Thomas P. Kausel
Thomas Kausel’s artistic program could be described as an unconditional return of painting to pure, unadulterated color. His theoretically motivated approach focuses less on the expressive values of color than on its material substance and its principles of order. The scientific meticulousness with which Kausel pursues this program is reminiscent of the longing for a radical objectification of art that was continually formulated in the 20th century and that particularly characterized concrete art. Ultimately, however, the free painterly treatment of objectified means of design points to the artistic qualities of a painting that eludes its complete objectification.
Kausel’s Colour Index (C.I.), published since 1925, is an instrument that classifies the approximately 600 color pigments available worldwide, of which almost 200 are particularly suitable for painting due to their high lightfastness, and assigns them an internationally binding code of letters and numbers. Unlike in physical classification systems such as Newton’s color wheel, the colors are not grouped here according to the wavelength of the reflected light and thus according to their appearance, but on the basis of the molecular structure of their pigments. Thus, even those pigments that are not considered related at all according to our conventional ideas, nevertheless belong to the same chemical group. Thomas Kausel uses exclusively unmixed colors for his works, which are produced with the pigments listed in the C.I..
His installation 6 rote Stelen (6 red steles) consists of six wooden beams, whose sockets materialize as many different pure red pigments as it were in space.
The two-part canvas works such as Blue B 60 (Anthraquinone) and the three other organic blues also each combine only colors of one group. Kausel starts from a freely chosen pigment, which he presents on the one hand as a monochrome image and on the other hand combines with other colors to form a geometric composition. Since the chemical classification by no means consistently corresponds to our perception of color, many of these compositions appear surprising and sometimes even daring. Thus Kausel, whose work is in the enlightened tradition of Josef Albers’ oeuvre, breaks up our usual thinking in terms of well-tried color schemes and harmonies and forces a new look at a seemingly familiar phenomenon.
By using a standardized classification system as the basis of his method, Kausel lends his works a scientific foundation, which does not, however, appear in the final painting form. For the C.I. determines in each case only the area from which the colors used are taken. The final selection is made in a free and intuitive decision by the artist, who is guided by his pictorial ideas and creative principles. Also the arrangements of the surfaces as well as the different kinds of the color application do not follow a fixed scheme and show thus no objectified form language. While some surfaces are of an almost impersonal smoothness, others are designed as dynamic gestural painting or are given a strong structure emphasizing the materiality of the paint through the use of combs.
Further qualities of the applied colors become visible through their different densities, which result from the number of superimposed color layers. For example, the same blue can appear in different brightness on two related panels. These creative strategies, which counteract the repeatedly formulated ideals of Concrete Art of absolute clarity and regularity, are supported by the application of the respective chemical codes to individual color fields. For by repeatedly twisting letters and not labeling all surfaces, Kausel denies these labels, despite their factual appearance, the function of a neutral instrument in the sense of a scientific coding of what is seen.
Kausel’s painterly oeuvre appears like a scientific series of experiments, systematically examining one by one all the pigments of the C.I. and thus fundamental conditions of painting. But for Kausel, the tension between the objectifiable conditions of the painting, i.e. the color distributions, and the finished painting as artistic production is always of decisive importance. Thus, although he poses a fundamental question about the role of painting with “Is painting becoming superfluous?”, he unequivocally denies it with his painterly work.
The diptych shows with dividing lines and the chemical names the exact areas and color distributions of blue B 60 (anthraquinone) and the three other organic blues. Like a score, it contains all the unambiguous factors necessary for the production of these paintings. Unlike other works, however, which juxtapose the general designation of a color with its painterly expression, thereby emphasizing the universal significance of the linguistic expression, Kausel’s juxtaposition reveals the specific aesthetic, emotional, and – this interpretation is also open to the viewer – symbolic qualities that elevate the executed painting as a work of art above its pure structure and chemically comprehensible substance. But for Kausel, the craftsmanship of the executing artist is decisive for the effect of his painterly etudes, which, while consisting of rationally determinable elements, nonetheless allow for non-rational, aesthetic experiences. Text Rasmus Kleine. Tobias Hoffmann Museum Director. Museum für
Konkrete Kunst Ingolstadt.
Text: Rasmus Kleine
Tobias Hoffmann Museum Director
Museum für Konkrete Kunst Ingolstadt