“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned :— Introibo ad altare Dei.
Dear Friends of Art, I would like to welcome you on behalf of the Schlichtenmaier Gallery in Dätzingen Castle to the exhibition with works by Lambert Maria Wintersberger. We are happy that the son Sanford Wintersberger came to the vernissage – it’s great that you are there. I would also like to welcome Konstanze Wolter, founder and managing director of the art auction house e-artis, who has also reviewed and inventoried the estate of Lambert Maria Wintersberger. We thank you for the uncomplicated cooperation in the preparation of the exhibition. Two years ago, when we were at the train station in Walbourg, Alsace, where Wintersberger lived and worked until his death, we found ourselves facing a left-over work that stretched across all the floors of the house and into a large garden shed not to mention the sculptures in the garden. Without the systematization of the remaining work, this exhibition would hardly have come about in the present breadth.
“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” I quoted the beginning of the century novel by James Joyce, “Ulysses.” It is not without reason that he begins with a shaving scene: the novel, full of symbols, ciphers and mysteries, turned the shaving into a quasi-religious act – moreover, the past is symbolically cut off and a new era is heralded. The novel was published in 1922. A few years later, in 1929, a film forced the razor’s image: in the prologue to the surrealist “An Andalusian Dog” by Salvador Dalì and Luis Buñuel, a man with a blade cuts a woman’s eye – even a radical image, to demonstrate the separation of the new time from the past and tradition. Why am I telling this? At the top of the first room of the gallery is a painting by Lambert Maria Wintersberger: on it a downwardly directed thumb is cut at the top of a razor blade. Those who put the blade on the picture of 1967 or who own the thumb remain hidden, but are also of no interest because of the complete anonymity of the scene, which quickly makes one think of a symbolic pars-pro-toto motif. The title soberly clarifies the finding: “Injury”. The empathiefreie representation and the oversized limbs reinforce the oppressive atmosphere all the more, as Winterberger wraps the whole presentation in supple forms and immersed in a completely soft drawn color. The brutal use of a commercial Gilette blade, which could also adorn a billboard in its monumentalization, contrasts with the social reality of vulnerability. Roughly 40 years after James Joyce and Luis Buñuel, the razor blade in the Wintersberger painting can certainly refer to settling accounts with one’s own time. After all, the late 1960s were marked by social changes that culminated in 1968.
Wintersberger does not present a situation, he dissects it. He reacts with his work, which was written between 1965 and 1975, directly but completely independently on Pop Art. The sober, even sobering world of consumption is also in focus here. However, he links the advertising world – the razor blade promises in the advertising world not the dangerous incision, but a smooth skin – with physically inflicted pain. As early as the end of 1969, Klaus Honnef described the connection between the beautiful appearance of advertising and the cult of beauty with the obscuring of social ills. Wintersberger ignites the mechanism of consciousness with striking evidence by making the psychic frictions that result from the pressure of social demands on the individual, as it were, embodied and made available to the sensory receptivity. Psychic coercions are visualized by physical! While cosmetic surgery permanently polishes the social self-image to a high gloss, Wintersberger discovers the sting behind it. “End quote.
It was indeed an “incident in manicures,” recalls Honnef, who led the series of “injury” images. Given the soft focus aesthetics, one could think of the saying that beauty must suffer, but Wintersberger is just a long way from propagating the appearance, as cultivated by most Pop Art colleagues. The Munich painter, who had meanwhile found a connection to the German art scene in Berlin, used the beauty of the clear form and the smooth surface to immediately hurt. That he was able to do this solely through painterly means is compelling: he does not need artificial blood, he seeks the maximum distance to the staged representation, and yet Wintersberger physically meets the viewer. Once again Klaus Honnef: “He (the viewer) feels attacked because Wintersberger is aimed directly at his central nervous system … The observer transmits what he sees in the picture to his own body without further ado.” It is believed that today one is certainly more hardened than 50 years ago – but apparently this still works. Considering that the beauty cult nowadays makes more concessions to the pain than in the past – I think of piercings, tattoos, surgical procedures – the injuries of Wintersberger show a frightening, ghastly-beautiful presence. The detachment of body details from the total body, which we viewers automatically think of, literally turns fingers, mouths into components that become transferable to the social deficits of a highly-cultured, profit-oriented civilization.
Apart from the “injury”, the series titles have an almost technoid character: “blasting”, “tension”, “splitting”. As startling as the visual impression of physical mutilation and autoaggression may be in the face of brutal realism, the mind defends itself against the sensation of re-experiencing pain. Take the painting “Blast 1”: A thumb or a toe – when we look at it, we realize that it’s not so clear with realism – is of immaculate shape, but part of it seems to be blown away Service. The trick here is that protrude from the wounds Montiereisen. If we want to turn away emotionally in such a cruel act, the head also analyzes what is happening: What kind of body part is that supposed to be? The nuances of gray and blue are reminiscent of a stone rather than a human being of flesh and blood? Could it be the clipping of a demolished monument that confirms the act of destruction, but has nothing to do with us? We are confronted with violence between discomfort and the all-clear, but there is no reason to turn away, especially since – it may come as a surprise – Wintersberger does not neglect the aesthetics: the two-meter-high painting is perfectly composed, the thumb or toenail is even to describe as absolutely beautiful, and the rest of the foot or the hand is so idiosyncratic designed that the anatomy is repealed in favor of the abstract surface distribution. Last but not least, the cheeky, blatantly unshaven iron wires from the picture make a surreal event that unfolds a breathtaking pathos.
