And thus, also the spatial dimension of colour opened up by Thomas Bechinger's pain­tings is materially bound; despite its visible transformations, the materiality of colour remains binding.

Space is created through superposition of colour. As in a large ochre picture painted in 2000, many broad, vertical bars are placed next to and above each other, forming structured spaces which sometimes open up to the structures and layers of paint below. Between the bright stripes that fan out in the picture like rays of light, darker patches rise up pulling the eye into the depth of the pain­ting and immediately returning it to the surface. Here the free painterly gesture is entirely rejected in favour of the architecture of bars, which might even remind of the imprints of wooden boards. If on the one hand these bars characterise the painting as something solidly jointed and constructed, they (on the other) keep the eye in constant, unexcited motion. If it previously surveyed the picture as a whole, the eye now travels along the hatchings through the painting. At first, when seen from a few meters distance, its surface seems more or less homoge­neous, but approaching it we are confronted with numerous shifts and breaks. During the wandering movements of our eyes we are in constant contact with the ground. And in the tracks, crevices and diffusion of the colour we perceive the earthen sound, the Blues of the painting.

In the last two years Thomas Bechinger has extended the range of his colours and forms decisively. For instance, in an upright format painted this year ultramarine rectangles are piled on each other. From above, hatchings in a pale green border these bright colours, while in the lower right third of the picture the seemingly fragile construction is supported by a dark brown. A powerful architec­ture of colour is presented here, rich in contrast and taller than the viewer. Yet the subtle interaction of colour, form and progression, seen in earlier pictures, is not abandoned. On the contrary, we now find it convincingly expanded to a large format. On investigating the individual colour forms more closely, it can soon be seen that they also have been painstakingly painted, not designed. These fields of colour - they can hardly be called planes - are themselves structures of painting in most various material formations and tonal gradations. In the picture the colours and forms compete with each other again and again and create a tension throug­hout its entirety. This, however, happens on every level of the painting, when we relate all its elements - the materiality and the tonality of the colour as well as the forms and the progressions of the brush. Through (and right through) the large format of the painting we enter the underlying (and inner) painting process. And due to the contrasts of colour and form, the breaks previously observed in the ochre pictures have become more striking and fundamental. They necessarily lead us away from the inner life of the painting, away from the pictorial details and painterly progressions and back to the picture as a whole. In turn, it is the tensions between the colour forms that keep the eye moving and return it into the painting at some other place.

The characteristics of colour, too, achieve an unexpected clarity by being placed with and against each other. If the green appears pale, the ultramarine almost seems to be charged by it. One might involuntarily ascribe euphoric qualities to its luminosity, whereas the brown emanates quietness and stability. This, however, does not mean that Thomas Bechinger has begun, in his latest works, to describe emotions or express them through colour. Yet he creates fields of colours that induce sensations much more immediately than before. This also applies to an unusually wide picture in cadmium and molybdate red which in its bright glow could be seen as expressing open-eyed amazement. However we may interpret the first signalling effect of the painting, Bechinger draws us into a differentiated process of perception from which, eventually, contradictory qualities emerge. So an apparently monochrome picture soon displays a variety of tones, until the colour seems to retreat increasingly to itself. Here, too, the range of the view includes the ground that breaks through in a greyish shimmer in large parts. The light of the colour has given way to its dusk, but we only have to look away for a moment to have it shine again. Thomas Janzen