in: Thomas Müller, Gezeiten, Zeichnungen/Dessins, (Ausst.Kat.) Galerie Schlégl, Zürich und Galerie Vidal-Saint Phalle, Paris 2009
In spite of the fact that drawing is booming in the art world of today Thomas Müller belongs to the few artists who work exclusively in this medium. His occupation with drawing goes back as far as the 80s during his studies in Stuttgart. In the first decade – until the mid 90s – Müller dedicated himself equally to painting. To emphasise this is by no means beside the point since the element of painting lives on and contributes essentially to the complexity of the drawings not only technically (with the use of oil and acrylic paint) but also aesthetically (with the development of coloured spaces and volumes). This is borne out in many of the works assembled in this catalogue (cf. e. g. fig. pp. 18, 29, 46, 61).
The development of the drawings can be followed easily over the years in Thomas Müller’s catalogues published from 1986. They document his persistent as well as open discourse in the field of drawing which gradually produced a wide flung and steadily expanding network of pictorial idioms. In the drawing process new pictorial elements are invented and developed further. There is, however, no trace in Thomas Müller’s work of what might seem an inevitable routine. Each drawing remains a new assertion and, thus, a venture sui generis. Take, for example, the drawing done in blue ballpoint, blue crayon, and pencil on page 14 in this catalogue and observe the exemplary ‘risk‘ of its pictorial definition – and its obviousness. What at first glance seems to be the result of a perfunctory activity of the drawing hand turns out to be a consistent structure ordering not only the vertical rectangle of the work but developing its own inner dynamism which leads us to perceive the whole as an energetic field. It is precisely this openness of the draughtsmanship’s language coupled with an often radically seeming change of media (pencil, crayon, ballpoint pen, chalk, Indian ink, acrylic, and oil paint) evident in this work that makes for the typical style of Thomas Müller’s drawings.
As most of the group-arrangements of his exhibited works demonstrate, the interaction of the single drawings is in itself meaningful. Quotations and refractions of the motifs developed in the individual works appear between the drawings as they are grouped on the wall. The allmost exclusively portrait-format drawings of recent years are mostly of equal size (DIN A4). In addition we more recently have sheets of hand-made paper sized 160 × 115 cm following the production of a sequence of larger drawings since the early 90s.
This catalogue of the current exhibitions in Zurich and Paris under the title Gezeiten includes works produced in the years 2007 and 2008 amongst which there are eight of these larger pieces. As far as their formal elements are concerned they share structural similarities. Take, for instance, the use of parallel or radial lines which, in spite of the different media, reoccur in many of the smaller drawings (fig. pp. 25, 28, 52, 65, 74). Thus, a kind of ‘mesh‘ appears in works done in acrylic or chalk which is, however, loosened up by the free hand (cf. also the use of glass shards in fig. pp. 23, 52) as well as by the flow of lines changing direction which again may lead to a modulated and graded structure of the mesh. In many drawings this is further thinned out. Occasionally, single lines drift apart in different directions entangling or disentangling themselves, thus undoing the parallelism followed over a certain strech (cf. e. g. fig. pp. 31, 57).
These examples go to show that, despite the continued venture of pictorial renewal seemingly leading up to isolated works, Thomas Müller does not want us understand his creations as being without precedent or wholly spontaneous. In the process of his work, in fact, leitmotifs become evident, fragmented perhaps, as we have seen, dissolved or subverted by other markings on the paper, ‘disturbed‘ or crossed. And the changing of drawing media from, say, pencil to paint squeezed on to the paper directly from the tube adds essentially to this process. The single sheet is then, as Stefan Gronert has pointed out, located within a wider context of pictorial conception and language: “Although each work is to be taken on its own, the different drawings seem to refer to one another. They form (...) a network of relations, as it were, in dialogue with each other. Heuristically this connexion could be described as a kind of family likeness.”¹
If we seek for the actual object of Thomas Müller’s drawings it seems obvious not to look among the figures and representations of our actual (or any fictitious) reality. Nor would we solve the problem by simply calling Thomas Müller an abstract artist. It would be rash to classify his drawings “conventionally as abstract, non-figurative etc. terms that evoke erroneous analogies. His drawings do, in fact, contain figurative and even narrative elements; nor are they fully abstract. Even though we are unable to detect any of this, it is inherently present.”² In the last resort, though, the viewer must opt for the actual work before his own eyes, as a measure of what he is seeing (thus reconstructing Müller’s field-research visually). Or as Blume insists: “The act of perception – and with drawings we are confronted with a particular form of perceptual culture – demands a special mindfulness; mindfulness towards what is in front of us opposed to what goes through our minds about what we see.”³