Let us summarize so as not to give the impression that it is not about violence and destruction. Monumental limbs, especially fingers – and here often the thumb – and the mouth, are cut in the earlier work of Lambert Maria Wintersberger, stapled, braced, nailed, split, blown up, tied up or otherwise maltreated. Everyday’s torture tools – razor blades, can openers, nails, wires and staples – seem to have been moved by a ghost hand, driven into the skin and nails, about to pry fingernails out of the skin, dismember the limbs. As directly threatening and blatantly aggressive as these works of the 1960s and early 70s, however, they do not serve ill violent fantasies or a pure voyeurism. The reflex to the violence, which man can inflict on himself or others, is elaborate, driven by a desire that is less sadistic or sadomasochistically motivated, than that it indulges in the adventure of painting, specifically the application of paint. The mostly too high percentage mixed with white color keeps – as I said – the body parts at a distance to the viewer, no blood flows, the carnality hides under a sober artificial surface. In addition, so many finger screw proves to be Bilderschraubhaken, a prop from the set box of gallery owners and museum people, which is used to hang pictures. What Wintersberger did was pure painting.
His increasingly audacious facial expressions and increasing alienation lifted the pain to an aesthetic level, without negating his own sensation. Only when we look closely are we able to recognize a plastically worked out upper part of the phalanx, which was dissected in three parts, in the »Spalt 13«, which was created in 1969. Although a serious disgust is illustrated here, but at the same time exaggerated in a painterly manner. The synthetic resin dispersion paint on nettle allows a uniformly matted, color-space application that makes the »painful« theme shine in a form that is as physical as it is far from the body. The attached subtitle “Buick” refers to the end of the 1960s and 1970s successful luxury car brand of the same name – only in this connotation falls the hollow shape of the fingertip, which resembles the rear window of a car. The fact that Wintersberger refers to such a commodity, which has been upgraded to a status symbol, brings him not only in connection with the independent “German Pop”, which deals critically with the American model, but also in the vicinity of the post-war avant-gardist Konrad Klapheck. The fact that Wintersberger renounced his technical instruments and made man himself a test subject, spare parts warehouse and the goal of an – albeit aestheticized – aggression makes his art seem more drastic. It does not leave us cold, as frigid as his depicted acts of violence appear.
Incidentally, that did not change when he completely changed his imagery in the 1970s. If you go back in the exhibition, the unprepared visitor might think he’s dealing with another painter. However, we are only dealing with a reverse “iconic turn” as we see it in other artists: while, for example, Gaul, Pfahler or Hajek were inspired by an informal spirit and Pop Art – almost suddenly in an informational aesthetic in the 1960s Ten years later, Wintersberger turns from an abstract-realistic fine painting, which was already inspired by Pop Art, to an expressive-gestural attitude that makes a bridge to the New Wild. That fit together more seamlessly than you might think. In addition one must know that the young Wintersberger temporarily shared the studio with Markus Lüpertz in Berlin and founded with this as well as with other artists like Karl Horst Hödicke a producer gallery, “Großgörschen 35” after the street of their meetings, where some Enfants terribles romped. With his move to Stuttgart, then to Cologne, inspired by a stay in the United States, his field of vision expanded: his painting opened to mythology and the depiction of nature, classical genres such as the portrait or landscape painting took over his imagery, sometimes gloomy expressed mysteriously, sometimes ironic-sarcastic features assumed. But what did Lambert Maria Wintersberger do with the traditional genres? There was nothing he could have expected, it was not a real retreat from the aggression images of the ruined limbs, it was not a break in favor of a fierce picturesque position.
He continued to paint his world by other means. The canvas replaced the nettle fabric, the oil paint the synthetic resin paint. The handwriting came clearly to the fore, but still he devoted himself to motives, which he cyclically formulated in series, and which seemed superficially banal or harmless: mushrooms, mountains – with preference the Matterhorn -, mythological Mischwesen such as Centaurs, Minotaurs, to Animals of all kinds – legendary as well as apocalyptic horses, the picture of the slaughterhouse included. He was still able to draw the viewer into his work. To look at these pictures at times disturbs us no less than when we stand before the dismembered limbs. Because one thing we must be aware of: anyone who tries to fathom these motives for themselves, will fail. The “Rock with Mushroom” is simply motivic, a sensation in the execution. Formally, one can set the monumental rock in analogy to the thumb-up thumb of earlier years, the fungus would have the function of the aggressor because of its parasitic and decomposing nature. But that would be too easy. Mushrooms are in their structure a unique species between plant and animal, also hybrids – so far from the common narrow yet spicy presentation of the edible or poisonous plant, if we also consider the psychedelic intoxicating effect of some varieties. Winterberger has devoted countless works to the fungus. In our monumental image he fuses as a giant protagonist with the rock. So far we come close to the painting on the title. But do not approach the motive solely with contextual associations, ladies and gentlemen – as soon as you are close to the subject, it loses its interpretability and becomes pure painting.
