Tuesday, 15 January 2008



They studied together in Dresden and now work in Berlin. Nitsche is the slightly older (b. 1964), Scheibitz (b. 1968) achieved international recognition slightly sooner. Both deal in abstraction in painting in terms of plans or designs for common objects (see also Post 14). Both stress the linear over the tonal. But where Nitsche’s work remains focussed on the curves, rigour and colour of industrial design and graphics, Scheibitz’s work has straddled issues of scale, level or degree of abstraction and 3-D modelling, encompassing maps, charts and the legibility of icons or symbols. One encounters technical difficulties for painting, the other encounters difficulties in category of picture. Both demonstrate the renewed vitality and scope of painting (see also Post 15).

Nitsche’s recent show in Dresden consolidated rather than extended his project. From around 2000 the work tended to feature a central motif on a surrounding ground while later work offers more complex, integrated relations. But often there is little to distinguish work over the period. Line and shape are precise, often derived through successive layers or pentimenti. The measured, streamlined curves and uniformity of line suggest industrial or engineering design, the arrival at ergonomic or aerodynamic solutions; at mechanical rather than organic objects. Range of mostly subdued colours adds to the allusion. Variety to width of line and parallels, add to the sense of accuracy and where intersections of lines of different widths occur they build overlapping planes, so that the work then toys with depth or volume, reinforced by colours assigned to adjacent shapes. In a work such as MDX 12 (2000) this arises around the central intersection of the broad, roughly horizontal line and intersecting points. But colour there is notably cursory or incomplete and the work really showcases process, the design method, at its most general or abstract.

Nitsche’s work is about the assumptions to these elements, for material and use, the world implied in the smooth assimilation of necessities. Abstraction in painting, of course, rarely confines itself to these means so the contrast is particularly effective. Yet such line, colour and their revision cannot be quite the same in a painting either, especially on a large scale. Nitsche maintains the ruled lines and smooth curves but allows colour a more relaxed application and this, if anything is accentuated in more recent work. The effect is curiously jarring. To maintain an immaculate finish would be to risk leaving the painting as only a further step to the design, while to emphasise painterly qualities is to risk the painting not strictly addressing such design. So the work seesaws – line is about a certain kind of design but colouring is partly about painting. Yet painting has its own lines as well as facture; colour is as important to design as line. What might balance the equation is a distinct means of making lines, that would allow the precision while still asserting an obvious painterly attribute. Nitsche has yet to introduce such a technique, but is perhaps aware of the problem.

Scheibitz, on the other hand, is not hampered by such a narrow sense of design. His work emerged in the late 90s, dealing with a broad, somewhat mechanical stylisation for a variety of objects, but then is drawn to architectural themes, to 3-D models or sculpture, to more schematic or metaphorical reference. Temperamentally, Scheibitz has less discipline or focus than Nitsche, although his use of outline, carefully ruled segments and paint drips, all exhibit close affinities. He even has a small work titled Franky (1998).

Scheibitz also favours incomplete elements and ambiguity, the sense of process and reworking. A work such as Anlage (2000) has many of the ingredients of a Nitsche, yet toys with both larger architecture and greater abstraction. The work angles planes for perspective, builds windows and shelves, a neighbourhood in progress. For Scheibitz the variety of meaning to a painting, the levels of representation are carried through to sculpture, where different angles suggest different readings, reveal different colours. In works like Table with Tray (2006) function is actual as well as representational. Elsewhere, what counts as a literal flower or symbol, a model or aspect of the actual, a sufficient or effective stylisation, stretch the artist’s project, allow his line greater latitude than Nitsche’s, but then diffuse the reference, stall its impact. His work struggles to maintain a design or object, not from lack of painterly resources, but rather a surfeit.

Both artists thus encounter problems with their projects, but this only to confirm the role of painting in picturing and remodelling the world.

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