Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Translation of "Von schwarzen Sonnen und heiterem Gemüt" by Thomas Bernhard

Of Black Suns and a Bright Outlook [1]
A Stroll through Salzburg’s Art Exhibitions

Pen-and-ink drawing is at its best when it impulsively emerges from chance events, out of the expiring day, the streets, the fish-market, the landscape, the liminally miraculous world of the artist.  Such is the case in the work of Anton Steinhart, who once a year heads out from Salzburg to the orange and palm trees, and travels along the sea, through yellow coastal regions, always near to the sun, which in no place but between Muran and Ischia is redder and more meaningful in its ascent from the shoreline.  Steinhart’s reed-pen drawings are no narratives, they are like the poems of Rimbaud, fervent and mystery-inducing, sometimes terrifying in their beauty, implacable in the strength of their faces, which in the course of time are excommunicated.  Life is sinful, art is sin.  The ecstatic severity of his India ink portraits is no less pronounced in his landscapes.  Over a hundred sheets from Sardinia, strewn higgledy-piggledy and rationally about the Welz Gallery, exude the freshness of the moment.  Cagliari—a compound of darkness and sultriness, the sea, the garden of Alghero, black, spinning matutinal suns, day laborers at the beginning and end of the world, the backs of hills and acclivities of karst, produce a tough-going and hard-bitten diary-cum-travelogue saturated by the unbudging and unchanging Italian sun.  After last year’s sheets from Ponza we now have a new, even more hard-bitten body of work—a veritable slice of wisdom.
In a single house in the Siegmund-Haffner-Gasse: Alfred Wickenburg and Wilhelm Thöny, founder of the Graz Secession, a colorist who works in bold hues, with a strong constructivist streak.  More than fifty paintings drawn from throughout the artist’s career attest to his achievement.  The arrangement of the pictures makes it possible to walk through all four decades of Wickenburg’s paintings, which are presented as four self-contained tracts of land.  Transition is fulfilled in form.  The exhibition would appear to be grouped around four paintings: “Portrait of a Dancing-Girl,” “The Girl Overcome by Sleep,” with its absorptive Chagallian hues, “Artists,” and “Fairy Tale.”  These are the linchpins of an artistic praxis that is peculiar to Wickenburg and that today would stand (alongside Boeckl, Thöny, and Kolig) at any imaginable summit of Austrian art, if only it had recognized and embraced abstraction, “spiritualization,” as its only safeguard.
On the Salzach, at the Artists’ House, a third exhibition has just closed its doors.  Rudolf Hradil, young and well-traveled, exhibited some paintings and drawings.  An all too rarely occurring commodity is his for the taking, namely: personality!  Art is not self-producing.  Hradil, who learned his craft from Fernand Léger, has succeeded in producing art.  What there is to see so far even has character.  His paintings are documents of their time and relevant to it.  Not just the day-to-day stuff.  Dark visions, austere songs of a believer, a philosophy of colors.  The southern latitudes are also an impetus to him, his themes are “Venice” and “Rome,” along with power stations and drunkards’ holes-in-the-wall.  The drawings are no less pregnant “findings.”  Findings that, after the first five pictures, really are enough to “contaminate” and age the finder.
Before we conclude our stroll, we must take a detour into the archiepiscopal palace, where the “art society” is exhibiting the appliqués of Veronika Malata.  It is a genuine delight to promenade amid the pictures and fabric-remnants, tulle and silk, velvet and peasants’ linen.  Great-grandmothers have long made the clothes they wish to be buried in out of such fabrics.  But how new and refreshing old age sometimes is!  To say nothing of the imaginative power that has given birth to such beautiful modernistic pictures as that of “Jonas” and his history.   What Veronika Malata has conjured up on these walls is certainly not high art.  She has been stitching and sewing away for fifteen years, and she has yet to learn that the product of her efforts is bliss.  Bliss sewn together out of colorful fabrics and a bright outlook. 


[1] Editors’ note: First published in Die Furche, Vienna, 23 July 1955, above Thomas Bernhard’s signature.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2013 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

No comments: