The Survival of Paintings, Stephan Berg in Photoshop, Frankfurt 1998
The observer is overwhelmed, willy nilly, by the visual power of the colours. Red, green, yellow, blue, orange and purple assault us with a decisive force that makes it impossible for us to ignore them. Whereas other paintings, other colours, may well continue to exercise a gracious reserve, here they make a direct and "impertinently" aggressive use of their potential. No chance here for the subdued standard pitch with its finely shaded values, these colours vibrate with delight in their own presence, concentrated as it is in the material surface of the painting. No mystical areas of colour full of murmuring pathos here, no promise of absolutes and definitive pictorial solutions. Instead we have Photoshop: the availability and changeability of all pictorial material, made possible by digital technology, as the point of departure for a series of paintings which responds to this procedure with "classical" technical means, as it were, while at the same time countering the avant-garde's spiritually cool demand for purity with calculated violations, "contaminations" and ruptures.
Indeed what Thomas Werner drafts in his new works on paper may be taken as a pictorial agenda. But unlike the orthodox teachings of radical and concrete painting, his agenda does not adhere to a doctrine of clarity and analytical systematics, but relies instead on the concept of structural ambivalence. Werner uses vertical panels of paper as carriers on which, as a first step, he pours acrylic-based inks. The course the paint flows in is only slightly steered, so that the spontaneity of the gesture as in Morris Louis' poured paintings is largely preserved. The result is a pictorial ground which in itself could be a painting in which a dialectical tension is created by the contrast between the rivulets of colour and the white of the paper. Against the untreated white background, the colour streams appear ambiguous. On the one hand, notations authoritatively placed on a freely accessible pictorial field, on the other hand, indeterminate streams of colour in constant danger of being engulfed again by the white implacable nothing of the pictorial surface.
Adhering to this shimmering, wavering ground are forms reminiscent of anything and everything: ornamental shapes of a quasi-fractal character and with a tendency to serial self-replication. These shapes, which can be read both micro- and macrocosmically and whose dimensions thus seem ungraspable, are literally excerpts from larger "painterly" contexts. Werner cuts out a stock of pictures from medium-sized rolls of paper on which ink has been poured in a calculatedly spontaneous manner, as described above. After a somewhat tedious process of selection, these shapes are then applied to the coloured paper panels. The almost incorrigible spontaneity of the poured streams of colour which, from a historical viewpoint, also allude to the idea of the "hot", immediate, authenticity of the panel painting as sought by Jackson Pollock in his action paintings, for example, links up with the decidedly eclectic, "cool," construction of the shapes treated as picture modules, forming a contradictory whole. In these paintings, everything mutually denies everything else. Their synthetic impact, intensified by the Photoshop title, is actually the result of a deliberately "anachronistic" craft. The shapes, seemingly obvious pictorial motifs, are in fact extracts from a pictorial ground, thus allowing the pictorial ground itself to be seen as the actual motif. The organic flow of the paint confronts the artificial production of the colour forms, which in turn were produced by an organic colour flow. Paradoxically, picture depth and picture surface seem like two sides of the one coin, even though, formally, they are treated as distinct. Furthermore, the collage construction of the paintings undermines their spontaneous passages, which themselves contain such a powerfully devised moment that the construed parts take on the aura of free posits. Panta rei, everything is flowing. The "heat" of the works is at the same time their "coldness", and hidden behind their ambivalent structure is no lack of decision but rather the conviction that paintings can only survive today if they see themselves both as synthetic and thus discursive, and as personal, i.e., emotional. The contradiction inherent in these works is thus the basis of their contemporaneousness.