Andy Denzler, Cuba, 2006 Oil on canvas 100 x 165 cm, private collection
I recently visited Andy Denzler at his massive new studio on the the west bank of Lake Zürich. The space seemed to tease as to what was about to erupt from this mild mannered Swiss who paints with such voracity, few artists today could keep up with his prolific output.
If I have a criticism of Denzler`s earlier work, it would be that it seemed calculated; too flash, too resolved. To write him off there would be unfair however. Firstly, his works are enormous canvases that do not read well when reduced to flat-screen pixillation -Rothko advised the viewer to have his paintings encompass their entire field of vision. Likewise for a Denzler canvas.
Secondly, more importantly, his work has evolved fluidly from slick, post-photographic abstraction into savage, multi-layered environmental end-times that pull Edvard Munch`s calling card straight from the dark rolodex of early 20th century painting. A sampling that reveals itself from up underneath the landscape bedrock of contemporary painting, that bleeds onto the surface of Denzler`s canvas.
Denzler`s work comes off as effortless, a loose canon that belies the hand of an experienced painter who is most certainly in command of this "imperfect medium". Watching him work reveals astonishing speed & temperament.
In his latest works, Denzler`s figures are no longer steamrolled à la Gerhard Richter with the golden spatula -the figure is allowed to court the viewer, to run & flail, to try and escape. No, the subject is definitely living on the outermost layer of Denzler`s "psycho-landscape". His figures are culled from recent media i.e; clippings, google, live models. They are then condemned for eternity to play out their dialogue with the audience on bleak realms. In the end, what is revealed to the viewer is a practicum in "painting for paintings sake" and a bold rejection of a cosy, winning formula. The final results are devastating.
Andy Denzler, Transmission, 2006, Oil on canvas, 80 x 70 cm, White Cube collection, London
Trevor Guthrie) The art scene in Zürich is thriving, nevertheless, an artist has to go outside of Switzerland to make a name. True or false and why?
Andy Denzler) A prophet has no honour in his own country.
Trevor Guthrie) Your early "Blur-Motion" work was thick, lush tones of muted color fields. Panels of carefully composed rectangular fields -unrecognizable as representational objects. You successfully kept the blur-motion technique as you moved into figurative painting. Why was that?
Andy Denzler) For more than a decade l painted non figurative and my abstract work had a reference to nature. Photographic or filmic color fields began to appear. They had a vague connotation of something hidden -one could sense something laying below the surface -like a long exposure time. These elements started to become stronger and I tried to develop a method to make it possible to transport my abstract vocabulary in to figurative motif -like black and white sepia portraits, one can see in my "American paintings" series they had a historical touch.
Andy Denzler Morning Mood, 2007, Oil on canvas, 170 x 180 cm
Trevor Guthrie) There was a radical change in your paint handling during your MFA studies in London. What influence did attending Chelsea College have on your painting process?
Andy Denzler) …a huge and inspiring place to be. To experience the free Chelsea spirit, to have all the possibilities, fascinated me and the fact that I wanted to push painting further -to cross the border in a more experimental way. This experience changed my work dramatically. I started out thinking: I’m going to paint over it anyway. It became such a loose, neo expressive way to paint. I was thrilled by not being dependent on any tools. Just purely enjoying the process of painting and integrating drips and mistakes.
Trevor Guthrie) One of your newest pieces "Flat Hunters Park", 2007 is a favorite of mine. Is this an autobiographical piece or do you keep some measure of separation from your audience/figures?
Andy Denzler) Correct, it has something to do with my own experience of running around and looking for a flat in London in 2006. I also spent a lot of time in Hyde Park, they are the most wonderful parks I have seen. I also wrote my thesis on the Grand English park tradition.
Trevor Guthrie) The figures in your paintings are sourced from photographs & your backgrounds are invented. Why is this and do you also invent figures & source landscapes? -the other way round?
Andy Denzler) Usually I work from all different sorts of imagery. Film, video, computer graphics, found images and of course my own photography. I was an army photographer resposible for documenting the Swiss topography & the like. Maybe that’s why I’m interested in landscapes and portraits.
Trevor Guthrie) The Scottish painter Peter Doig comes to mind. Are there parallels in your work to Doig, or is that too simplified?Andy Denzler) Doig is an important artist who influenced a whole new generation of painters. I appreciate his work but would not see a direct connection, his approach is totally different. Living in a urban western industrial environment influences my work very strongly. That said,I believe the content of my work is also inclined to be haunting, ambiguous.
Trevor Guthrie) A few questions relating to Art history.
In your painting: "Personal Ghost", 2006 I am reminded of Gustav Klimt`s "Die Drei Lebensalter",1905 or "Der Kuss",1907-08. More exactly, your paint handling infers an unconscious sampling of Klimt without hinting at decoration -a delicate business when painting. How far can a contemporary painter go in regards to decoration?
Andy Denzler) Anything goes today. It’s like you mentioned it already with the word "sampling", the best musicians today are influenced by composers and sounds from the 70’s or even earlier. It is difficult to create something new. Every single brush stroke has been painted already. One can only find new forms of combinations.
Trevor Guthrie) I see references to Edvard Munch when viewing your work, The northern European "psycho-landscape". There also seems to be compositional strategies that reference Thomas Eakins landscape. How is Art History important to you?
Andy Denzler) I am very devoted to Munch’s legacy and admire his work, he was absolutely unique and unreachable for his time. Each time I go to the Zurich Kunsthaus to look at his “Musik auf der Strasse” or “Winternacht” I’m impressed. My landscape compositions are usually invented, even my figures, which are based on photographs, are taking on new identities or even different characters appear.
Trevor Guthrie) Your "figures in landscapes" have an economy of means to them, a freshness that seems to be all about painting. Yet there is also a dark, brooding and apocalyptic edge to them. Is there a political message in your work or is it your own inner landscape?
Andy Denzler) Both, I try to use nature as a source for my own world, I attempt to express with my painting vocabulary and my own identity. Its a very vulnerable process but honest. It is also a current statement about this one & only world which we have inherited. I believe that painting can be very powerful -it can effect an entire society. One must only think of the effect Guernica had. Actually, one of my political pieces is hanging in the White House as a Trojan horse.
Trevor Guthrie) Name a few contemporary painters that you think will be remembered.
Andy Denzler) George Baselitz, Luc Tuymans, Eberhard Havekost
Andy Denzler will be showing at Flowers East in Hoxton, London from January 18th through February 8th 2008