At last! technique and nature in harmony!

(Dr. A. Strobl, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich)

Layered streaks, swabs and chunks of color are permeated by scratches. In effect Christof Rehm's lithographs are just coarsely - for example with a cloth - smeared traces, but even so one does not see his pictures as nonrepresentational color planes. It is not difficult for us to associate these color clouds with classically structured landscapes with foreground, middle ground and horizon. Human perception is probably poled to this schematic decryption. The rhythm of the surface distribution allows us to recognize bushes, trees, barren meadows and fields and - usually in the upper third of the pictures - the horizon line, which is joined to a sky that, in its painterly treatment, is hardly distinguishable from the landscape.

The staggering of the bushes and trees and the high horizon afford these pieces an undertow that, as a result of the reduced colors and the clear, mostly vertical traces left by its application, is simultaneously re-integrated into the surface. On smaller format black-and-white sheets the artist has even intensified this spot structure. Fingerprints and larger dark areas produce a rhythm that stands for itself. The larger format landscapes still in mind, however, here again one also recognizes a before and behind. Thus in the spots one imagines a spatiality as is peculiar to landscape.

In the larger sheets the artist experimented with different color sequences. However the palette remained reduced to earthy and blunt greens, only supplemented by a mostly subtly shaded pink. At the same time the changing intensity of the individual shades and the sequence of printing operations greatly alters the visual perspective. At times everything is encompassed in one area, at other times the layering and dimensions become the main focus. A comparison of the black-and-white with the color prints shows how much the color reinforces the impression of spatiality. In addition, the pinks employed in the iris printing give the landscapes a mysterious glow that is made even more intense by the light areas of the paper.

As already the case with the photographs of Christof Rehm, one is also tempted with the lithographs to characterize their subject, the empty landscape, as „romantic“. But what can this hackneyed adjective still describe in fact? That these pictures lack everything that distinguishes central European landscape today? We find - in the lithographs, at least - no power plant chimneys or clouds of smoke, no transmission line pylons, no wind turbines - these grotesque emblems of our hope for a better management of the environment We see no roads and not even a settlement. But maybe it's just our way of thinking - or that of the author of these lines - that takes it for granted that our countryside should be marked by all this, so that our/his eyes no longer even perceive the emptiness - or, to put it positively: the freedom and tranquillity - of undisguised landscape.

„Romantic“, then, would not so much characterize an attitude of turning away from the present-day living environment and imagining an untouched idyll as the freedom to depict something that the photographer has indeed come across in this state. Yet the adjective „romantic“ can also describe the beholder's astonishment that an artist portrays nature with a radical directness, just as first done by a Caspar David Friedrich. But the beholder who is so surprised in this way must also notice that his gaze is thrown back on the mere streaks and spots over and over again. He has before him an artifact and not a copy of nature. (The photographs demonstrate this by the primitive recording technique and the clearly visible pixels of the large-format prints.)

The painter seems to have no trouble in depicting landscapes, they veritably flow out of his hand; but this impression of the origination process is broken again at once by the scratches, the grain of the stone, the layering of the colors. Christof Rehm uses printing technology to gain a distance to the act of painting. Moreover, the alienation of the image and the artistic style by the printing technique increases the distance between the hand of the artist and the chosen subject. The choice of these empty, extensive landscapes may actually manifest a longing - for peace, space, virginity - which, however, is broken again at once by the cool style. (Yes, we simply have to break everything in the days of postmodernism.) What is more, Christof Rehm is not a print artist in the old sense. The possibility of the interplay of colors in each individual print interests him more than what reproduction, for which printing technology was after all once invented, has to offer.

It seems to me that, with these lithographs, which he has created over the past two years, Christof Rehm has only made a beginning. The game is opened and the fertilization of the older medium lithography by the younger photography already shows that the work on the stone stimulated painterly elements that offer something different than photography. In lithography the technical examination of the image idea becomes painting on paper and, what is more, on the subject matter of the apparently naive representation of nature. The dialogue of the media can commence.

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