Modernity is Alive.
by Sebastian Preuss (2010)
The avant-garde – in its various permutations – is always present. Malevich’s elementary shapes, 20th century Constructivist tendencies, geometric arrangements from Bauhaus to Op Art, the grids and serial aesthetics of the industrial and computer age – all of this finds its way into DAG’s paintings.
Almost involuntarily, our thoughts turn to British art historian Timothy J. Clark who once called Modernity our Antiquity – a universal canon of forms and ideas that continues to nourish and feed our culture after all those decades. Venerable, ageing Modernity renews itself through self-reference and recurrence; it serves as its own fount of youth and rejuvenation. A highly topical phenomenon: even today, countless of artists pursuing myriads of different approaches continue to draw on this cornucopia, a pool of inspiration that might have forfeited its former utopian potential, yet retains the perennial appeal of an identifcatory model for cultural production and existence.
And this is undoubtedly true of DAG’s oeuvre: art in an age of unlimited reproducibility, its signature seemingly erased. At first glance, some pictures appear to have been generated by digital means. However, DAG pursues a very different path. While he does pick up on the issue of repetition and reproduction, he does not actually do it himself. What might look technical isn’t so. Closer inspection soon reveals the works’ individual methodology and the strong manual aspect that shapes it all – even in images dominated by prefabricated elements or simple basic modules. DAG incorporates sheets of coloured dot stickers, uses ruler and templates and restricts himself to the fundamental geometric units of circle, triangle, rhombus and parallelogram. These are the building blocks of his works, applied to the primed, white canvas with a humble felt-tip pen. While this might sound hackneyed or mundane, it involves a highly complex procedure. During creation, DAG unleashes a dialectic that eludes concrete words and definition: on the one hand, it doggedly obliterates anything that might be considered figurative or representational, anything elaborate and overtly artistic – on the other, it generates, as if by chance, pictorial effects, personal reflections and many idiosyncratic moments that catch our eye and force it to linger. Everything is unique, nothing repeatable.
DAG’s pictures seem perfect, but perfection remains an illusion. The flawless surface is nothing but a clever deception. According to the artist, “it is ordered chaos. A lot of it comes straight from the gut, but the process itself needs to be controlled.” DAG experiments with the illusion of an ostensibly smooth or technologically produced surface – an aspect that never actually enters into his work. Soon enough, the eye will stop at a subtle jar, at black-and-white rhombus grids, for example, that are a lot further from Vasarély than appearances might suggest. The structure reveals gaps and imperfections within the conscientious ruling. Applied irritations come to the fore, flanked by the odd slip and instance of carelessness inevitable in such a serial work. “Mistakes are welcome,” comments the artist. “But it is worth distinguishing between good and bad, helpful and unnecessary mistakes.” In one case, a composition of triangle rows dissolves into a muddled interior triangle; the image implodes, yet even the resulting chaos contains only triangles – disorder in order. Most of this is intuitive and the product of extensive trials. After all, the strictures of conceptual art have never held an allure for DAG.
Although he rarely reaches for the brush, his works are closer to paintings than to illustration, graphics, design or diagrammatical ideas. The “pictorial and picturesque” aspect – a term often criticised, here actually applicable – becomes especially apparent in DAG’s larger, airier compositions. Here, the artist applied myriads of tiny dots with a black marker pen. Taken as a whole and viewed from afar, the dots conjure up a wide variety of representational associations: clouds, shadows, erupting volcanoes, magnetic fields and other phenomena evolve from the canvas. Seurat and Pointillism come to mind and DAG has indeed researched this movement. He adopted – and adapted – the breakdown of shapes and colours into basic modules and subsequent reassemblage, the synthetic procedure from the smallest possible units – and then took it further.
DAG’s images are minimalist and reduced to the core. Often pervaded by a meditative mood, his pinpointed landscapes might even exude a romantic aura. However, this has not always been the case. Back in 1990s Berlin, he started out with a rather fast-paced, sleek, ornamental painting style and dove right into the era’s exploding club culture. Together with Jim Avignon he would enliven any party with feverish paint performances that might cover and transform the entire space within half an hour. They would tour all of Germany’s landmark clubs and soon received invitations to take their instant art to the rest of the world. In this, they became the visual figureheads of Berlin’s oft-copied and admired innovative, experimental music scene. A close encounter with Japan and the country’s pared-down aesthetics, but also a penchant for the abstract movements of the 20th century, introduced DAG to geometry’s basic shapes and the beauty of simple artistic aids. “I prefer to get my supplies from the DIY centre rather than the nearest art supply store,” or so DAG succinctly explains. And when he applies his “error-laden” grid compositions to old t-shirts, mounted onto frames instead of a canvas, we might consider it a nostalgic reminder of those wild clubby days and the era’s equally excessive paintings. Most of all, however, DAG’s images reveal: there is plenty of life in Modernity yet.