Matter Matters, or: Nothing but paint
Chief curator Albertina modern
Paint. Nothing but paint. In various nuances and combinations. Usually they are subdued hues, in greenish, yellowish, reddish and bluish shades that were consciously scaled back in their subjective expressive value. Occasionally a very dark, nearly black outlier. A contrast-rich emphasis of the form, of the line through the contour when it stands out against its surroundings. Eduard Tauss doesn’t resort to playing the joker card of colour, with its aesthetic forcefulness and emotional persuasiveness. The viewer is captivated neither by screaming colours familiar to us from Pop art – which adopted the visual language of advertising to win over the masses – nor by the sensational colouristic power explored by artists from Yves Klein and James Turrell to Anish Kapoor. Some works bring to mind the monochrome sculptures of Angela de la Cruz and Hans Kupelwieser, who generally make use of industrially prefabricated materials that are then deformed. But these kinds of comparisons fall short because in producing his objects, Tauss never resorts to the use of existing material components.
Eduard Tauss, who exercises the elegance of discretion and avoids both aesthetic superlatives and an apodictic terminology, blends liquid polyurethane with pigments of muted colouring, refines the shading and reduces the effect in order to guide the viewer’s attention. Despite an artistic attitude that constantly seeks appropriateness in expression, Tauss sows doubt: on the one hand he concentrates on the exclusivity of his medium, but on the other his works demonstrate that the primary concern is not the colour value and its long-time sovereignty of importance: “Decisions of colour are decisions of difference”,1 says Tauss, negating the relevance of specific hues that make an object “coherent” and convey something other than a material quality. The colour scale of skin, for example, can range from very light to brown to nearly black, but it still says little about its underlying materiality. The apparent contradiction in the aesthetic message of Tauss’s work – it’s about colour but then again not about colour (colour as chromatic value as opposed to colour as substance) – sharpens the reception. As Heinz Gappmayr wrote: “He is less concerned with the highly complex reality of colour than he is with the process of production, with the substance of the material, with the relationship between colour and material.”2 Colour is utilized in an extraordinary manner in Tauss’s oeuvre. He uses it in a way that is diametrically opposed to the habitual painterly manner of a more or less thickly applied medium that affixes figurative or abstract characters to an image carrier such as a canvas. He creates material gestures, colour objects that range from flat – only a few millimetres thick – to completely sculptural figures. In doing so he resorts neither to an additive (modelling) nor to a subtractive (carving) process. The artist usually gives the works self-referential names such as “Colour Plane”, “Hanging”, “Colour Shape”, etc., depending on their qualities and style. He regards colour and form as close allies that unify in the object and develop spatially: “The autonomy of colour, a concept that emerged in the context of non-figurative painting, is carried on here: colour has even liberated itself from its image carrier and through its own plastic substance becomes an expression of itself and an object of examination in space.”3 Colour thereby gains maximal autonomy, and the memorability of these objects has the power of a signature. In describing them, one is tempted to use a vocabulary that sounds as if it were borrowed from the field of textiles and metals: one then speaks of invaginations, folds, indentations, schlieren, bulges, burrs, fold falls, draperies and wrinkled surfaces in monochrome and sometimes even bichrome executions. Generally it is the departures from geometric axioms and intact forms that cause confusion on the part of viewers: “Formation and deformation are artistic means that are mutually dependent”,4 says the artist. In his works one seldom perceives sharp edges or pointed corners but rather irregular reliefs, soft transitions and organic curves. Modulated surfaces produce volume in a playful manner.
It is not surprising that some of these objects bring to mind John Chamberlain’s sculptures made of crushed automobile parts or Richard Prince’s painted car hoods. But this initial resemblance is a visual deception. Tauss is concerned neither with recycling scrapped goods nor with the study of everyday objects, clichés or status symbols. What interests him is the innovative utilization of a material, a material visibility that has been liberated from its history and its applicative character and is no longer bound to its exclusive flatness. Despite or because of their abstraction, these sculptures repeatedly trigger associations and in the case of certain work series bring to mind the materiality of blankets and pillows. Although the artist insists he is not interested in realism and consciously avoids “producing figurative relationships and similarities to design and nature”,5 various associations and references to reality cannot be denied. Some works have an organic nature and are reminiscent of veins, skin, flesh and the myth of the flayed Marsyas. Series such as the so-called “Baunzerl” (Styrian slang for a long roll) are more or less vaginally connoted and are thus titled due to their smaller dimensions.
