Ronald Kodritsch “Mit dem Pinsel zaubern or Haunted by Ghosts”
By Angela Stief
Thee let me counsel
To view too fondly neither sun nor stars.
Come follow to the gloomy realms below!
A dark boscage, a “Great boscage”. Undergrowth, a hazily depicted nightscape in phthalo blue with gaunt tree trunks and withered branches. In the distance a clearing, glistening white, that radiates out from the depths of the image, surging into the foreground. This nocturne produces an uncanny effect. The picture is defined by intense contrasts, visible streaks of undercoat lending it an unfinished quality. Light and shadow establish the rhythm of a pictorial staccato composed of forthright brush strokes and an expressive, gestural application of colour. This landscape scenario forms the backdrop for pictorial appliqués: the bulging eyes of Ronald Kodritsch, which adorn many of the works in the series entitled In der Frage liegt ein Fehler (Augen) [“There’s a mistake in the question (eyes)”], represent mischievous markings reminiscent of the tags left behind by graffiti artists in the streets of the metropolis. When contemplating this picture, one might describe them as “add-ons on top of it”. It is as if the artist took his cue from children who stick plastic eyes – with their little, bobbling orbs for pupils – in the most unlikely places, in order to give their victims a fright. Kodritsch paints them. Released from their facial context and pairwise occurrence, they evoke, on the one hand, the absurd combination of disparate objects that we know from surrealism, and the penchant of some of its proponents, such as George Bataille, Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, to employ the organ of sight at the interface between psychological introspection and worldly, external perspective. In the legendary 1929 black-and-white film Un Chien Andalou, the tension between Eros and Thanatos is brutally discharged when an eyeball is dissected using a scalpel. On the other hand – and this is a crucial aspect in Kodritsch’s work – these eyes also represent an artistic ambition, whereby a self-deprecating meta-discourse is constantly integrated into the work, like a kind of double floor. Mockery on canvas? As if the artist were to react to what he has just produced by rolling his eyes. No crowning conclusion, no – eyes as question marks. As disembodied actors they are also reminiscent of Mickey Mouse & Co; the inky black frames of the animation industry, in which eyes assume the role of isolated expressions of emotion, looking back at the viewer, squinting, staring, studying and sometimes even flirting with them, from within the simulated spaces of the cartoon. They can equally be read as offshoots of a voyeurism which is thematically linked to other works by the artist, such as Akt und Vollmond (“Nude and full moon”), in which a woman stretches out lasciviously in nature, the Bikinimädchen (“Bikini girls”), whose natural pubic hair bulges out of their knickers, and the Pferd und Frau series (“Horse and woman”), which borrows from Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. These pictures, which play on gender clichés and chauvinism, affirm the reproaches made by advocates of political correctness. In the overstrung atmosphere which envelops the discourse on social regulation, they set pulses racing: “Because it doesn’t do art any favours if everything is politically correct”, says the artist. He sees the freedom of art as being restricted when it is exploited for socio-political ends, as in documenta 14 “Learning from Athens”: “After all, I’m not a court jester who’s dedicated himself to the service of society.” Yet the mesh of a net, woven by the dominant debate on self-understanding, spearheaded by aggrieved individuals and know-it-all moral apologists, is becoming ever tighter: “The institutionalisation of PC is gaining momentum as a binding guide to how we speak and act in non-binding times”, opine Matthias Dusini and Thomas Edlinger in their volume In Anführungszeichen (“In quotation marks”). As an indicator of subjective sensitivity, one can turn to Kodritsch’s cast aluminium object entitled Enschy (Angel), a pair of “arse antlers” understood (or to put it better: carried out) in the most literal sense. Indeed, just one glance at this shapely feminine behind with its horny protuberances is enough to ruffle a feather or two.
Ronald Kodritsch throws ironic stylisations and over-encoded symbols to the observer like a bone to a dog – the same is true of the works’ titles. Speculation is the order of the day.
