The art historian, Wilhelm Worringer, said in his dissertation, Abstraction and Empathy (1907), that abstraction in art is an indication of little confidence in the present.
As I have been working abstractly, or better, non-objectively, for more than 35 years, I have to ask myself whether I have suffered from this lack of confidence. I grew up as a member of the so called post-war generation, and I remember the great sense of collective guilt. I am not really sure whether this memory was relevant when I decided to work non-objectively in my early 20s, but I was quite sure that the majority of important ideas about representational art had already been arrived at, and that abstraction was the more exciting path. I am still convinced that in art, it is most important to say something that cannot be translated into another medium.
Worringer also wrote that “The aesthetic sense is an objectivized sense of the self,” and that “… the desire for abstraction finds its beauty in the … inorganic, in the crystalline, in a word, in all abstract regularity and necessity…” (translation of Worrigner taken from Wikipedia).
When I read this some decades ago, I found my artistic decisions and preferences confirmed, not least by the fact that I had collected crystalline minerals when I was a child. As a student, I traveled a lot and realized that I was far more impressed by the iterative wall paintings and patterns in—let us say—the Alchi monastery in Ladakh than by the Gioconda in the Louvre. Simultaneously, I began to understand and to appreciate the ideas of American Minimalism and especially the work of Frank Stella, who dismissed the European concept of relational art, and who contrasted it to the idea of a non-relational art. I was also mesmerized by the idea of understanding a painting as an object instead of as an illusion.
Today I am still fascinated by all these ideas. My scheme of “stripes,” which, in fact, are not flat stripes, but three-dimensional layers of color, can be an interesting example of non-objective and non-relational art as realized in a three-dimensional process of pouring a pigmented compound into a casting mould without recalling precisely the colors that were poured some days before. The resulting piece has its own vitality and is in some way the ally of the artist, not only his product. This is in contrast to the often-seen stripes painted on canvas, which can look like meticulous elaborations of images made on the computer—a lifeless result of soulless design. I feel that my works are like children—I always try my best, but each piece has its own astonishing nature.
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email Harald Schmitz-Schmelzer