The work of the painter Raimund Girke might appear rather uniform at first sight. Upon closer inspection, however, his creative life, which spans some five decades, breaks down clearly into separate work phases, which can be distinguished from each other but are also linked. The homogeneity of his oeuvre is a result of his continuous and resolute development as an artist, with the colour white at the core of his art practice, along with the concomitant stillness and silence.1 This reduction to white enabled Girke to exploit the colour’s wealth of rhythmic, structural and surface modulations and the wide range of contrasts in conjunction with other hues. Girke took his white monochrome paintings to the radical extreme of virtual invisibility, to the point where boundaries dissolve, with a sense of the provocative – whose effect reverberates as much today as it did at the time – that he shared with some of his contemporaries, artists such as Yves Klein or Antonio Calderara. Klein, who influenced Girke and many others, was a pioneering spirit who encouraged experimentation with monochromy.2
“Colour as matter that is tangible and visible. Colour without meaning something but rather being something. Colour in which nuances shift, to be experienced as hardly visible and yet still tangible. Colour as something quiet that remains silent.”3
For Girke as a painter, the significance of the colour white was not iconographic or political, nor was it religious. His pictures do not make anything abstract, do not depict anything and do not deal with any philosophical issues; rather, they allow him to work with the utmost clarity and reserve. These works of art are autonomous, offering the viewer an aesthetic experience, depending on individual perception only. The aim is not to impose rigid constraints but to open up breadth, freedom and flexibility.4 The painter developed his visual formulations in the artistic atmosphere of the 1950s, shaped by the debate of the prevailing Art Informel movement and attempts to supersede it. In 1956, Girke turned away from the traditional compositional style of his forebears. With his tightly composed paintings, he began to develop his autonomous and thoroughly reduced manner of painting, while adhering to the inherent confines of a panel picture. White lends an ineffable quality to the Structural Paintings (which he began making in 1959) and the Horizontal Paintings (from 1963 on), rescinding their material status. Girke’s individual approach treated the picture planes to egalitarian articulation, working and structuring them in dynamic brushstrokes or calm sweeps of the palette knife. His colour spectrum ranged over nearly five decades from white-on-white, through shades of grey, to chiaroscuro contrasts in black and white. Earthen grounds beneath light surfaces were still evident in the early paintings of the Düsseldorf years but from the late 1950s on, white prevailed completely (fig. Weiße Strukturen [White Structures], 1962). The structures themselves also changed dramatically in that year: whereas earlier paintings were influenced by gestural painting with brush and spatula, in the early 1960s fine matrices of colour started to appear, sometimes applied with a spray gun, giving rise to white planes culminating in horizontal arrangements of painted elements. In the 1970s, Girke returned to very painterly visual statements with a gestural air – these represent his most radical monochrome painting phase involving encapsulated colour structures, for example, in Monochromes Farbfeld (Monochrome Colour Field, 1976). In the late phase of his work, from the 1980s onwards, his painting embraced a broader colour palette ranging from white through grey to other colour hues and, as can be seen in dynamisch (Schichtung) (Dynamic [Stratifications], 1991), exhibiting a more expressive use of the brush at this point.
1 See Gottfried Böhm, “Im Grenzbereich. Der Maler Raimund Girke”, in Raimund Girke: 1956/86, exh. cat., Berlin, 1986, n.p. 2 See John Anthony Thwaites, “Monochromanie”, Deutsche Zeitung (1960), quoted in John Anthony Thwaites, Der doppelte Maßstab: Kunstkritik 1955–1966, Frankfurt am Main, 1967, pp. 24 ff. 3 Raimund Girke, “(Farbe als Materie …)”, in Raimund Girke, exh. cat., trans. Pauline Cumbers, Münster, 1974, p. 4. 4 Raimund Girke, in William E. Simmat (ed.), Galerie d zeigt europäische Avantgarde, exh. cat., Frankfurt am Main, 1963, n.p.
In the exhibition:
Raimund Girke ruhig bewegt, 1963 Painting on textile medium 155 x 106 cm Kolumba, Cologne
Raimund Girke Rhythmisch, 1999 Oil on canvas 200 × 220 cm Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Museen, Permanent loan of collection Karin Girke
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