What unfolds before us in many paintings, independently of the object depicted, can be termed the landscapification of the painting process, of the transferral of paint, and thus of the painting surface itself. Especially because the painter works in layers and his works build up from the pictorial inspiration, through the ups and downs of the process of painting and their sedimentation of color, to their own inherent intensity. In general, the term landscape designates the complexity of forces and characteristics interacting and expanding associatively and at the same time binding together in the viewer’s eye. Precisely for this reason, perhaps a new and different term should be applied here. But the pictures come before the terminology is found.
Jörg Sperling - Triangle
Buried in requests for exhibitions day after day, I was initially more confused than amused by this new and admittedly original tactic for getting an exhibition. But I soon saw that the bait was swallowed and the hook firmly lodged. The unusual approach increased my willingness to focus more intensely on Hartmann’s work and his idea; and disinterested pleasure grew into fascination. Whatever the starting point or excuse may be – it is worth showing these works, this extremely individualistic position in contemporary painting.
But I soon realized that the planned exhibition neither wants to merely render visible the occasion described in the title nor, vice versa, does it have little or nothing to do with this title. In point of fact, this is a temporo-spatial concept that, in its own peculiar way, nor only serves as a starting point for Hartmann’s work method, but also simultaneously reflects upon it, in terms of form and content. Again and again, the center of Hartmann’s work is, first, the tension between the whole and its parts and, second, a processual working method that always reveals a dimension of content at the same time.
The result thereby often displays little or nothing of the starting point – at least not to the superficial observed. But here the surface, material as well as mental, is not enough. The foundation, the starting point of the work remains decisive. What one does not see, one feels – what is visible, at any rate, wouldn’t be there without its roots. The pictures that Hartmann arrives at grow in time consuming processes as layers and stories from the depths; they change and branch out, mutating astonishingly from autonomous picture to a stage on which figurative happening are presented.
The processual method suggest parallels to the spontaneity of Informal Painting and to the automatism theory of the Surrealist, but also clearly displays the differences: reflection is involved as well as intuition; associative working from what is given, as we are familiar with it in Max Ernst frottages, for example, is here played out in the painting itself. Thus the aforementioned surface tension between the whole and the detail corresponds with that of the other, spatial tension between height and depth, distance and proximity. The visitor’s distance from the picture is thereby as important as the actual multilayeredness of the picture itself.
Color, line, and gesture give rise to a landscape that, in a daring act of conquest, is settled by countless tiny, minutely and abbreviatedly placed figures – with the disarming self-evidence of life spreading everywhere where certain minimum conditions for its development are given. Neatly dabbed with countless cotton balls, these beings cast their shadow – the source of light must be imagined outside the picture – and the viewer already sees himself included in a context reaching far beyond the picture plane, as if flying at a moderate altitude over the earth. In point of fact, satellite photos were used in preparatory work for some of these pictures.
In many cases, one senses a certain kinship with works by Anselm Kiefer – nor in the sense of the latter’s dark pathos, but in terms of the breadth of glance, the multilayered method of painting (in the technical as well as the metaphorical sense), and also in the way that almost exclusively muted, earthy, and of course highly-nuanced tones are applied. Other parallels can also be found, but less in the sense of borrowing and taking inspiration than in the sense of analogies.
The way Hartmann lines up echelons of mountain ridges; how he constructs his pictorial space with a high horizon, as if in parallel perspective; the way gesture and the application of paint directly become a cipher for figuration, without losing their autonomy – all this, but also the astonishing unfolding of painterly richness within an almost monochromatic limitation, remind me of the artistic tradition of East Asian ink painting, with which Hartmann’s works otherwise have very little to do. But this idea that new pictures can arise only when the old ones have vanished, when the painter’s head is painted empty of ideas – doesn’t this recall Far eastern philosophy and meditation?.
The first difficulty, says Hartmann, consists in finding a beginning. Once the ground is laid, the picture paints itself as if by itself. It emerges like a photo in developing fluid, as if automatically. But this automatism is a slow process and involves intense work. For Hartmann, painting pictures is like working in a garden nursery: Here something is sprouting, there something grows, here one has to water, there dig or cut, prune or weed.
When he is getting nowhere with a picture, he paints over the good passages, not the bad ones. The latter contains the decisive possibilities and challenges. He practically waits for breakdowns, accidents, which then ineluctably occur; he regards them as crises that foster the growth and ripening of the pictures. He bestrides “Main Paths and Auxiliary Paths” (Paul Klee) and comes to turning points and endpoints. Which has a lot to do with the idea of the triangle. And from the lines and paths arise, quite concretely, landscapes, roads, intersections, plazas, and cityscapes. Or branchings, boughs, trees. Birds alight on the twigs - and sometimes people do, too.
Hartmann’s pictures usually have a highly complex prehistory. They tell stories, consist quite concretely of layers – materially, formally, and in terms of content. None of this aspects can be separated from the others. Hartmann says he could never have painted the portrait of a place so suffused with history as Postdamer Platz on a new, virgin canvas.
Once, Hartmann narrates, he wanted to paint a picture with a million points. He managed 30.000, and then figured that was enough. Maybe, he wonders, 50 points would have been enough and it could have been a good picture, but maybe the 51st was already too much and he would have had to continue painting again anyway until, perhaps with the 600th, a second chance had arisen to stop. Not missing this moment is decisive: the second difficulty. The main work, says Hartmann, is not painting, but the decision to stop or continue.
Many of his pictures remind one of maps, others of bird’s-eye panoramas, yet again others are concretely recognizable as portraits of cities, even if the artists deals very freely with the details and never insists on elaborating the touristy highlights. Nevertheless, the relevant structures are markedly characterized: I recognize Berlin by the high-rise on Friedrichstrasse, long before I make out the sphere of the television tower and the domes of the Cathedral, “New” Synagogue, Hedwig Cathedral, Gerdarmenmarkt, and Reichstag. I am unable to identify Cottbus and Oldenburg, “but this here”, says Hartmann, “you must know”. And indeed, unmistakably, it is Heidelberg.
The Castle is barely hinted at, but the unique landscape arrangement is captured well. Hartmann did not choose the usual postcard views, but the view that follows the course of the Neckar River from the narrow valley into the broad western plain and that recalls the theme of world landscapes – a classical motif that, in a specific way, once again thematizes in exemplary way the characteristic tension in Hartmann’s works between the close-up and the broad view. For me, this picture is one of the few current views of Heidelberg that measure up to the respectable pictorial tradition of this often painted city. No doubt about it: The third angle had to be Heidelberg.