Ronald Kodritsch – Seelenficken
Ronald Kodritsch names his latest exhibition of pictures in the artepari Gallery “Seelenficken”, and presents himself to us with mirrored sunglasses and a cool attitude, wearing the officer’s uniform of a foreign army. Has he finally been promoted to the Generalissimo of Austrian painting? Or does the title and the military pomp point us towards a more political interpretation of his newest works?
The violence and terrorism of the military has been far too present in the media recently for us not to immediately be reminded of psychological torment and physical torture in the name of an ideology or religion. The penetration of bodies and probing of minds often seems to become an appropriate means of achieving goals. Yet is it possible to consider a work by Ronald Kodritsch without his customary ironic slant? With “Mind Fucking” Kodritsch plays with the literal aspects of the English phrase, and portrays an ironic coitus of abstract and realistic trends of the last century.
The painting of abstract expressionism and l’art informel, often transported by art historians to a spiritual and existential plane upon which one brushstroke may be exalted as the manifestation of the painter’s mental state, is desecrated by disjointed references to daily life and pop culture, rendered almost shallow by their banality. Mind fucking as the permeation of “metaphysical” painting by the ordinary vocabulary of our tedious daily routine?
In the canvas which gives the exhibition its name, in front of an agitated layer of wild, thickly-painted greys, Kodritsch introduces one of his bubble outlines. A hybrid of speech bubble, child’s pacifier and hat, with its mischievous Pinocchio nose, whose length not only appears to indicate the degree of irony in the picture, but also fails to fully conceal its salacious ambiguity. The red symbol in the centre of the picture is not only an accent of colour or a shape placed according to formal aesthetics, but also quite clearly a stocking, or a backwards “L”, though the context remains unclear. An empty speech bubble appears almost mockingly, adding only an absence of meaning and pointing out the open message of the picture. Kodritsch similarly wrote the words “Bla Bla Blasen” (“Bla Bla Bubbles”) as an annotation on another picture created during the same period.
The (empty) speech bubbles are a common symbol throughout Kodritsch’s creations. Although the speech bubbles as a possibility of textual expression in an image was already being used in the banners of medieval illustrations, their pedagogic devaluation through comic culture has resulted in their being considered primarily as vacuous, trivial or inane. Speech bubbles are word-shells, whose often vacuous content seems inherent to their air-filled borders. It is exactly their pedagogical condemnation, their intellectual trivialization and their recognition within pop culture which seems to make their content interesting to Kodritsch, as well as his artistic predilection for round shapes and bubble-like figures.
Yet one cannot charge an artist with creating “empty” speech bubbles, as they only seem empty to us at first glance because we expect some textual content. Kodritsch’s speech bubbles, however, are full of his painting, and his painting provides the image’s commentary and statement. And his painting is never empty.
Even in his earliest works, Kodritsch worked very intuitively with the brush, and by doing so emphasized the abstract quality of his painting. Yet he never leaves these gestural strokes, smears and wild overlapping layers to stand alone, instead supplying them with fragments of reality and disjointed elements of his previous visual lexicon which emerge from the image’s abstract foundation. Such components include colour palettes, sunglasses, stockings or the wide grin of the Cheshire cat, which, along with other elements, seem to refer back to the artist himself. In some pictures it is indeed very easy to imagine Ronald Kodritsch’s own mischievous grin, as some viewers perhaps confoundedly shake their heads at jovial titles such as “Another failed attempt at painting a rainbow”, or “Excuse me, I’ve just lost my balls”. It is these witty links between the intuitive and the calculated, these narrative treasures, which have become his trademark.
In the construction of his imagery, Kodritsch refers again and again to the visual universe of fairytales and mythologies, and even to concepts of paganism as a source of inspiration. Ghosts, witches, gnomes and spirits of all shapes and sizes show up in his paintings. Medicine and science imply that such spirits and phantoms appear as a result of hallucinations, and it is certainly Kodritsch’s intention to create a similar mystification of meaning and perception. For Kodritsch’s “Sisters”, the stimulus for the painting process appeared in the form of an image of a pair of twins. The subject of two seated women, linked at the arm, undergoes an abstracting transformation and a translocation into a rudimentarily suggested mountainous landscape. From “Lottie and Lisa” he forms pair of Heidi clones and extracts an idyll of the Austrian Alps, straight out of the images of a tourism office, oozing cliché. Yet no stereotype can last forever, and in “Sisters II” he depicts the future of the pair of sisters (and perhaps also that of the cliché) under white bedsheets, as spectres of the organic milk producing Austrian Mountain Farmers’ Association.
Perhaps Kodritsch’s ghostly beings are not merely manifestations of the undead, half-dead and the seemingly dead, not embellished resurrections of banished ideas from the past, but rather symbolic representations of ethanol and other spiritual effusions: the artist himself as a visionary filled and inspired by this spirit. This may be the reason that Salvador Dalí’s moustache regularly inhabits Kodritsch’s visual worlds, lending a hint of the eccentric to its imaginative surroundings. Whether in a prominent position, as per the untitled work “Moustache and Bubble”, in a less conspicuous arrangement such as “Sculpture with Vision”, or in a stylized form in the pair of pictures “Sisters I” and “Sisters II”, Dalí’s moustache is omnipresent. The distinctive facial hairstyle, which retains the name of its famous wearer, was much more than merely the eccentric surrealist’s trademark, and Dalí claimed that its lengthy tips were capable of receiving divine messages, calling them his “antennae”. Spirit, eccentricity and strange twilight zones seem to be an integral part of Kodritsch’s visual universe.
Family Constellation in the Cambodian spirit world
With his picture “Family Constellation in the Cambodian spirit world”, he rejoins the theme of his earlier “Ghost Pictures” while adding a new dose of irony to the subject matter. In the winter of 2010 Kodritsch set off to Cambodia with his fellow artist Jack Bauer, to trace the ghost stories of Khmer in the country’s villages. Together with a translator they travelled from village to village, hearing stories of mysterious half-worlds and underworlds, with the aim of forming a supernatural library of the jungle. The ghosts of his Cambodian exploration now appear to be manifesting in his works. Four bowling pins stand behind, or on top of, a spirit which seems almost as if it is rolled in a carpet. The question arises whether ghosts in Cambodia also appear veiled in bedsheets, or whether this is solely a case of convention for convention’s sake.
In any case, the presence of four playing pieces over a ghostly figure constitutes the “family constellation” in the Cambodian spirit world. And, as a decidedly bold and free spirit, he is accordingly depicted engaging in an obscene act. The undead face seems to gaze covertly at the viewer from the two holes in its head, while its reanimated nether regions emit a vigorous sign of life. An ectoplasmic ejaculate surrounds the arbitrary family members in the shape of a stylized horizontal figure of eight, pointing to the infinite potency of that which lies beneath. Hormones seem never to die, and even have the power to reanimate the dead. Whether this offers us any insight into the puzzle of the piece’s title, however, remains to be seen.
Copyright Roman Grabner, 2011, courtesy artepari
Ronald Kodritsch, born in 1970, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Kodritsch lives as a painter in Vienna and Phnom Penh and works a lot.