Ladies and gentlemen, with the exhibition in our gallery, we can point once again to one of the most impressive, most extraordinary German painters of the second half of the 20th century. The fact that he lived in Stuttgart for several years before he retired to Alsace in 1985 must be suspicious, especially in southern Germany, where his name has fallen in recent years, if not forgotten, at least in a memory hole from which one occasionally falls brings out his iconic thumb images, but the painterly quality of this and the later works easily passes. The fact that his imagery continues to have a great impact, is mentioned in passing. At the end of the year, we are showing work by Cordula Güdemann, a professor in Stuttgart, whom we have been representing for years, and who recently told me how much Wintersberger’s painting style inspired her. This painting is not a game, even if we always fall into the grin of grotesque ideas. Above all, it is unconditionally not only to oneself, but also to the viewer. No one is spared, but everyone is rewarded when they are forced to immerse themselves in painting itself.
The art of Lambert Maria Wintersberger is undoubtedly anchored in art history. But it is also living painting that still engages us today, yes: attacks. This has to do with the relationship between image and image. Do not think that you only get to see a mountain at the clichéd Matterhorn. “Natural reality,” says Wintersberger, “can be so powerful that it has to be subjugated by imitation and imitation.” Time and again he painted the famous Swiss mountain but did not shy away from relocating him to the Caribbean to confront oneself as the alter ego of the mountain, as everything that Wintersberger painted, somehow became self-portraits. The outer world can be in the Unbedingtheit and in the times private-mythical, sometimes in the purely painterly handwriting only a reflection on the inner world of the artist. A self-portrait in the landscape pushes the artist into the lower right corner, in another picture the landscape and the palette of painters blend into a motif. The magic of two horses in intimate togetherness and probably lit up by the moon through the night, or the window-watercolors, which are in the urgency rather openings inward than outward, or the sunflowers, barely seen without the association of Van Gogh can be – all this is far more than the insight from the title. Then there are the artist ciphers like those of the Centaur or the Minotaur, which are to be interpreted in terms of the artist. However, we do not have to set that high – the surfer is nothing but the epitome of the artist who tries to master the waves of life.
The beauty, even that of the mountain world, is not without the gloomy side of being, to the point of horror. Spaces are seldom seen in perspective, but only through color – and they are constantly puzzling over what they can do out of nothing. The irritating and also contradictory contents go hand in hand with a special editing technique and grotesque montages, which remind of collages, but they remain a reflection of the irritations we experience every day. The monumentalization which Wintersberger cultivates everywhere feigns a heroization, which, however, the painter repeatedly caricatures and takes from the pedestal due to the fragmentation – only then can he afford to depict oak leaves without producing any conceit. Even quotes from history or art history become self-images with him. Wintersberger’s gruesome motives of a Francesco Goya become admonitions to our human interaction, to which the painter clearly confesses. We are as we are. Nowhere does Wintersberger mercilessly draw attention to it than in his self-portraits, which disassemble his own self as if he wanted to show a destroyed person. I say: no, he does not. The philosophical discourse about man was evidently not so important to him, probably because he knew as an artist: »I can only rely on my small means, on the fact that something is created with color, which is first of all surprised and secondly true and then against everything else. “The ambivalence of reality in art becomes clear in the portraits, which pay homage to an abstract” naturalism “between terrifying unmasking and tender rapprochement, albeit far removed from any veristic representation. In reminiscent of the earlier disassembly of the fingers, Wintersberger collaged fragmentary facial features in such a way that quite recognizable, at least imaginable portraits were created – incidentally parallel in this deformed, technoid-geometric painting style as in an impasto gesticulating imagery, setting the will and imagination in one. One was created as a gestural articulation in so-called Malpappen portraits, the other in the unmasking exposure of the being, which did not exempt one’s own person. This may not always be flattering, but the realization that man is a vulnerable creature, not a robot but a failing, capable being, triumphs in the power of painting, which meets us here in its uniqueness. “It is,” wrote Wintersberger, “my painting and my artistry.” With this self-confession it is now up to us to make the fascination of painting tangible for us, to identify with the art of Lambert Maria Wintersberger. I know, he does not always make it easy for us. But the magic of his work, which takes life seriously enough not to escape it, but to reproduce it solely by the means of painting without compromising its inadequacies and potentialities of violence, is immeasurable – because in the end, the ambivalence of a fragile beauty that captures us also shapes our lives.
I thank you for the attention.
Günter Baumann, März 2019
© Galerie Schlichtenmaier und Dr. Günter Baumann