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Thomas Kausel München Telefon / Phone +49 (0) 0152 04661 399
Thomas P. Kausel
Thomas Kausel’s artistic programme could be described as an unconditional return of painting to pure, unadulterated colour. His theoretically motivated approach focuses less on the expressive values of colour than on its material substance and its principles of order. The scientific meticulousness with which Kausel pursues this programme is reminiscent of the longing for a radical objectification of art that was continually formulated in the 20th century and which particularly characterised concrete art. Ultimately, however, the free painterly treatment of objectified means of design points to the artistic qualities of a painting that eludes its complete objectification.
With the Colour Index (C.I.), published since 1971, Kausel has at his disposal a set of instruments that classifies the approximately 600 colour pigments available worldwide, of which almost 200 are particularly suitable for painting because of their high lightfastness, and assigns them an internationally binding code of letters and numbers. Unlike in physical classification systems such as Newton’s colour wheel, the colours are not grouped here according to the wavelength of the reflected light and thus according to their appearance, but on the basis of the molecular structure of their pigments. Thus, even those pigments that are not considered related at all according to our conventional ideas nevertheless belong to the same chemical group. Thomas Kausel uses exclusively unmixed colours for his works, which are obtained from the pigments listed in the C.I..
His installation 6 rote Stelen (6 red steles) consists of six wooden beams, the mounts of which materialise just as many different pure red pigments in space, as it were.
The two-part canvas works such as Blue B 60 (Anthraquinone) and the three other organic blues each combine only colours of one group. Kausel starts with a freely chosen pigment, which he presents on the one hand as a monochrome picture and on the other hand combines with other colours to form a geometric composition. Since the chemical classification does not correspond to our colour perception at all, many of these compositions appear surprising and sometimes even daring. Thus Kausel, whose work is in the Enlightenment tradition of Josef Albers’ oeuvre, breaks our usual thinking in terms of well-tried colour schemes and harmonies and forces a new look at a seemingly familiar phenomenon.
By using a standardised system of order as the basis of his method, Kausel lends his works a scientific foundation that does not, however, appear in the final form of the picture. For the C.I. in each case only defines the area from which the colours used are taken. The final choice is made freely and intuitively by the artist, who is guided by his own artistic ideas and creative principles. Even the arrangements of the surfaces and the different ways of applying the paint do not follow a fixed scheme and thus do not show an objectified language of form. While some surfaces are of an almost impersonal smoothness, others are designed as dynamic
gestural painting or are given a strong structure emphasising the materiality of the paint through the use of combs.
Other qualities of the applied colours become visible through their different densities, which result from the number of layers of paint laid on top of each other. For example, the same blue can appear in different brightness on two panels that belong together. These creative strategies, which counteract the repeatedly formulated ideals of Concrete Art of absolute clarity and regularity, are supported by the application of the respective chemical codes to individual colour fields. For by repeatedly twisting letters and not designating all the surfaces, Kausel denies these inscriptions, despite their objective appearance, the function of a neutral instrument in the sense of a scientific coding of what is seen.
Kausel’s painterly oeuvre appears like a scientific series of experiments that gradually systematically examines all the pigments of the C.I. and thus fundamental conditions of painting. But for Kausel, the tension between the objectifiable conditions of the painting, i.e. the colour distributions, and the finished painting as artistic production is always of decisive importance. Thus, although he poses a fundamental question about the role of painting with “Is painting becoming superfluous?”, he unequivocally denies this with his painterly work. The diptych shows the exact areas and colour distributions of blue B 60 (anthraquinone) and the three other organic blues with dividing lines and chemical designations. Like a score, it contains all the clearly communicable factors that are necessary for the production of these images. Unlike other works, however, which juxtapose the general designation of a colour with its painterly expression and thus emphasise the universal significance of the linguistic expression, Kausel’s juxtaposition reveals the specific aesthetic, emotional and – this interpretation is also open to the viewer – symbolic qualities that elevate the executed painting as a work of art above its pure structure and chemically comprehensible substance. Yet, for Kausel, the craftsmanship of the executing artist is crucial to the effect of his painterly etudes, which, while consisting of rationally determinable elements, nonetheless allow for non-rational, aesthetic experiences.
Text: Rasmus Kleine
Tobias Hoffmann Museum Director