By ILDEGARDA SCHEIDEGGER, NOV. 2014
The message conveyed by Andy Denzler's “The Girl with a Peach” is somewhat relativized; the rumpled sheets of the unmade bed in the background encourage the viewer to infer the fall of mankind. Similarly, assigning guilt in the case of St.Thomas is rendered obsolete in his painting “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”. The narrative behind the insinuation is not the issue - Denzler believes in the power of the painted image. Whether viewed from near or afar, a painting must act as a catalyst, initiating dialogue with its audience on both content and structural levels. In the “Devotion” series, we are confronted with portraits of people whose facial movements appear frozen in time. It is perhaps their lowered eyes that imply humility in their faces. Denzler often depicts his protagonists in this manner. In doing so, he diminishes the importance of the individual figure, depriving it of its influence as a central theme. The figure is secondary to the surface, its activity and movement disintegrating with time.
Denzler’s bronze figures, which he has been producing from wax and plaster molds since 2008, may also be interpreted along these lines. Irrespective of their minutely worked details, by introducing bands of distortion to the sculptures, Denzler aims to convey the moment that he has just effaced by taking this action. He wishes to overturn in a figurative sense the hierarchies of form and content, leaving behind distorted moments that have been extracted from their original context.
The oil paintings of Andy Denzler (b. 1965) clearly reflect his artistic approach of allowing his works the latitude to reveal everything or nothing. It is not simply their content that is important, but above all the method by which it is communicated. The Swiss artist’s works are statements in their own right, powerful and individualistic. Having had an early start in moving and still images – working at a young age as a photographer and filmmaker within the realms of media and design – Denzler developed a particular curiosity for that which is not obvious: surfaces, nuances of color and texture. More than ten years ago, his abstract painting techniques led him to his current interest in figurative art.
Drawing from his own photographs and public domain images, he paints internationally renowned political figures as well as icons of the entertainment industry. The complexity of generously applied layers of paint is the foundation of his work. His trademark is distortion, which he achieves by using a palette knife to blur the wet paint, usually in a vertical fashion. Through this process, he builds volume and dynamism. Landscapes are brought to life, garments flutter, the content becomes part of an unwritten story.
In Denzler’s new series of work, a metaphorical interpretation has gradually emerged. Not only is the perception of movement significant to the artist but rather the disruption of the viewer’s clear perspective, caused by the opening and converging layers of paint. Denzler skillfully employs formal elements of abstract painting, honing blocks of color into figurative representations. His approach involves a multilayered process. He begins with a preliminary pencil sketch, more recently also using thinned oil paint to begin laying out and defining his figures. He then paints over the sketch using oil paint, giving the image its identity.
Before applying the final, structural pastose layer, he adjusts the surface of the canvas, scraping the paint around until he is satisfied with the result. The top layer of paint is applied quickly; Denzler allows the colors to interact and converge, a painting technique he executes gesturally and swiftly with a great deal of focus. The distortion alters the image; when viewed head on, the deformed subject now appears as though it is being observed through a warped window, creating a certain sense of alienation. Although Denzler’s figuration builds a realistic foundation within his images, it is indeed up to the viewer’s imagination to redefine it.
The subjects in Denzler’s paintings are drawn from his own realm of experience. The artist finds inspiration in places, song lyrics, movies and current events. Well-known protagonists of society are of central importance to him. In his politically inspired portraits, the “American Paintings” (2005), or more recently, in his series of works depicting musical celebrities, “Empire Inc.” (2013), Denzler scratches out the heads of omnipresent pubic personalities in the media, relativizing their power through his use of painterly distortion. This particular approach enables the artist to distance himselffrom platitudinous reproductions as well as from abstract color field painting. His works can be experienced on multiple levels, either by formally breaking down the painting process or by exploring the metaphorical interpretation of the images.
Deciphering the thematic content of his works is not self-evident; the artist leaves this task however to the viewer. In doing so, Denzler emphasizes the equal importance of both form and content in his depictions. The artist’s renewed passion for reworking and shaping surfaces can be clearly felt in the series of interior scenes “Under My Skin”, as well as in his most recent works from “The Forgotten Palace”, which he produced as an artist-in-residence in Budapest during the summer of 2014. By according significant importance to the material, structure and details of these works, Denzler manages not only to emulate the building’s history but also highlight the connection between pure surfaces and concrete imagery. Baroque wallpaper patterns, rough plaster and individual decorative elements are rendered in minute detail, only to be lost again to the temporal distortion. By suggesting the ephemeral nature of individual moments, Denzler transfers these instants into a larger, existential context. His staged scenes bristle with subdued drama; the contorted, blurred figures appear calm, giving the impression of decelerated dynamics.
To this end, Denzler cleverly constructed his scenes in advance by collaging together several of his own photographs. These scenes, reassembled from real components, are home to individuals whose character can seemingly be read in their posture. Anonymous people, women and men alike, act out on the canvases. The viewer quickly realizes that it is not the perceived movement that is significant, but rather the distortion of this moment in time, the manipulation of one’s perception of the innate alter ego, the immanent counterpart of every human being. “Ghost in Me” also reflects this apparent shadow of a hidden objective. It depicts the individual behind the subjective presence, namely the one that is exposed nowadays in the media age. A visible spirit is followed by his physical being, who trails just a step behind. “Ophelia”, Hamlet’s doomed lover, becomes the victim of a nebulous shadow play. In Denzler’s depictions of this important theatrical character, the weary protagonist is seen gradually turning away. On another level, she recognizes her reflection, but does she also understand her fate? Denzler gives us a glimpse behind the façade with this metaphorically charged representation. We sense that there is something unsettling under the surface and we are compelled to analyze it.
The distortion of his forms, similar to long-exposure photography, challenges us to question human existence; the human reflection does the same. In “Touch”, the girl’s gaze into the seawater conveys a pressing desire to find one’s innate counterpart, to behold one’s true reflection. Denzler’s sole and formidable video work to date, “Motion & Distortion” (2011), illustrates precisely this confusing and uncomfortable situation with dramatic urgency.
The contemporary depiction of the young woman in “Vreneli vom Guggisberg” differs from the main character in the traditional, eponymous Swiss folk song, which tells the sad story of unrequited love. The preparation of the painting’s surface suggests however a complicated layering of events; Denzler’s tone-on-tone gradations of color blur the contours, emphasizing the fusion of the image planes. His paintings recreate natural and transcendent landscapes which confront dreams with truth and beliefs with reality; his imagery reveals the transience of the individual and how his / her actions are resolved. WM