Galerie Förster

Robert Sturmhoevel

vanity [fun] fair - Painting, drawing and installation

December 14th - January 26th, 2012


Idyllic abyss

In Robert Sturmhoevel's work, harlequins, model aeroplanes, tin soldiers – set pieces from a child's pictorial world – encounter the unfathomable. In his large format watercolours and canvases the young Berlin artist condenses themes of memory and experience, of the invented and the dreamt, into complex narratives. In their ambiguity they are reminiscent of the ironic landscape idylls of the Romantics.

The idyllic appears here not as unbroken ideal or alternative, but rather as an excessive, fractured idea, the idyllic and anti-idyllic combined. Arcadian landscapes are replaced by empty factory buildings, demolished houses and dilapidated fairground booths, motifs which speak of decay and destruction and forgetting, and which the artist describes as "memorial moments".

Photographs serve as models for the construction of Robert Sturmhoevel's pictorial spaces, the photographs importantly always being connected with an experience, an idea. "If the photos told the whole story, it would be photographic work". He looks for blank spaces and flaws.

The spaces in which the mainly child protagonists move, appear intimate yet remain nonetheless indistinct. They often turn out to be collages, in which contradictory elements overlap: such as in "Autoscooter 2", in which the cabin of a fairground ride appears in a decayed industrial building, and the scene, taken out of its original context, seems both displaced and timeless.

In connection with which, the artist refers to the concept of "heterotopes", described by Foucault and Lefevbre as "other places", which among other things are characterized as and identified by "cultural relevance, functional alterability", and the "integration of the incompatible"1. "Places beyond other places"2, as Foucault calls them.

It is just these incompatibilities that run like a thread through the pictorial creations of the young artist; incompatibilities that shift constantly between childish idylls and something darker and enigmatic, between the kitsch and the subtle. And which last but not least allow no single unambiguous reading.

The protagonists in Robert Sturmhoevel's pictures evade the viewer's gaze – they avert their faces or hide themselves or remain completely absorbed in their innocent (or rather serious?) game. They seem absent, abandoned. And yet they form the crucial point of a story, which appears the more fragmented the more one tries to approach it.

Pattern stands out in the pictures, underlying or overlaying the pictorial spaces – like the traces of an exposed wallpaper, like memories at the moment of dissolution.

Robert Sturmhoevel's pictures are made up of a basic repertoire of elements, which, following a clearly defined procedure, he "misuses" – a term the artist often uses when talking about his work. At the beginning of the process the vocabulary of the stories is established in small-scale drawings and sketches, which are then formulated and fixed in the water-colour studies, and finally in the canvases.

The current series of 50 small-format canvases, which, under the title "Targets" constitutes the major part of the current exhibitions in Berlin, Hamburg and London, have a particular relevance. Unlike the large-format works, the focus is on single elements: balloons, water pistols, wallpaper patterns, and streaks of colour.

The "Targets" afford a glimpse of the particular colour palette, the formal vocabulary, thereby allowing the possibililty of isolated elements being seen in relation to each other. In the one picture. But also between the pictures, in that – depending on the hanging – a further dialogue may be opened up.

In the series painting comes to the fore, whilst the narrative begins to dissolve into spontaneous gestures and patterns. Ornament and abstraction become more important. It remains unfathomable.

1 Beatrice von Bismarck, Hoffnungsträger - Foucault und de Certeau, in: Texte zur Kunst, Nr. 47, Berlin 2002.
2 Michel Foucault, Andere Räume, in: Martin Wentz (Hg.), Stadt-Räume, Frankfurt/New York: 1991.

Kim-André Schulz


Interview to the Exhibition "INDEX 12"

Next to your watercolours, in the index-exhibition you are also displaying a worn paper carousel. Is there a connection between this found object and your painting?

This work is an experiment born of the desire to question the layered structure of traditional painting. I asked myself how many layers of differing colours would affect an object, that is, by applying paint I aimed to create sculptural form.

Why choose a carousel?

The carousel was a coincidence; I had looked for something made of cardboard. At first, I wanted to make something myself, but then I got hold of this Hasbro model from the 90ies. A lucky coincidence, as the colours and the aesthetic , to this very day, match my style. What is more, it is a functional children's toy as soon as the 800 individual parts are assembled. In a nutshell, this toy model ideally matched my imagery. Then I followed a traditional layer structure: ground, preparatory coat, primer, scumble and overpainting. That is, I used the colours as I would have on canvas.

When comparing the carousel to the watercolours, can one see a dissolution of pictorial space into fragments?

Quite naturally, in my way of working. My motifs are composed of a multitude of complexely intertwined narrative elements and whose origins lie in humouristic and ironic romantic idylls. At the same time, I also give indications of fear, disruption, melancholy and decay. They are entangled in these idyllic pictorial spaces and mutually enforce one another. In this manner, pictures arise which provoke either unbearably clichéd or frighteningly sinister subjective ideas. They are innocent, romantic stories with a conceivably personal and, at the same time, anonymously constructed background, which I want to portray in all their instability. In the case of the carousel, the untouched side seemed prettier and more clichéd. While working, I very early realized that it would lose shape and I reacted by means of colour, for I saw increasing decay in it.

Spontaneity one wouldn't expect in view of the exactness of your composition...

Such decisions frequently occur in my work, always with the aim of maintaining a balance between idyll and melancholy. But I have to leave my watercolours aside here, as they mainly serve to find references and compositions. Finding colours from broken and colourful is rather irritating. Looking closely, the process of creating my paintings can be seen as fragmentary.

Broken toys and the process of decay are not framed as gestures of destruction, rather, they are enacted as meticulous performances. Does this warrant the assumption that you want your method to be understood as a purely formal process.

No, I wouldn't say so. An ambiguous story cannot be created by formalistic considerations. Of course, here my intuitive perception, too, plays a role. This holds true for me both as a painter and as narrator. The one is shaped by the other and, in my case, leads to joy in experimenting. A narrative element even demands a specific element in painting.

Toys, carousel, circus, fun fair ... the motifs of your painting take us away from the everyday world. The compositions suggest a lightness and openness and are, at the same time, marked by attention to detail and controlled compoon. Can we here draw conclusions about the artist's understanding of art?

The scenarios of my motifs only become those fun fair-like places in virtue of my intervention. Their origins do lie in the everyday world. However, they were abandoned and forgotten when I found them. Such places mystically attract me and stir a desire in me to tell a story. If a picture shows nothing than what we are used to see with our eyes, then, for me, nothing remains to be discovered. What makes a work interesting, for me, is not its motif or an skilful form of execution, but is what lies behind what is obviously pictorial and of which one can only become aware at second sight.

Questions by Elena Winkel.

(Translaions by Christina Wahle and Rudolf Owen Müllan-Hughes)