For hundreds of years, the starting situation has been the same for every painter standing before an empty, unstructured surface. Basically, he can react to the challenge in two ways. On the one hand, he might cover the surface with paint to confirm it, in other words establish a congruence of image and form; on the other, he can oppose the formal premises, transcend the picture format in painting, make it possible to forget it.
The latter applies to the small and medium-format paintings of Markus Saile, whose suspended coloration stands in clear contrast to the painting’s hard-edge geometry and the stable physical presence of the support. Since the end of 2008/beginning of 2009, he has been using MDF boards as a painting ground; the paint does not bind with this surface as it does with canvas, which lends it a high degree of autonomy. (1) In a painting such as Untitled from 2008 (illustr. 31, p. 61), right before Saile switched to fiberboard, this ‘declaration of independence’ in the handling of paint already becomes palpable; for this reason it warrants a short description. The work is a long vertical piece, with a horizontal application of paint that only aligns itself with the strictures of the painting’s edges in the upper section. Brushstrokes follow one another neatly until Saile disrupts his system in the transition to the middle third of the painting, where the brush marks vigorously break away in a downward direction. From this point on, the paint takes on a liquid, transparent, almost atmospheric quality, giving rise to an independent processuality the artist can no longer fully control. At times condensed, and then suddenly opening onto limitless pictorial space, Saile’s painting seems to change into another state of matter. While it covers the surface in the upper part of the painting, in the lower region the paint seems dematerialized, lucid, and suspended.
This is characteristic of most of the recent works of the Cologne-based painter, who sometimes seems like a late heir to the English watercolorists of the 18th and 19th centuries that sought to capture the shifting blues in the sky and the ephemeral appearance of the clouds. His medium, however, is oil painting, which he strips of every materiality, substance, and consistency. He radically thins the paint with turpentine, which lends it a pronounced softness and transparency on the chalk ground. In this manner, paint disengages from its physical nature to become wholly appearance, equipped with a high measure of color’s powers of seduction. Saile is a painter of color who understands how to orchestrate hues and color temperatures in such a way that their effects reinforce each other. He calibrates the colors in long working periods; rarely, a single brushstroke creates a particular emphasis.
An example of this is Untitled (illustr. 14, p. 34), a painting with delicate beige and other tones whose pictorial space is dominated by two superimposed dark-green brushstrokes. Its almost ostentatious appearance exemplifies the painterly approach, which never breaks down into isolated gestures. This also becomes clear in the example cited, for Saile contextualizes the green color accent by ‘repeating’ it in the lower left-hand corner with a brush mark related in form and incorporating it into the composition through a delicate adjacent form. In this manner, the apparently autocratic placement transforms into a structural element that serves to activate the entire pictorial surface. And this is precisely what Saile is interested in: not the individual trace, but the living surface that expands again and again into imaginary spaces. For this reason, his paintings are characterized by bright pictorial spaces that frequently open up or acquire depth towards the center.
Several works bearing these compositional features were also on view in the exhibition at the Springhornhof. In a variation on the Baroque repoussoir motif, which serves to enhance the illusion of spatial depth, veils of color frame a luminous center that possesses an almost surreal power of radiance. (2) Thus, the viewer has good reason to be reminded of painting concepts from the Romantic period, particularly works by Caspar David Friedrich. In his Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (3), elaborately articulated framing motifs enclose the view of a center that is in itself empty: three figures, two men and a woman, reflect from their clearly precarious position, quite literally on the edge, the boundary that separates them from the absolute, the beyond. Even when it remains unattainable, these nature lovers at least catch a glimpse of it as proximity and distance enter into a dialogue with one another.
And doesn’t this also apply to Saile’s works? Clearly, they do not have the religious or spiritual direction of impact that Caspar David Friedrich’s works have, and yet the association is nonetheless relevant, because in Saile’s works a modestly sized painting surface can open up onto endless pictorial spaces. We do not lose ourselves in them because the brightness of these areas affects the paintings’ appearance and allows the colors to radiate in a special way. Thus, the works combine a concrete sensuality with the brilliant luminosity of something immaterial that resists formal determination. This is why one might well call Markus Saile a painter of transitions. The flowing and processual nature of his paintings gives rise to a perception that surrenders itself entirely to the adventure of seeing instead of the search for certainty.
1 Markus Saile values the resistance of the material in painting. In addition, the MDF boards allow the paint to be washed off when the composition calls for a different color combination.
2 Cf. i.e.: Markus Saile, Untitled, 2011, oil on MDF / fiberboard, 31 x 27 cm, (illustr. 6, p. 17) or Markus Saile, Untitled, 2012, oil on MDF / fiberboard, 26 x 27 cm, Kaufmann Collection, Berlin.
3 Caspar David Friedrich: Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, ca. 1818, oil on canvas, 90.5 x 71 cm, Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur.
Painting’s States of Suspension
Markus Saile’s paintings in the Springhornhof