As if you could hear the sound of color, Richard Schur creates visual experiences based on the transcendental qualities of color. For him Abstraction is a place of collective and personal memories, experiences and emotions. Through a long, systematic and intuitive process, he is aiming to reflect the meaning of every brushstroke and any detail in his compositions. Born in Munich (1971), Richard Schur studied with Jerry Zeniuk at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich, and graduated as "Meisterschüler" in 2000. From 2002 to 2008 he teached painting as Assistant Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich. Recent solo exhibitions include The Sound of Color, Galerie der Moderne, Stefan Vogdt, Munich (2017), Meadows, Cross Mackenzie Gallery, Washington, DC (2016), Manhattan Stories, Galerie Postel, Hamburg (2015). While recent Group shows include Ganz Konkret, Galerie Klaus Braun, Stuttgart (2017), Wendezeiten, CCA Andraxt Kunsthalle, Mallorca, Spain (2016), Break Ground, ART 3, Brooklyn, NY, USA (2016). His work can be found in public and private collections worldwide including Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Guangdong Museum of Art in China, CCA, Centro Cultural Andraxt, Spain, Agnes Gund Collection, New York, BMW Group Art Collection and Allianz Art Collection.
Back to the future
Peter T. Lenhart
Habent sua fata picturae… no one really believes in a manifest teleological development in art anymore, whereby through more or less dialectical steps art would come to an ideal final state, would arrive (finally!) at its inner self. Since this 'grand narrative' (and with it the inherent necessity of continually breaking up and starting anew) is no longer credible it has been replaced by an infinite freedom of choice of artistic approach, technique and expression. This has, at the same time, led to a necessarily more acute awareness of the historical past which immediately prevents the artist naïvely posing as an innovator.
Like many artists of his generation, Richard Schur grew up (both in life and in painting) in worldly-wise awareness of the fact that there will no longer be first paintings, just as there will be no last paintings. And, like other painters of his generation, he understands that falling back on certain vocabularies from the past is a legitimate possibility in this posthistorical situation. An interesting aspect of Schur's volte-face back to the future is that he does not relate to the avantgardes from the early twentieth century. Clear and headstrong, he refers to these American movements in painting of the 1950s and 1960s, which turned against the gestural mannerisms of the Abstract Expressionists in favour of a more or less pure 'color painting'. (Without having to jump into definitions of schools or eras, on seeing Schur's paintings for the first time one can justifiably be reminded of concepts like Post Painterly Abstraction, Color Field Painting or Hard Edge Painting.) And yet somehow this equation does not add up in the end.
The 'new painting', so Piet Mondrian postulated in 1920, 'is a composition of rectangular color planes that expresses the most profound reality. It achieves this by plastic expression of relationships and not by natural appearance. It realizes what all painting has always sought but could express only in a veiled manner. The colored planes, as much by position and dimension as by the greater value given to color, plastically express only relationships and not forms' (1). A passage which can very well make one think of the paintings of Richard Schur, especially as Mondrian wrote some years later (1938) that non-figurative art would evolve from 'establishing a dynamic rhythm of forms, lines, colors, and relationships'(2) and for good reasons Schur likes to speak in musical metaphors about his painting. Generally, associating him with Mondrian is not far-fetched because the young Schur was totally fascinated by his paintings, until he later focussed more on the expressive and gestural and from there came to his interpretation of Hard Edge Painting. If one could still believe in the above-mentioned teleological development of art history, one might imagine seeing here in phenotype a genotype development in progress - which of course goes way too far, and above all does not do justice to Schur's originality.
However, also without such beliefs, in this context one might think of Clement Greenberg (himself a great believer in teleology), at least regarding the distinction he formulated between Abstract Expressionism and Post Painterly Abstraction: 'Like so much of painterly art before it, Abstract Expressionism has worked in the end to reduce the role of color: unequal densities of paint become (...) so many differences of light and dark, and these deprive color of both its purity and its fullness. At the same time it has also worked against true openness, which is supposed to be another quintessentially painterly aim: the slapdash application of paint ends by crowding the picture plane into a compact jumble.'(3) However the painters of the new direction turned 'away from the painterliness of Abstract Expressionism as though to save the objects of painterliness – color and openness – from painterliness itself.'(3) 'Yet the ultimate effect sought is one of more than chromatic intensity; it is rather one of an almost literal openness that embraces and absorbs color in the act of being created by it.'(4)
Color and openness are (besides rhythm and balance) central terms in Schur's painting. His interpretation of these terms is, however, different from the interpretation of the painters that Clement Greenberg speaks of: no few large shapes that stand in a silent and static relationship to one another but a multitude of small rectangular color fields (and sometimes lines), lying over, under and next to one another and bickering with one another. Tension is not only created by the interaction between the different colors but more basically through the varying relationships between seeming fore- and background: which color is on which? Which color is under which? Which color has which weight in comparison to another color? These relationships, that seem to shift permanently when looking longer at the painting, give a strong, ever-changing, oscillating dynamic to the painting – as do the relationships between the sizes of the color planes and the arrangement of the different rectangles to a whole.
