Udo Nöger: “Unconscious”

at Ruth Bachofner Gallery

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“Unconscious 2,” 2015, Udo Nöger
Mixed media, 74″ x 96″
Photo: courtesy Ruth Bachofner Gallery

Artists have always been fascinated by the beauty of light, whether it was the early masters like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, or Georges de La Tour, the romantic landscape artists of the 19th century, or Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Closer to home, the Light and Space artists from the 1960s and ’70s found a particular interest in the play of light. And although German artist Udo Nöger shares many of their light-oriented effects, his works are painterly and gestural. He stays within a small color range, from grey tones to whites, and creates abstract monochrome paintings that hover on the threshold of invisibility, comparable to the white monochrome paintings of Russian suprematist Kazimir Malevich or minimalist Robert Ryman. Nöger’s works are made of three different layers of fabric arranged one behind the other, mounted on a canvas stretcher. Similar to Italian artist and “Spatialism” founder Lucio Fontana, Nöger then makes incisions in the canvas, to create space and a view slicing through the painting. However, contrary to Fontana, he does so on the middle layer from which he cuts forms of various shape-roughhewn ovals, circles and bars. After painting around the apertures, he then covers the middle layer with a silk cloth, which is soaked in mineral oil to make it more translucent. Depending on how much natural light penetrates the surface and reflects back outside, it influences the viewers’ color perception, thus making his radiant paintings come alive.

For example, the work titled Unconscious 2 (2015) seems to be split up the middle into two areas. The left half appears loosely painted white, and somewhat distressed, while the other is simply kept in an ethereal light grey. In the center of its shimmering surface floats an irregular white circular mark, overlapping both sides and creating a contrast especially to the grey part. The juxtaposition of these two different areas creates a dialectic between presence and absence, or order and disorder. Because the show and title of the painting refer to a term in psychology, these works could be viewed as the grey and white matter in the brain. Sensitive physically and perceptually, Nöger’s subdued works reward subtle observation. His paintings are sensual and elegant, and make the case that sometimes the biggest effect can be gained through reductive means.