Tuesday, 17 June 2008



A series of paintings, mainly of outdoor sculpture, saw the artist vary his usual concern with architecture and surrounding garden in a recent show at Thomas Dane, London. Kürten has for some time contrasted and stylised differences between man’s design and nature, sometimes extending this to pictorial structures that assert or deny perspective, elsewhere displaying uncanny echoes and expressive aspects to both. The work is unassuming yet deceptively complex and Kürten’s love of linear precision tends to give the work a patient, cautious quality. The pictures of sculpture extend these concerns with appearance and function and where the sculptures are figurative introduce a new, more directly human note. Sadly, the Dane gallery’s web pages for the show are now reduced to installation views. However other web resources allow illustration of underlying elements to his style.

Kürten’s choice of architecture sometimes coincides with that of Peter Doig and the comparison is instructive. Doig also stylises surrounding nature in ways that highlight architectural and spatial qualities, often excludes figures and emphasises a linear rhythm even tracing. But Doig’s sources are casual or private, snapshots of places in passing, where detachment or estrangement are paramount. In Kürten line rarely signals tracing and subjects recall standard domestic models, the genre of home and garden, the carefully planned and preserved abode. Kürten’s attention to detail and pattern often compound the viewing angle with linear and planar aspects to the architecture, sometimes colour and light, so that what is pictured and how it is pictured are fused, present an array from flat pattern elements, either in foreground or background, to perspective and complex volumes. The feeling is of a profound but reluctant, almost furtive attachment across the spectrum.

The emphasis upon architecture in recent German painting is pervasive, quite distinct from mere urban landscape, the work of Christian Hellmich, Martin Kobe, Susanne Kühn, Ulf Puder, Neo Rauch, Thomas Scheibitz, David Schnell, Dirk Skreber and Matthias Weischer, for example, all feature building as a crucial building-block for depiction. It is tempting to suppose this reflects older Bauhaus teachings (see also Post 8) but space here prevents closer analysis.

Kürten’s training at the Düsseldorf Academy surely inclines him to studies in architecture, but while the influence of Bernd and Hilla Becher and their students such as Thomas Struth (see also Post 41) Thomas Ruff (see also Post 66) and Andreas Gursky all concentrate on documentary standards for photography and unusual classes of architecture, painting frames architecture somewhat differently. In any case Kürten has no interest in grand symmetries or panoramas, in imposing scale or wider civic design. Nevertheless he arrives at just as much abstraction. He is interested in looking through surroundings to the architecture, at how these modify or inflect the integrity of planes, such as walls or windows, roofs or paving, at how they build other, larger designs from the state of gardens, the layers of posts, fences, railings, lattices etc.

This glimpsed unity is underscored in the continuous, if somewhat faltering outline, that allows in-filled or coloured areas, especially skies or shadow, foliage or greenery, greater latitude, further flattening the picture, reinforcing the linear cohesion. These are qualities that build upon photographic composition, particularly in attention to precise tonalities, yet when transferred to outline and freer colouring, point to more fundamental issues – to perspective’s preference for architecture, its dependence upon framing in perceiving additional and unexpected aspects.

Occasionally the artist dispenses with a coherent perspective to build from collage-like fragments that hover between pattern and picture. He sometimes uses metallic paints as grounds to further animate outlined areas, so that they reflect differently depending upon light and position of spectator. At other times this in-filling takes the form of roughly repeating motifs, depending upon intensity or complexity of colour and this deft shift from outline to pattern – from continuous line to short, broken ones – is prominent in the treatment of greenery, goes toward a stylistic distinction between nature and culture. The technique also allows a further level of pattern – usually circular shapes of varying colour that appear to float before the scenes, as if an optical distraction. In all three ways, Kürten carries architectural and pictorial qualities through to painting and samples not only a genre of depicted domestic architecture, but expresses an attitude, in the quiet meeting of chance and design, nature and culture.

The paintings of outdoor sculpture also stress placement in parks and gardens, and in more figurative cases, signal a similar approach to person, as circumspect and circumstantial, as architecture or place.

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