Openness is central to Schur twice: once under the aspect of the receptive-aesthetic (which is evident), once related to the process of painting. Schur's additive way of working, placing various colors and forms next to or over another, is (within his system) an intuitive and open way of working, a series of decisions building on and dependent on one another – as is clearly visible in the paintings. Here the historical analogy more or less stands: because every reference in a painting to how it was made undermines the ideal of the pure and autonomous color-space, builds on unfractured flatness and so brings something like 'hand-writing'(5) back into the game – an approach which Greenberg believed to have been overcome in favor of 'a relatively anonymous execution'(5).
Taking a closer look it even gets worse: Schur's paintings turn out to be full of small, painterly moments, visible traces of the brush, running paint, grubby edges, little spots and other 'mistakes': the impression on first sight of a post-painterly style is deceptive. And however thoroughly Schur's paint-ings reflect on the conditions and the immanent or essential qualities of painting (the flatness, the shape of the canvas, the characteristics of color): when he fills, in his newest paintings, particular fields with the absence of paint (putting into focus the material picture carrier), then, at least, these haptic and sculptural connotations return, that Modernism had wanted eliminated 'in the name of the purely and literally optical'(6). Color suddenly seems a material object on another material object, thus annihilating the immaterial, transcendent color-space. The painting as an object is thrown back into threedimensional, real space.
'Painting', in Schur's implicit definition, means continuing and constitutive ambiguity: under and over, before and after, subjectivity and objectivity, plan and spontaneity, two- and threedimensionality, material and transcendent, rules and violation of rules, historical references and individual positioning embrace and threaten each other as do the visible colorfields. And a crucial appeal of Schur's painting lies in precisely these intentionally carried and carried out conflicts.
The appeal also derives from the feedbacks and echoes in the historical resonance-room, that come up when today's questions are brought up and reflected in the garments of yesterday, the possible answers to which may very well have to do more with tomorrow: Schur has a sure 'flair for the topical', that 'stirs in the thicket of the long ago', for 'the tiger's-leap into the past (7) (to borrow a phrase from Walter Benjamin). The direction of this jump is, to be precise, 'back to the future', and the contradictions mentioned before prove to be a wonderfully erratic flux-capacitor, that reliably provide the necessary energy (1.21 gigawatts of electric power! 88 miles per hour!), however one can never be sure, into which possible future one will be transferred. That is the big difference from the past: one 'knew' for sure – as mentioned at the start – where art was going, but unfortunately did not have a time-machine.
P. S.: Maybe with painting it is as with a philosophy, of which Adorno once wrote that even one, 'which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed'(8).
Translation by Sharon Ebbers
'Time circuits on. Flux Capacitor... fluxxing. Engine running.' From the movie Back to the Future, 1985, Directed by Robert Zemeckis
1 H. Holtzman and M. James (editor and translator), The New Art - The New Life, The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, New York 1993, page 137.
2 H. Holtzman and M. James (editor and translator), The New Art - The New Life, The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, New York 1993, page 305.
3 Clement Greenberg, After Abstract Expressionism, 1962, in: Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, edited by John O'Brian, University of Chicago Press 1993, page 129.
4 Clement Greenberg, After Abstract Expressionism, 1962, in: Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism Volume 4, edited by John O'Brian, University of Chicago Press 1993, page 131.
5 Clement Greenberg, Post Painterly Abstraction, 1964, in: Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism Volume 4, Edited by John O'Brian, University of Chicago Press 1993, page 197.
6 Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, 1960, in: Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism Volume 4, Edited by John O'Brian, University of Chicago Press 1993, page 89
7 Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in: Gesammelte Schriften, Volume I, 2, Frankfurt/Main, 1974 pages 691-704, here: These XIV, page 701.
8 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, in: Gesammelte Schriften Volume 6, Frankfurt/Main, 1970, page 15.