"I always hope that the combination is good - that what is documentary works with what comes from me, which are meant to fuse. So that in the end you don't know precisely what of it is fiction." Robert Frank, July 2000

Residence de la Balance

Klaus Hartmann in his painting creates a singular picture world that avoids any one-dimensional description. The artist (born 1969 in Eisleben, today living in Hamburg) works figuratively and always sets significant, easy to identify objects at the center of his work. Yet despite the obvious banality and the familiarity of the motifs, viewers very soon sense a distance when they encounter these depictions. They reveal, namely, a (literally) un-hinged world and appear strangely alien and wrenched from their natural frame of reference. The pale light that pervades many of his works from the past two years plunges the painted landscapes into an irreal coloration. Hartmann's pictorial interest is concentrated on the everyday world and Sunday amusements, for which reason garden allotments, walkways, Ferris wheels and roller coasters run thematically through his work. Yet these habitats are always deserted and doors remain ever closed. No one wanders across the high, looming bridges, and no visitor clampers into the fairground gondolas that reach to the clouds. In an untitled work from 2000 we recognize the usual furnishings of a beach vacation, but here all the deck chairs have been folded up and the parasols sheathed in tarpaulin by an unseen, tidying hand. In "Tribünenweg" (grandstand path), also from 2000, only a lone dog strays past. The carousels in the amusement parks seem to stand still. A repressive silence weighs heavily on all the artist's landscapes.

Seen close up, Klaus Hartmann's pictures turn out to be painterly constructions, even when they all originate from the artist's precise study of nature. The familiarity with their subject matter, which is what the museum visitor first senses, vanishes the more s/he tries hard to comprehend the logic of the total composition. Such an attempt is condemned to failure, for Hartmann integrates thematic breaks into his pictures that make his depictions seem like worlds collaged together out of fragments of reality. The irritation even succeeds when he, as in "Grüne Brücke" (green bridge), 2001, envelops a footbridge in a thick flurry of snow. He turns what is in fact a banal situation into a strangely alien scene and the blend of compositional elements into an almost surreal confrontation. Already the title of the painting "Ferienlager" (holiday camp) from 2000 provides an ironic distance to the subject it depicts. We see two modest single homes with peaked roofs attempting to hide behind giant planted tubs. These houses are towered over by three slender street lamps that on both sides are squeezed in by broad and slightly raised wooden gangplanks. These lead to a deserted landscape that in the backgroun d is closed off by a horizon line that is dead straight. Above this unreal venue a pastel sky with passing clouds looms, immersing the landscape in its wan light. "Verlorene Häuser" (lost houses), the title of a work from the same group painted the previous year, would seem a more fitting title to capture the mood of this 'holiday camp'. Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen gave his 1998 catalogue contribution to works by Klaus Hartmann the similar and more general title, "Verlorene Bilder" (lost pictures).

Sometimes, however, what seems to the viewer to be a montage from different fragments of reality proves to be but an objet trouvé from our everyday world. But then so arranged by the artist's cropping of the scene that the reality reflected seems manipulated. Hartmann is an intense observer who traverses his everyday world with open eyes and fixes every kind of notable detail and unexpected situation with his camera so as to evaluate them later as source material for his painting. The pagoda-like entrance to the "Restaurant Jing wei" (2002) set before a North German half-timbered house, the footbridge that seems to serve no purpose above the flat countryside "BBO" (2003), the inscription "Residence de la Balance" that serves him as a title (2003), which the artist discovered written on a mailbox in Burgundy/France, or the ad "Socken Import Landers" (2003) with missing letters and numbers spread meaninglessly across the surface: they are all found objects of this alert collector of motifs, Klaus Hartmann.

The French author Isidore Ducasse Comte de Lautréamont's description of the chance meeting of a sewing machine with an umbrella on a dissection table is what supplied the Paris Sur-realists with a model for a surreal perception of our reality. Hartmann's painting style and the build-up of his images take place on the borderline between just such a surreal world view and the contemporary realism of an Alex Colville. As his artistic claim Colville stated that, being a good realist, he had to invent everything. And in 1978 an exhibition at the Hamburg Kunst-verein took this motto as its title. While a Surrealist underlines the fact that situations - such as the constellation described by Lautréamont - are also conceivable in everyday life, the North American realist does not see his conception of painting as describing a pictorial truth, but as constructing a representation of it. Klaus Hartmann moves in the realm in between these two aesthetic programs that approach each other from opposite poles. This corresponds very well with his special interest in René Magritte, who carried out his surreal inventions in an artless, almost naïve painting technique. But while, with the Belgian Surrealist, the metamorphosis of the objects and the manipulation of different picture levels can be quickly broken down into their components, Hartmann's motifs remain caught in an ambivalent state of suspension and a poetic openness. His depictions seem to be taken from narrations that know no beginning or end. The footbridges, railway lines and gang-planks lead nowhere; uninhabited houses, unused deck chairs and empty carousels do indicate the presence of humans very insistently, who however make no appearance.

The style of Hartmann's painting and the objects he paints do not come to any kind of accord that could help the viewer to comprehend his picture world completely. But this is exactly what makes up their aesthetic and narrative appeal. These unfinished motifs-in-progress leave the viewer constantly in a state of ignorance: not one of the paintings offers him a one-dimensional, trustworthy interpretation. Hartmann is a naturalist who does not seek truth in this world, but creates in his pictures a reality that can boast a genuine painterly presence.


Text in catalogue Klaus Hartmann, published by Jürgen Becker Galerie Hamburg 2003
Translation by Jeanne Haunschild,
© 2003 Dietmar Elger, Jürgen Becker und Klaus Hartmann