Artes y Letras
Sebastian Spreng and the Inner Landscape
el Nuevo Herald
The Spanish term paisaje does not apply to Sebastian Spreng, neither the English one for landscape nor the German Landschaft; none of these apply to that unique image he has painted countless times in works depicting diffused misty mountains, long riverbanks, ships in unidentified seas, or the recurring picture of a solitary tree in the vastness of the absolute white or the deepest of blacks.
Many works of this artist, who grew up watching the plains of the Pampas and then the Argentinean Atlantic coast, combine the four elements (the force of wind, the shades of fire, the strength of earth or the flowing of water) but, as a matter of fact, they portrait inner scenographic atmospheres.
Spreng uses the archetypical, the legends that reached their greatness through musical composition, to suggest narrative vectors in these places endlessly repeated in beautiful variations. Always hazy, as if covered by the patina of dreams, they are accomplished with textures suggesting traces of events, events revealing the passing of time but also the timeless substrate of the unconscious.
If it is inevitable to link him with the heritage – which also comes in his genetic memory – of the German landscape paintings and the romantic Caspar David Friedrich, especially in those foggy pictures where solitary human figures are lost in a vast abyss. In his work there is not outdoor realistic scenery, every space is an expression of the Élan vital, as Bergson called the momentum of life linked to consciousness.
At the Kelley Roy Gallery, in his suggestive installation named “Salad Bar” – a title that balances the romantic significance with the light playfulness related to games – 240 small-format paintings mounted on the gallery walls can be reorganized – in fact, someone did it at the opening – in countless combinations without hurting its meaning, just affirming his career’s leitmotifs and the history of symbolic representations.
When he refers to “that lonely tree, stick to the earth and pointing to heaven,” (and that one, instead of painted is carved on the canvas’s surface) Spreng means is a hymn to human survival and to his own survival. The series includes for the first time suggested birds and flowers and also his more familiar windows, balconies, interior spaces and the inevitable water, like the almost abstract Andreas Gursky’s works of the banks of the Rhine. The last vertical piece is just a tree carved on a green-black-surface named The Song of the Earth, after Mahler’s composition. But I insist: this particular earth only belongs to the soul of Sebastian Spreng.
Unlike the vast and desolate landscape of the immense Anselm Kiefer, whom Spreng admires, his work does not contain historical references or refers to human devastations. His is an atemporal place full of subjective intensities, it’s a place for time immemorial. Certainly, in terms of alternation between figuration, landscape and abstraction, his paintings can also be connected to Gerald Richter, the other preeminent figure in contemporary German landscape. They share even common motifs like the moon that Richter represented over the water in his monotypes of the Elbe River Series. Although his relationship with medium – such as the use of photography combined with painting, and with a unique color – is different, both share the view that “Art is the highest expression of human hope.”
There’s a triptych at the exhibition entrance inspired by swimming pool spaces. Now freed from all reference, they are totally abstract. Spreng says “There are no swimmers anymore, no more water, just the web that light forms at the bottom”. There are other triptychs in the show. One represents fortresses in monochromatic universes – green, yellow gold and red – metaphorically depicting the self-protected adding also a formal tension between the monolithic stone and the diffuse or intangible. The other refers to desert places – desert, sea or forest – dissolving into the abstraction’s immensity without losing the symbolic power implied by crossroads. We are not in front of totally accurate “meanings”, we are here confronted with visual poetry that unleashes a meeting with possibilities beyond the normal gaze.
The series of 240 works culminates in parallel lines of black and white square paintings, as a result of a process that occurs not because of absence of color or formal purity, but like in Reinhardt, due to the sum of layers contained in a buried memory. He rather reach the black without using it, just adding colors to this silent path leading to the playful deployment of four square “moons”: the white full one, the black total eclipse framed by a blue watery halo, a yellow fire oriental one and an intensely green earthy moon.
Sebastian Spreng avoids all classifications with impunity because his work embodies a Borges’s poem: “They tell that Ulysses, tired of wonders, wept with love at the sight of his Ithaca, green and humble. Art is that Ithaca of green eternity, not of wonders. ” •