Many of Thomas Müller’s drawings force us to be mindful precisely when simplistic associations of external (e.g. landscape) figurations per se are unproductive or even useless, thus bringing us to see what we are looking at. What, for instance, do we experience when looking at the graphic happenings in the three drawings on pp. 4, 9, and 18? All three drawings differ from works whose surface is dominated by linear fields (fig. pp. 74, 79) by way of a particular area of the paper otherwise not or only minimally marked containing a shape vaguely perceived as a ‘concretion’. In the drawing on page 4 this concretion of the drawn line is marked by the course of the two light-green lines formed by applying the paint directly from the tube. These two lines, coming from the left as they flow from diverging points into the drawing, encompass on the right-hand side a horizontal hatching by pencil which creates an oblong rectangular area. This area is anchored laterally in the drawing by vertical pencil lines. On the left the ‘anchor’, consisting of a double line, marks the exact vertical axis down the middle of the sheet. In addition Müller has accentuated the rectangular field with an almost circular line. The clustered movement in this rectangle is further enhanced by linking (or, on might even say, securing) the upper green line to an area with a tiny grid-like pencil hatching. This enhancement is created by a wide brush-stroke of diluted white acrylic paint unfolding a discreet but decisive presence. Read from the left to right, the brush stroke takes on a sawtooth movement between the two framing lines before rising steeply upwards on the right-hand border of the drawing, where it passes over the frame and leaves the sheet. Shortly before that, however, the brush-stroke meets within the hatched area, in a descending movement, the lower framing line, which enhances the area in question in as much as it supports it like a plinth.
This drawing, as well as the one on page 18, goes to prove that Müller explicitly links picturesque and graphic elements in a number of his works. In a liberal and vivid manner they are accurately interconnected. The drawing on page 9 shoes how, at times, objectlike figures are created reminiscent perhaps of small ‘apparatus’ that are, however, only conceivable as and in a drawing.
In the drawing process Thomas Müller joins, skims, overlays, subverts, matches, and erases linear and planar components, thus, proposing his own hypotheses (as part of his field research) and putting forth his works and the act of drawing as a theme in itself.
Thomas Müller has named the exhibitions of Zurich and Paris Gezeiten (Tides); a name that places the central focus on nature and encompasses programmatically all the otherwise untitled drawings. This does not mean that his art is defined in the sense of Cezanne’s “harmony parallel to nature” where the artist builds his analysis from sensory impressions in and from nature. Detached from any illusionist mimesis Müller develops his art rather as a permanent and continuously renewed research into the nature of drawing and thereby turns ‘to himself’.
Gezeiten therefore becomes the artist’s metaphor of his own activity as a draughtsman. “A connotation of ‘Gezeiten’ refers to the cyclical recurrence of ever and the same. It refers to the way I work which is a continuous daily habit (as is the work on ever the same groups of formats). In a cyclical change certain motifs return again and again in different forms. Attraction and repulsion, breathing in and breathing out, vigour and laxity are poles between which my work oscillates. I see them less as a linear development than a spiral movement. I get the impression that my work generates ist energy and vitality precisely from these polarities and tensions. In other words, I require these diverging poles in order to be able to continue working and to constantly feed more energy into it; i.e. the energetic aspect of ebb and flow.”⁴
This nature-like, dialctical, and crative process is admirably demonstrated by the Gezeiten drawings. The flow, inclusion, and clustering of energies that grow nonverbally from the graphic creation and its essential possibilities of articulation make Thomas Müller’s work so special and essential in the context of present-day art. We are curious to see the result of his research into the field of drawing in future years.
¹ Stefan Gronert, “Offen Werdend. Betrachtungen zu den Zeichnungen von Thomas Müller”, in: Thomas Müller, Dreißig Zeichnungen · Stefan Gronert, Offen werdend, Stuttgart 2000, pp. 9-14, here pp. 10f
² Eugen Blume, “Gedankenfreie Achtsamkeit”, in: Kunstmuseum Bonn (ed.): Zeichnung heute IV: Thomas Müller, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2003, pp. 9-16, here p. 10
³ Ibid. p. 12
⁴ e-mail from Thomas Müller to the author (20th Oct. 2008)
Translation: Christian P. Casparis
© Andreas Schalhorn