The reductive abstractions of Gerold Hirn
The recent painting of the 46-year-old Austrian artist, Gerold Hirn, involve a reductive palette with a preference for low chroma, patterned backgrounds and an automatic system of repetitive markings. The works, included in his second American exhibition, would appear to be involved with the ideas of minimalism and what has been described as pattern painting. But these new paintings, which are simple in format and strong in design and formal impact, offer few indications of the complex process and personal quest that led to these visual results. If anything, the new work is largely a reaction to the emotive, and even explosive, approach of the past twenty years. It represents a process of refinement, channeling the artistís enormous creative energy to seek a new meaning and clarity of statement, both on canvas, as well as in his private life.
In addition to a career as a professional artist, that began in the 1960s, Hirn is also an attorney with a busy and successful practice, as well as a widely published critic, art collector, and world traveler. All of these sources and ideas have found their way into the art through the process of addition, by absorbing visual stimulations and influences, plus an exorcism of them, in a quest for identity and individuality. Indeed, during several days spent with the artist in Vienna, the experience of keeping up with him proved to be both exhilirating, stimulating, and somewhat exausting. Hirn has the capacity to absorb and consume everything around him, from enormous cigars and quantities of Burgundy, to friends and collegues. Creating works of art, he paints four hours each day, allows him to find peace by expending the excess of energy that he has in abundance. It also presents the rather daunting task of understanding the totality of his world view as an artist and human being.
With characteristic wit Hirn commented that, 'The lawyers say that I am a good artist and the artists say that I am a good lawyer.´ During the noon break from his practice of law, he dons a smock and gloves to work in the studio for two hours, to which he returns in the evening. 'When I finish a painting´, he said, 'I put it near my bed to look at it, but I am only involved with the moment and the creative act. So I donít mind selling old works because I am doing my best painting now and have no plans or ideas for the next few years. The work itself dictates what I am doing as an experiment with ideas and materials.´
Other than what he describes as, 'some very good teachers in grammar school,´ he has no formal training as an artist. While he would have liked to study art and architecture, his father, a distinguished prosecutor and strict disciplinarian, stated that, 'Who pays decides,´ when it came to education. Hence the study of law. But it has proved to be a quite satisfactory arrangement. 'In German my name, Hirn, means brain,' he said. 'But I dont paint with my brain, I paint with my guts. It is something I have to do in order to find peace and to survive. I am a visual person so I am always looking when I travel and attend exhibitions and visit artists studios or they visit mine. It is important that I work but also I am anxious to receive critiques of people whom I respect and to get the work out of the studio and seen in exhibitions. It is only then that I am really able to see my paintings in context.´ The evolution of the work has been diverse and complex and yet there is a consistant set of interests and concerns. The earliest pieces reflected the influence of Fantastic Realism a major movement in Vienna. This period in his twenties, displayed an exquisite sense of drawing and design. The literary sentimentality of this style gave way to a development of violence and expressionism in a series based on illustrations after Franz Kafka as well as pieces about aspects of crime and punishment that paralleled his involvement with the study and practice of law.
The turning point toward abstraction, and a mature style, occured through the tragic loss of his wife, at the age of 32, in 1980. Shortly before she died of cancer, after an ordeal that lasted for nine months, he produced an exquisite, Picassoesque portrait drawing which he used to create a lithograph that was given to their friends. It would prove to be among his last representational work. During a trip to Central America in 1981 he studied graffitti on houses and walls as well as the inconography and calligraphy of Pre Columbian cultures. Back in the studio he began to paint over blown up enlargemants of color photos of these images. This led him into the sources of primitivism that were important to so many major 20th century artists. A later trip to China initiated an involvement with calligraphy and automatic imagery that poured out onto hundreds of works on paper. For the American viewer and ciritic, the paintings and gouaches of the 1980s would recall aspects of Abstract Expressionism. There is the similar involvement with gestural brush stroke, high chroma color, and all-over surfaces. But the term is closer to the meaning it had in describing the work of the Russian artist, Vasilly Kandinsky, during his Blue Rider period in Munich, or the surface and touch of the contemporary Spanish painter, Antoni Tapies.
Because of the diversity of his interests, both professional and personal, the process of selfdiscovery and maturation of the artist has been protracted. 'I must paint because I am not quiet if I do not paint,´ he said. 'It makes me free. Whatever I am doing, be it as a lawyer trying a case, as a politician, or as a critic and collector, as well as in the studio, I want to do the best I can. To give it a hundred percent. But I have come to realise that being an artist, and being successful as an artist, has nothing to do with talent or the time that you put into the studio.´
Hirn pursues the risky notion of having, 'many careers and interests simultaneously.´ Now that he is middle-aged, he has started to reduce his activities and creative energies. The new work is about reduction, clarification and simplicity. It is less about releasing the psyche, and its pent up energy, and more about semiotics and communication. The new works are easier to read and assimilate, but they are also representative of an accumulation of wisdom, resulting from an epic struggle to command and master the forces of life itself. Simply stated they are beautiful and resolved, mature works of art.
Charles Giuliano, Künstler, Kurator und Kunstkritiker, Ausstellungskurator für „The England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University“, Autor des periodisch erscheinenden „Maverick Art Magazine“, Mitarbeiter der Kunstzeitschrift „NY Art Magazine“, lebt in Boston.