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Art is - accepting the challenge

Eduard Beaucamp wrote about the VIII. Leipzig District Art Exhibition: "Until the identification we talk about a New York School, as before the École de Paris was common - but has anyone ever heard of the Leipzig School? (...) Art, it becomes clear here, is not the business of a collective, but the language of artists' individualities for a possible collective." The term "Leipzig School" was coined in the early 1970s. The founding fathers of the acclaimed but also controversial art movement include Werner Tübke, Bernhard Heisig and Wolfgang Mattheuer, who were also represented at documenta 6 in 1977. They all studied at the Leipzig Art Academy, now the Academy of Visual Arts, where they later worked as teachers. Their students included the Leipzig painting professors Sighard Gille and Arno Rink, who became known as the second generation of the Leipzig School. The third generation is known as the "New Leipzig School".

Then as now, it is difficult to deal with the term "Leipzig School", especially when there are such different stylistic and thematic starting points as there are here. However, the high standards of craftsmanship were always at the centre of this art movement. Arno Rink pleads for a cautious use of the umbrella term "Leipzig School". On the occasion of the exhibition "made in Leipzig" exactly one year ago, he wrote: "The problem for me is simply that the old Leipzig School is only ever used to explain possible manifestations in the New Leipzig School. When someone says New Leipzig School today, it's like a Pavlovian reflex, it makes some people salivate. If you ask what the Leipzig School is, they say six or seven well-known names." First and foremost, of course, Neo Rauch, who became Arno Rink's assistant in 1993 and whose works now fetch record sums. One of Neo Rauch's fellow students was Bruno Griesel.

Bruno Griesel, born in Jena in 1960, studied at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts between 1981 and 1986 under Volker Stelzmann, Wolfgang Peuker and Bernhard Heisig, whose master student he was until 1989. Since 1986 Griesel has been working as a freelance artist in Leipzig, where he has had his studio in Specks Hof since 1991, with a few interruptions. In 1995, Griesel also created a picture frieze entitled "Psychology of Time" for the atrium of this building. The Leipzig art historian Günter Meißner summarised some of the characteristics of Leipzig painting as follows, characteristics that also apply to Bruno Griesel: "These are the urge for thoughtful and imaginative, profound interpretation of the themes of history up to intimate areas of our environment as well as the tendency to an object-emphasised, but expressive conception between the poles of drawing-clear detail and painterly movement". Bruno Griesel is a painter in a very traditional sense. He focuses on the examination of art history from the Baroque to the Modern. Griesel creates connections between the individual epochs, harkens back to the past and points to the new, the as yet unknown.

"My work shares my personal history in phases of colour".

In the course of his work, the artist has passed through various phases of his artistic development. He is a draughtsman and graphic artist, works with lithography and creates wonderful works in lithography. As a painter, the colouring of his works is very important to him. "In my life I have noticed some colour periods," says Griesel, "but have stepped away from any clear symbolic content, as well as a connection between colour choice and my psychological state." At the beginning of his artistic activity, the colour red is the starting point. The skin of human portraits and nudes are executed in an expressionist gesture with strong red tones. The choice of colour literally enlivens the skin of the models, red radiates warmth. In 1987 the artist toned down the red and turned to the cooler violet. This phase lasts for three years, until between 1990 and 1995 he favours blue. The warm red body has developed into a transparent, almost glassy shell.

The Green Phase, which lasts only two years, already ushers in the Yellow Phase, which between 1997 and 2000 also symbolises a turning point, new rays of hope. It was a time when Bruno Griesel spent time in Italy and internalised the Mediterranean colours of this country and the attitude to life there. "The year 2000 represents a turning point in my colour sympathies. Yellow without shade pushed me to my limits at the age of 40." As a result, earth colours followed until 2003, through which he has arrived at pure white to this day. The colours also convey poetic pictorial content. In all phases of his work he remained true to his motifs: nudes and dancers in particular characterise his pictures. In terms of style, Bruno Griesel drew on past artistic trends. He transfers the works of old artists into a contemporary context. He is strongly connected to Expressionism and Symbolism, whereby his figures act in front of mythological and biblical foils. References to Max Klinger, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele are unmistakable.

Occupation with the Rococo

Bruno Griesel's preoccupation with the Rococo, his homage to the 18th century, is very important to him. He deliberately calls his project, which he began in 2005, "Rococo", using the French spelling, as the form of the letter "C" fits better with the expression of the artistic style. The "Rocaille" (French: shell work) is said to have been the eponym for the Rococo.The shell also has something to do with a period of the artist's life. More precisely, the auricle. The artist suffered from loss of balance and tinnitus in 2000.

