Stefan Behlau is a Swiss born artist who lives and works between Brussels, Berlin, and Santa Barbara, California. His most recent solo show, Gush, was held at Dittrich & Schlechtriem in Berlin in October last year.
The works presented in Gush continued Behlau’s practise of using acrylic paint from an LA-based supplier Nova Color to produce paintings initiated from the manufacturer’s sample cards. However, these works heralded a development in the artists process-oriented painting practice: having previously limited himself to a single gallon of one colour swiped across a standardized black-and-white canvas, the use of multiple colours allowed for greater painterly innovation.
After nearly 7 years working in contemporary art galleries, I can’t bear the drivelsome, generic and convoluted art burble that accompanies most gallery shows. So usually, I would attempt to bankrupt an online thesaurus in an unsophisticated bid to fiddle the words of the press release which delineates (thank you Thesaurus.com) how the paintings are made, but in this instance it might just be easier if we go with the gallery’s – actually very clear – description of the process. Lazy? Yes. Unprofessional? Indubitably. But most likely less painful for all involved. Here we go:
“Large portions of the pure, commercially packaged acrylic paints are poured out in circular blobs intuitively placed on a traditionally prepared canvas. Positioned horizontally along the studio table, a single aluminum blade hovering just over the surface and spanning the width of the canvas is pulled with precision in one quick movement across the entire length of the picture plane. As a result, the thick round pools of paint spring long elliptical forms with varying colors colliding and paint consistency competing, creating borders, line, and image. On occasion, trackmarks are left, skimming the surface between volumes, residue of the swipe and evidence of the process’s relationship to scanning, print media, even printmaking. In direct contrast to the quick automatic performative gesture, Behlau’s pre-production experimentation and physical preparation of the surface of these paintings is extensive, providing a proper stage and playing field for the resulting presentation of paint.”
Behlau describes his considered positioning and movement of colour as a sort of ”chroma gush”. Amorphic forms rendered in striking, not to mention originally named, colours such as Sun Gold, Hooker’s Green, Hot Pink, and Cobalt Blue. Created via a seemingly rigid, mechanical method, Behlau’s paintings exude life and energy.
Without wishing to reduce the process of looking at his work to mere child’s play, I must admit to enjoying finding faces, shapes and action amongst the inchoate forms: in the untitled work above left, I found a cluster of shrouded figures huddled together in prayer or contemplation, whilst the title image of this piece imparts an atmosphere of frenzied movement, people caught under the radar of a heat sensitive camera crossing a busy street. Whatever you may or may not see, I hope you agree that Behlau’s work is beautiful, arresting and testament to what can be created using the simplest and most basic of tools, colour and canvas, without having to resort to bodily fluids, or stuffed animals in an attempt to snatch the audience’s attention.