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Wolfgang Günther

Wolfgang Günther

Location: EMDE GALLERY - Mainz

After having already shown a selection of works by the Hamburg artist Wolfgang Günther in the group exhibition at the inauguration of the gallery, the artist now offers a comprehensive insight into his recent works.

For some time now, Wolfgang Günther has devoted himself to an imaginary world in his works. So also in the works of the series „Gestörte Signale“ (disturbed signals), from which a select few will be shown in the gallery. The works show fictitious future worlds, which are ruled over by insidious drones and and mutated human-machine-beings with pointy noses. Wolfgang Günther's protagonist finds himself in these dystopias, a knight, hero of a bygone era, dressed in armor and helmet, in a hostile environment. One time he wanders around helplessly, solitary and alone, the next he is ensnared in battles and acts, occasionally companions keep company. Wolfgang Günther paints what the knight experiences and who are his friends and foes. As such, the knight becomes a familiar companion himself with personal stories.

The special character of these works is the thorough development of one topic, which is elaborated by the artist throughout many pictures, work for work. Even though every work stands on its own, they still form part of a bigger picture. This also includes that all the works of the series are in a 80x60cm format.

Besides that, the selection of works also comprises works of larger and smaller formats with, for example, partially grid-or cobweb-like structures, which are not part of the series, but complement it thematically. Some seem like sections of a larger, beyond the particular painting existing whole, from which a specific detail was zoomed into.

Wolfgang Günther's childlike seeming, polymorphic visual vocabulary constitutes his unique style, in fact not only his recognizability, but also concerning his reduction to the essentials, as the figures are strongly simplified, nearly depicted as sketch like or cartoonish.
 An essential property of his approach hereby is, that he superimposes multiple layers of colour and draws the figures through scratching and etching into the layers of colour in the next step. In other, younger works, paper drawings are worked into the paintings directly. In doing so Wolfang Günther succeeds, in a sense, in combining painting and drawing with one another.

Furthermore, by foregoing the construction of a central perspective and the corresponding proportions of the figures, as well as the decentralized distribution of singular pictorial elements, which cause a tendency of the eye to go back and forth restlessly, a fundamental quality of painting is emphasized, two-dimensionality. At the same time, they, as the artist says himself, let’s one think of early computer games, which were characterized by flat graphics, stylized figures and simple game interfaces.

Wolfgang Günther's dream worlds function as critical allegories of an estranged existence in a future ruled by technology and machines.
The ghosts of the future, not the past cause disruptions.

Interview between the artist and Dr. Jörg Daur (Museum Wiesbaden, deputy director, curator of modern and contemporary art)

Jörg Daur: Your recent paintings often show the figure of a knight, which role does that figure play in your paintings and what does it mean beyond painting?

Wolfgang Günther: The figure of the knight is a recurring main actor in my works. A hero, who, through armor, helmet and visor, stays rather incognito. As a substitute for the human, depicted in a fictitious vision of the future, in which machines and technology have taken over the rule and power a long time ago. The helplessness and desperate wandering around of the knight is often the starting point of my paintings. On his travels the knight often encounters allied companions and has to prove himself against predatory drones and evil beings.

JD: When we follow the knight into the structure of your paintings, often a two dimensional, graphical composition arises. It nearly seems like the painting here is divided into different partitions or compartments. Do these areas also stand for different levels of reality?

WG: As a child I used to draw on A4 paper with my brother for days on end. Entirely banal depictions of abstract worlds with mountains, water, sky and underground passageways or something similar, were endowed with little machines, boats, figures and so forth. Even today, these dreamy drawings are deep memories and templates. One could read my paintings as levels or dream worlds, similar to computer or game boy games, like “Super Mario World“, “Donkey Kong Land“, or similar “jump and run“ formats from the 90s and early 2000s. They could also be records from the future, which bespeak of times, that are (for us) still to come and pass on stories and myths.

The different partitions and compartments in my paintings function just as these levels or in-between worlds, in which different scenarios are played out. Usually, they are abstract actions, which mix with the present time and the everyday.

JD: As a reference point of your paintings you name the graphics of early computer games. Back then “movement“ mostly comprised in running from left to right, up and down... so, an orientation more in the flat than in the depth. But especially the smaller paintings give the strong impression of rather an object, because of their deep frames.
In total, the relief seems to interest you, the overlap, or also again the exposure of layers. What does it mean to you to construct or deconstruct an image again as well?

WG: In the development process image sections are often painted over multiple times or layers of paint are removed by carving them off. Previous areas appear, so that I have to react to new paths and divergencies. Putting forth already painted over layers is an essential part of my approach here. Painting and drawing merge and are united. By mixing colours, painting allows me to produce a general mood. Through scratching and etching I can add figures, symbols and forms quickly and intuitively, just like in a drawing, and complete the overall picture. Stronger stretcher frames and an impasto application of paint partially make the paintings object-like and could also be seen as printing plates or stone slabs with messages from the future.

JD: Especially when you talk of printing plates, the layering and overlapping in your paintings becomes strikingly clear. In this context, which role does the usage of acrylic paints, of lacquer, with partially glossy coating, play?

WG: Acrylics dry quickly and are well combined with spray paint. Regardless of the order of the colour application these two components can be combined with each other and are suitable for working “backwards“ with, in a dried condition, through scratching and etching and to thus bring forth previous layers. Furthermore, lacquer provides the opportunity to finish the surface very opaquely, no matter how much structure has already been added to the picture carrier.

JD: Now, finally, let us look at one painting more closely: With this one the figure of the knight already seems “inactive“, it is draped over the actual pictorial event. Below, some kind of tree, which divides the picture into two halves. On the left, a shape tries to grasp towards the center of the picture, but doesn’t seem to manage to pass the painted “border“ itself. One can recognize ball pen drawings in the pictorial ground, they could be preliminary drawings...

WG: The painting, which you describe, shows a deceased knight, who ascends towards heaven. An allied, humanoid being is concealed beneath him, which is hiding behind a tree from monsters and drones and machines. A last ripe fruit flashes on the branch of the tree. In a time, in which humans aren’t important anymore and machines, which exclusively feed on electricity and prohibit the food production propelled by and of humans, fruits like this last cherry are highly contested. Moreover, a sketch on paper, which was used as a template for the painting, is incorporated and functions as a background and describes the dream world, from which the knight ascends.

JD: You repeatedly describe the interwining of different layers, of the material, but also of the imagery itself. You yourself worked under different professors, what shaped you? In which category would you place your paintings?

WG: In the class for drawing and painting of professor Katrin von Maltzahn, a very interdisciplinary exchange of different media was possible. Consequently, I was able to develop my artistic practice especially and find my own main focus. In the class of professor Werner Büttner I have been able to deal with the medium of painting in particular, intensely.


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