Due to the disease of the inner ear, high-pitched sounds are perceived extremely painfully - a drastic experience for the artist. In the lightness of the Rococo, in the embodiment of beauty and sensuality, in the aesthetic "shell work", he found the counterpart to the extremely negative impairment caused by the cartilage of his inner ear, the source of the pain. In the art of the 18th century, the time of Arcadian and erotic dream worlds, he found new creative power. Mozart and Jean-Philippe Rameau shaped the music of the time, and in art people spoke of Tiepolo or Antoine Watteau.The colour white, which now became important to Griesel, he found in the pure porcelain of the Rococo period, which spread throughout Europe.

Theatre Worlds: The Fascination of Pierrot

In fact, the artist particularly admires the works of Watteau.Watteau, who died of tuberculosis at a young age, 36, created a large number of paintings that glorify the cheerful enjoyment of life and that are quite contrary to his melancholic temperament, despite his suffering. The world of the theatre, the commedia dell'arte and especially the figure of Pierrot fascinated Watteau and continue to fascinate Bruno Griesel. The famous figure of the sad-looking "Gilles" by Watteau (1771) inspired the Leipzig artist. In Griesel's painting "White - Pierrot Lunaire", 2005/2006, "Gilles", who stands lonely in the foreground like a frozen figure without lust for life and joy, becomes a Pierrot who pauses in movement, as in a pantomime. Costumed in white, he looks sad, as if bent by the frustration of life.

In front of him are lions of different sizes, two white and one small one in golden colour.The lions symbolise dominance and strength. The golden colour may be a reference to the sun and the white to the moon. Richard Hüttel wrote the following: "The artificial facial expression and the balletic gestures make it clear, especially in this figure, that someone is playing a role, that transformations are being played out here, performative possibilities of the individual." Griesel varied Pierrot again in 2007. In "Pierrot with Group of Peacocks", the same figure with a different face holds two white peacocks in his hands, in reference to the Nymphenburg white peacock group. "Pierrot stands for white, as the sum of the parts," says the artist. The birds cannot fly away, even if they have a coloured peacock feather stuck in their porcelain plumage. It is again a sad figure, bound in its own ego, immobile. The melancholy Pierrot was also a favourite motif of Picasso. Perhaps the Pierrot is also a bit of a self-portrait in every artist?

The black square

In two large-format paintings, Bruno Griesel brings a new symbolic figure into his pictorial world. This is the angel. In the two paintings, "Schwarzes Quadrat auf weißem Grund I", 2007 (150 x 200 cm) and "Schwarzes Quadrat auf weißem Grund II", 2007 (150 x 200 cm), Griesel deals with Suprematism and the main representative of abstract Russian art, Kasimir Malevich, who returned to representational painting via abstraction.

For Malevich, the collaboration on the avant-garde opera "Victory over the Sun", for which he designed the set and costumes, was decisive for his artistic self-discovery. The anti-naturalist "Black Square on a White Ground" was the last stage design. In 1915, Malevich exhibited his "Black Square on a White Ground" (79 x 79 cm) for the first time; since then, he saw it as an "icon of the new art" that he hoped to establish. To what extent Bruno Griesel would like his pictures to be understood as "icons", he answers himself. A.L.: Mr Griesel, when did you start the two paintings "Black Square on a White Ground"? B.G: In spring 2007, 3.00 a.m., I have forgotten the day. I was leafing through the Wright Brothers' book. The flag was a sign to me, Orville: signal, Wilbur Wright: flag and Casimir: icon.

What can be seen in your picture? A male figure based on a photograph from 1909. It shows the aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright with a white signal flag on which a black square is applied. Two stone angels by the Düsseldorf sculptor Johann Jakob Junckers accompany him in a profane landscape. In version II, one of the angels has split into three parts. Malevich recorded in a self-revelation: "In 1913, when I made the desperate attempt to free art from the weight of things, I exhibited a painting that was nothing more than a black square on a white ground field (...). It was not an empty square that I exhibited, but rather the sensation of non-objectivity." The white field meant for him the emptiness behind the square. You painted a small black square on a white flag. The title establishes the reference to Malevich. Is Malevich necessary for understanding? For understanding, yes! With the "Black Square on a White Ground", Malevich established Suprematism, the alpha and the omega of modernism, the point zero from which everything is possible and into which everything falls back.whereby the concept of modernism has become a very elastic term. But the fact is, he wanted to break with all the fathers available. I only have one father, and I don't want to break with him.

The "sensation of non-objectivity and emptiness" does not arise in your pictures because you place the suprematist sign of the square in a historical, figurative context. Malevich's picture was positioned at the exhibition in 1915 at the highest point of a corner of the room with the picture surface sloping downwards. It thus took on the function of a religious icon. Do you also consider your paintings as a kind of "icons"? The icon means the image, the true image, which has become a cult image and not the idol, which easily mutates from a dream image to a mirage. In this sense, I would like my version of the Black Square on the foil of eternity to become an icon.

Annette Lobbenmeier

Kunst & Material
Mai/Juni 2008