< Florian Schmidt: Permutations and Transformations Between the Poles of Painting an Sculpture
With persuasive stringency and earnestness, Florian Schmidt’s works revolve around the elementary questions of painting in the context of imagery. Using antipodal strategies, the artist deals with the fundamental parameters of an abstract picture’s constitution, parameters that in his case refer to both two-dimensional and three-dimensional visual ensembles. In these works, a Constructivist-like geometrizing strictness encounters compositional freedom of form; rhythm and dynamic confront calmness and order, and a capricious lightness and reduction meet a consolidation and stability of forms.
Surveying the art-historical traditions of the formal language of abstraction and reflecting ambiguously on its repertoire and thought substance, Schmidt has for years devoted himself to a carefully-considered exploration of compositional combinations that is both experimental and conceptual – not least with the purpose of liberating the now hundred-year history of abstraction of its formal heaviness and making it relevant for the present day. The examination of abstraction commences at the beginning of the twentieth century with such pioneers as Lyubov Popova, with the Suprematist proponent of non-representational art Kasimir Malevich, the geometric abstractions of Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, and the abstract compositions of Wassily Kandinsky. With regard to sculptural abstraction, mention should be made not only of the Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Archipenko but also of the Russian Constructivist El Lissitzky. The genealogy of abstraction continues with the post-war avant-gardist Donald Judd and his “specific objects” as well as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns with their assemblages and flat reliefs; it is carried on in, for example, the dynamic, analytical paintings of Imi Knoebel in the late 1960s. This was about the same time that the post-structuralist Jacques Derrida was writing his L’écriture et la différence (“Writing and Difference”; 1967), pointing out the significance of that which is unstated and invisible as well as the importance of empty spaces. Derrida opposed the structuralists and their fixation with ordering structures around a center, for “the center also closes off the freeplay it opens up and makes possible. At the center, the permutation or the transformation of elements … is forbidden. Qua center, it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements, or terms is no longer possible.”¹
This idea is present in the works of Florian Schmidt as well: one of the most significant characteristics of his images with regard to structural and pictorial composition is the manner in which he “plays” with the simultaneousness of the picture space’s openness and closedness. In a classic two-dimensional panel painting, the place where this demarcation, this separation takes place is at its perimeters: this is where systems are breached, where correspondences materialize and thus perspectives are opened or, as the case may be, remain closed off. The latter case corresponds to the claim to totality that Derrida criticizes when he notes that the center is “within the structure and outside it”: “And again on the basis of what we call the center, repetitions, substitutions, transformations, and permutations are always taken from a history of meaning – that is, in a word, a history whose origin may always be reawakened or whose end may always be anticipated in the form of presence.”² Analogous to these ideas, Schmidt repeatedly utilizes certain elements and forms in order to hold a mirror up to the exploration of relative strengths – and he does this in the area of stereometric bodies as well as with planimetric structures. While in the “Immunity” series, for example, extension parameters are still limited to those in the second dimension – even though here, as well as in earlier works, it is evident that the artist is already thinking in planimetric layers, with a consequential abandonment of a homogeneous, uniform surface structure – in the “Presence” and “Hold” series the constants that constitute the pictures reveal themselves through an open, playful expansion into a three-dimensional composition whose relief-like applications give them a tectonic appearance, the aim being a specialization of painterly qualities. What all these works have in common is the multilayered and complex way in which the artist handles the various materials and their manifestations, which evoke different powers and are specific to the surface and space in the sense of an ars combinatoria. The dialogue Schmidt generates between painting, object, and sculpture breaks down the boundaries between the disciplines and triggers a fascinating discourse with the frequently confused perception of the viewer. The pictorial, painterly structures, shapes, colors, lines, and surfaces depart from the closed form of the two-dimensional and expand into the room as picture corpuses with their own specific qualities. The result is that Schmidt’s fields of exploration expand into the areas between surface and space on the one hand and between picture and structure on the other.
In addition to the great importance that materiality plays in Schmidt’s works, color as an autonomous artistic device also assumes an essential, albeit reserved, role in his compositions. Schmidt comes from a background of “classic” panel painting and thus understands the tension-infused, delicate handling of color as a crucial parameter in the composition of a picture, even though this is no longer in evidence in his current work as a subjectively applied brushstroke. Schmidt’s objectivizing use of colors, whether they are predetermined by the industrially manufactured materials or applied by his own hand, not only produces the illusion of movement; it is also able – as a function of intensity, utilization, and distribution of color fields – to evoke spatial “action.” Schmidt skillfully juxtaposes color fields that “mesh” or draw a strict dividing line between each other; that produce harmony or subject each other to tension. As far back as the early 1960s Josef Albers was pointing out the energies and above all the existing correspondences between colors, and to their signal and effect: “In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.”. In Florian Schmidt’s experimental explorations, this relevance of color is given the same importance as the formulations of form. It is not least in this “standardization” of questions of form and color that the persuasiveness of his work lies. In the incremental steps of his serial working method, which emphasizes the production process, he contradicts the concept of an artwork as a sacrosanct entity, arguing instead for a variety of entities, which characterize the works with all their references.
Another specific feature of Florian Schmidt’s oeuvre is the archival aspect of his approach, in the sense that his current works contain concentrations – intellectual as well as material – of previous works. This trait, which can also be interpreted as a falling back on a reservoir from which the artist repeatedly draws, might indicate a genesis or an evolutionary principle. But through Schmidt’s manifold references to various earlier work phases and materials, this very kind of work chronology is deliberately broken and thus rescinded. In his testing of new constellations, Schmidt is much more interested in demonstrating the many compositional possibilities through newly established structural frameworks as well as repetition for the purpose of variation. Moreover, he is concerned with assessing the crucial definitional criteria such as color, texture, material, form, and dimensions as well as their relationships with each other. Because it offers the opportunity for comparison, the presentation of Schmidt’s groups of pictures as a series reveals in an impressive manner the coherence and stringency of his conception of a constantly changing configuration of relationships between differing elements. It aims at broadening and refining our powers of perception. What is striking is the wealth of formal nuances as well as the way in which he plays with the proportions of various formal schemes.
If one wanted to reduce the reception of Schmidt’s work to a dominant artistic phenomenon, one might say it is ultimately concerned with the question of the consonance or dissonance between colors and forms, which is to stimulate the viewer to reflect on surface and spatial depth, on appearance and reality, predictable and unpredictable, and not least on the visible and the hidden. Schmidt’s groups of works, intertwined on many levels, thus also act as a metaphor for the inadequacy of seeing and consequently for the variety of visual reality. With his works, Schmidt offers impressive modes of thought and ways of seeing, pointing out to the viewer the discrepancy between a picture’s actuality and its effect.
I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation first and foremost to the artist, Florian Schmidt, whose great commitment made this publication possible. Special thanks go to the curator Stephanie Damianitsch, who in collaboration with the artist oversaw the production of this catalogue with great expertise and organizational competence and, along with Joseph Akel, contributed an enlightening essay. Credit for the sensitive graphic design of the publication goes to Christof Nardin, while Silvia Jaklitsch from the Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg is responsible for international sales. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Florian Schmidt’s galleries, in particular Andreas Huber in Vienna and the New Galerie in Paris and New York, not only for their administrative support but also – along with the Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture, as well as the Provincial Government of Lower Austria, Department of Arts and Culture – for its financial support in the preparation and printing of this catalogue.
¹ Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 2002 ), 352.
² Ibid., 352–353.
³ Josef Albers, The Interaction of Color (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), 1.