The example described at the outset, for instance, begs the question of where the alleged mistake in the question might lie. The allusions and false trails laid by the artist often lead into oblivion. Mistakes that may arise during a work’s production, and which Kodritsch himself says he actively cultivates, set in motion a mental game of ping-pong between observer and work. Fuelling doubt. “Work is permanent failure, destruction and starting afresh”, and “unsuccessful pictures are ideal to continue painting”. Thus sedimented colours give rise to a palimpsest. Traces of the past manifest themselves in the work’s aura and remain perceptible even when concealed. As such, the dilettantism that has been ascribed to Kodritsch should perhaps also be understood as an openness to failure in his interactions with himself and his own œuvre. The artist, who studied under Gunter Damisch at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, may have achieved a perfect mastery of his craft, but he continues to subvert the practices of “good painting” with hackneyed additions that follow in the tradition of art created by children, the mentally ill, and indigenous peoples. In this way, he is making a spirited contribution to the advance of painting as a discipline, echoing a sentiment already encapsulated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller in their classical writings Über den Dilettantismus (“On dilettantism”) with the succinct aphorism “passion before seriousness”. In Kodritsch’s work, impulsiveness is depicted unceasingly: he delights in the act of discarding, perfecting imperfections and, ultimately, construction through reduction. The artist continues to work with models, annexing the source of inspiration through painting, before subjecting it to a process of abstraction. This motivic thinning renders the original subject unrecognisable. In serial repetition, as for example in the artistic self-description Selbst als Büste (“Self as bust”), new correlations are then forged, alliances from picture to picture. There exists a semblance to a fictive portrait that has little in common with the physical appearance of the artist.
The questions and productive misunderstandings which Ronald Kodritsch constantly elicits open up new lines of enquiry, provoke interpretations and wrench painting from the clutches of a lethargy that has plagued the medium for centuries: “I’m open to all interpretations and find it interesting to know what people – including those without any prior knowledge – discern in my work”, says Kodritsch. It is about harnessing art’s intrinsic potential, both linguistic and associative. An aesthetic hermeneutics as a method of relaxation beyond rational legitimisation can carve out new pathways. In a similar vein, the title of a publication which the artist penned by hand demands: “Time out from the brain”. Indeed, the creative, artistic act can be conceived analogously. After all, as Kodritsch describes, in the best case scenario the artist must be able to “pour” themselves into the creative process, “paint into the blue” and give space for their intuitive sense of touch to take hold. To stimulate a state of ecstasy and shut out all thought. When that succeeds, Kodritsch works magic with the paintbrush. When he experiences a spontaneous loss of control while in the state of pictorial ecstasy, he opens the door to fluke and fortuity. Sometimes alcohol is his ally, placing him in the perfect state of consciousness, dispelling loneliness and evil spirits. But in Kodritsch’s œuvre we also witness the emergence of benign spirits, such as in the painting Painters little Helpers. Likewise the large format Sisters, which reveals striking similarities to Richard Gerstl’s 1905 work Die Schwestern Karoline und Pauline Fey (“The sisters Karoline and Pauline Fey”), the Flaschengeister (“Genies in a bottle”) and the Dame in surrealistischem Outfit (“Lady in surrealist outfit”), who floats headless through the image space, all portray demons turned into pictures. Hobgoblins who, on the surface of the canvas, as moulded figures faced with their own apparition, have lost their ominous powers. They recall the Freudian theory of the uncanny and point to an invisible world behind bare objectivity and the mundane imprisonment within the realm of facticity. Kodritsch brings to light the reality arising from the depths of the soul, which finds its expression in inner chasms, fears and desires. He is interested in those things that make us suffer, rejoice and shudder with horror in our innermost selves. The piece entitled Neue Haut für das alte Feuer (“New skin for the old fire”) represents another embodiment of sculptural imagination and is in a sense, to borrow from Arthur Schopenhauer, an “essay on spirit seeing and everything connected therewith”. The sculpture is a mésalliance of a monkey’s skull and a Madonna from Lourdes, which Kodritsch cast as a small bronze figurine. It is evocative of an African talisman or, more generally, of (para-)religious objects used in shamanistic practice, rituals or ancestor worship. These performative techniques broaden the spectrum of meaning implicit in the sculpture. Kodritsch produced a roughly three metre large design using epoxy resin and placed it in front of his house, echoing the medieval custom of installing spirit wards on church doors to protect against evil. With this apotropaic custodian figure, the artist wishes to expel both inner and outer spectres – “from haunted by ghosts to ghostbuster”. Through the conscious and unconscious digesting of personal histories during the creative process – the exorcism and evocation of psychic realities – Ronald Kodritsch lays the foundations of an aesthetic which enlarges the canon of the contemporary artistic project in remarkable fashion.