Alfred Resch: Malerei und Fotografie / Painting and Photography 2007-2011
Pick up this book and flick your thumb through it from front to back, and the first thing that strikes you is its satisfying continuity: a rich narrative thread that runs through these paintings, photos and mixed media works. Flickering sparks and dashes flow, then shift into lines; photographed landscapes blur into abstraction; the lines reappear, stretching over landscapes; images and colours interweave and permeate one another.
Born in Graz in 1962, Alfred Resch studied electronics and architecture before devoting himself to visual art: not only to painting and photography, but also graphics, objects, sculptures, mixed media, installations, videos, land art and light art. He continues that tradition of great Austrian universal artists who happily work in, and across, diverse genres and media. His output is prodigiously energetic: thousands of works, between 1981 and 2011 around 185 individual and group exhibitions. This volume covers only painting and photography from 2007-2011.
In one of the two penetrating essays here, Astrid Kury identifies Alfred Resch as developing “his own reality, wonderful colour balances that can be both abstract and have a real object as their starting point”. On examination, however, one discovers that — in disconcerting conjunction with their visual pull — the paintings are also resistant to perception. Resch takes adhesive tape and uses it in two ways: as geometric, horizontal lines that cover and reveal stripes of alternating images across the entire canvas; and as short patches or thin strips or waves that swirl in a multitude, progressively applied, painted over, and then removed. The result is baffling to the eye: it seeks a focal hold, a dominant perspective that is hinted at, but then shifts elusively. Time and again in Resch’s oeuvre, this stumbling block makes us stop and reassess what we are seeing, our role as a perceiver, and ultimately the mechanism by which we are seeing and trying to grasp the image. So each picture becomes a complex, unsolvable puzzle, yet one whose colours and density we enjoy puzzling over, even in our frustration. This simultaneity can be both unsettling and rewarding as a concept too. The superimpositions imply an overlapping of past and present, of moments during the process of production snatched into a framework that defies dimensional categorisation. This offer and then denial of an overview, the inability to pin down a temporal or narrative order — to solve the puzzle — is deeply unnerving to us both as beholders and as humans. Yet integral to it is the uplifting suggestion of endless possibilities and boundless potential, of multiple worlds.
Simultaneity and Resch’s formal concept, although seeming to run counterintuitive to photography, also flow through the second section, which documents Resch’s photographic and mixed media oeuvre from 2007-2011, prefaced by Wenzel Mracek’s illuminating essay. Many of the photographs here were taken at typical destinations: Cape Verde, Cuba and Lesbos. They often show indications of the tourist context: a Viazul bus interior, the inside of a taxi, in some you can even read “turistico” reversed across the windscreen. Shots of a rainy day in Cuba, through a window covered in a film of water, look very much as though they have been digitally reworked, and yet they are not: in fact, Alfred Resch is making a point of not manipulating these images. Instead he takes disengagement from the process further in that he shoots on automatic function and so the time lag between the sensor operating and the camera’s programme mean that the motifs are taken randomly. Added to this, he himself cannot have properly seen what was shot, so that, as Mracek puts it, “he has not been able to photograph the experienced moment”. This in an age where digital holiday snaps can supposedly both capture and retrospectively enhance ‘experience’. In fact, what we have here is an all the more authentic capturing of the holiday experience: the sense of disengagement, observation through a smeared screen, a melancholy sense of anticlimax. The unremarkable “motifs” –landscapes, houses — seem unreal, reminiscent of Impressionist painting. The lack of focal point, the eye’s attempt to decipher, the temporal and spatial sliding created by the movement of the bus: here again is the beautiful abstraction, the puzzle, the “dissolution of a fixed standpoint.” “If Roland Barthes describes photography as a reference for the presence of the operator,” writes Mracek, “Resch’s photo series seem to me to represent an attempt to establish an antithesis.”
The final series shown are mixed media and more obviously fuse the formal concepts of Resch’s photography and painting: first photos of La Gomera and Cape Verde, masked by adhesive strips and then reworked in oils as abstracts, “creating the impression of several images permeating one another”. Finally, the Sistine Portraits combine oil and collage, adding graffiti, cracks and text to portraits behind glass panels in which the beholder sees his own reflection.
This well produced book does justice to Resch’s colours, from the intensely dark oils to the pale photographic aquarelles. It’s a pleasure not just to flick through, but to savour over time.