Ulrich Erben’s group of early “white paintings” (1968–1978) is distinguished by their marginal areas of unpainted canvas, initially more or less unprepped, where only the inner area of the canvas is covered with white paint, as is the case in the untitled work from 1973. The texture of the canvas also formed the ground for the overpainted inner surface, although the canvas was no longer perceptible under the painted surface. The resulting juxtaposition of related white tones was informed by an unusually high degree of contrast: on the one hand, the haptically and spatially tangible materiality of the white canvas; on the other, the painted white inner surface, which can be experienced visually and no longer plays a role in the haptic perception. The spatial and visual experience oscillate in the juxtaposition of the object-like quality of the actual existing canvas and the painted image area, which – with everything material eliminated and reduced to a purely painterly solution – facilitates the feeling of limitless space and expansion. This imaginary visual space arises directly from the surface’s lack of support. Erben’s halogen object of 1972 transferred this experience with painted pictures, in which the luminosity of the painted white tone also plays a role, into three-dimensionality: here, instead of colour and materiality, he worked with light and materiality. The result was a spatial work that no longer existed only in the imaginary realm but rather as a real work in space. It was intended as “existing and designed space”, according to Erben. “Integration and isolation. Suspending attraction. A geometric shape freely existing in space. By means of painting or also possible with light. Seeing divergent material together. The light gives the surface its position. Creating a detached space by the most economical means.”1
The painter created the large-format painting Ohne Titel (Festlegung des Ungebrenzten) (2017) around forty years later, after experimenting with various picture formats with different colour scales and materials: reference groups for the early years. These more recent, reduced paintings relate to the impressions and experiences he derived from the destroyed temple complexes of Selinunte or on his trip to Syria – both yielding artistic experience of dealing with colour, light, air and silence and generating extraordinary paintings.
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