All of these interpretations, however, contradict the artistic demand for neutrality. One would do better to abstain from them, as they weaken the autonomy of the objects, their work status – their material immanence. Sometimes the basic prerequisite for the successful reception of a work is to discipline oneself, to repudiate premature analogies and to strive, as it were, to accept abstraction and thus reject an overly playful and functional thought process.
One could speculate about Eduard Tauss’s self-conception and wonder if he is a painter who sculpts or rather a sculptor who paints. Even as a student he was fascinated by plastic materials, and since his first solo exhibition at the Steirischer Herbst (1991) he has worked with synthetic resin – first with polyester, then with polyurethane – and studied the materiality of this medium. From this a stringent concept developed that one could describe as the art of the colour form, as an exploration of the aggregate states between liquid and solid. Put in Neoplatonic terms, it is about the idea of colour that has lost its accidental status and constantly gains in substance in the display – pure paint that is not subjected to any hybridization with other materials and thus stands for the purity requirement of an Apollonian conception of art.
Eduard Tauss’s oeuvre follows the finishing straight of l’art pour l’art: his works are visually effective purely for their own sake. Here, art is absolved of its service to social integration or exclusion, to political betterment, to opinion-forming; it is absolved of its requirement to inform and of any other kind of stylistic or ideological obligation. Tauss negates what is in any case a much too long-lived art-historical narrative of depiction, acquisition, assemblage, bricolage, recycling and citation. His artistic solution develops the material-aesthetic reduction, but without ever coming under suspicion of fetishism. Tauss views the open-ended work process as an alliance with the material, as a perpetual process of learning with and from the medium, as a systematic formulation of material-related possibilities. In the repetition of spatially expansive sculptures, of flat works reminiscent of the square picture, of objects hardening on a wire hanging in the studio, he creates ordering categories of differently sized variants. This serialism without a compulsory chronology is what gives the oeuvre structure. The smooth surfaces reflect the light falling from outside as if they wanted to point out their own specific uniqueness, set thought processes in motion, assert themselves as the exceptional solution in the field of innumerable contemporary artistic approaches and individual actions. The sheen inherent in them is usually broken: “I do not strive to create perfect surfaces; rather, I allow chance to surprise me.”6 The actually quite simple but nonetheless never practised concept of visualising colour during the form-finding process, of investigating the stress behaviour and fragility of form, demands the restriction of authorial control during the production. The artist’s abstractly expressive gesture, the pouring on of the paint, marks the shift of emphasis from a static work to a performance of the production and the transformation of a classic casting process. The impulse – that is, the amount of movement by the artist as well as through gravity that impacts the unfinished object – describes the immediate interaction, condensed with regard to time, of artist and material: Tauss pours the liquid synthetic resin onto a plastic sheet on the floor, allowing for material thickness and expansion. When the material is “as dry as possible but has not yet hardened”,7 the work of hanging, bending and forming begins. Here, the artist is allowed only a few minutes of reaction time. Afterwards, post-processing is no longer possible. During this time the entire concentration is focussed on “allowing the material to realize its own intrinsic value”8 – a paradigm of the artistic development of the 1960s, when matter, material and materiality became both departure point and content of artistic production. In Minimal art, for example, and with artists such as Robert Morris and Franz Erhard Walther, the specific qualities of the respective material were in the foreground. Tauss, as well, wants to have only limited influence on the behaviour of the material when it dries, on oversights that occur during production, and on the final colouring of the objects. The choice of front and back side is also made only in the course of the work process. The colour mass is modulated during the hardening process by gravity: it takes on a visual form when it drips, runs, sags and wrinkles. Then it is the folds, sometimes also crevices and kinks or even breaks, that determine the works.
Ultimately the works by Eduard Tauss, undoubtedly a classic White Cube artist, develop their full impact when displayed. The modalities of presentation are variable, the broad representational spectrum ranging from floor objects to works that lean, lie on a pedestal and hang on the wall. This art is concerned with many things: with a non-affirmative aestheticization of the medium, with an impacting of physical forces during production, with a softening of structure and with the tautology of the viscous. But above all it is concerned with painting that unfolds in the space, painting that stages the momentum of the interaction between artist and material.
1 Angela Stief in conversation with Eduard Tauss in the artist’s studio in Vienna, June 2017.
2 Heinz Gappmayr, exh. cat.: Eduard Tauss, Vienna, edition ps, 2003, p. 14.
3 Michael Post, Heiner Thiel, “On the Colour Bodies by Eduard Tauss,” exh. cat.: Embodying Colour, Kunsthalle Wiesbaden, Edition PT, 2013, p. 72.
4 See note 1.
6 Ibid., as in note 1.
8 Ibid., see note 1.