For more than 20 years, Herbert Hinteregger has investigated the definitions, possibilities, and potential of contemporary painting with an extremely consistent attitude. Questions of materiality, visuality and spatiality, of transformation and temporality in work and perception processes as well as art historical and cultural references constitute partly visible, partly invisible levels in his paintings, picture objects, and installations. The ball pen ink whose characteristics Hinteregger has studied almost obsessively in his work, is one of his central tools. Beyond that it can also be understood as a metaphor for his approach: He works with a writing medium which is a pronounced product of the consumer society, but he uses it not in the sense of the instrument and its manufacturers, but by breaking it up, destroying it as it were, in order to transform it into something new: into an autonomous painting medium that expands the language of abstraction to new levels of expression and experience.
For Hinteregger, the dispositif of abstraction is not only a pictorial form, but also a form of thought, which in his work is directly committed to the visual and material culture of the present time. The integration of surfaces such as denim, tulle, and loden cloth, wood panels, foil, or mirrors, and the development of a form language ranging from various monochromes, dissolving grids, and barely visible nets to differentiated stripe systems are techniques that pick up on motifs from our contemporary culture: not in order to depict them, but rather to interpret them in the medium of painting and three-dimensional visual language.
Of key importance for Herbert Hinteregger’s work are processes of deceleration, concentration, and silence. He extracts the ink in a slow procedure from the reservoirs of hundreds and thousands of individual disposable ball pens. At a time of digital high-speed and economically efficient work processes this deceleration is a deliberately chosen strategy of resistance. For Hinteregger the processes of color extraction and of painting are connected with a state of complete absorption, a flow experience.2 This time-intensive, so to speak “analog” development of painting represents a position that formulates an opposition against technologies of an increasing flood of images and allows for only a limited number of paintings manifesting in sophisticated compositions, in which the proportions, material qualities, and colors, the surface and object character of the paintings are painstakingly coordinated.
Hinteregger’s works combine this approach of deceleration and reflection with an interest in the experience of nature, which flows into his work both directly and indirectly.3 The characteristic shimmering of the surfaces of various ball pen colors is not accidentally reminiscent of certain iridescent water surfaces. The use of ball pen ink goes back to chemical material analyses which Hinteregger executed as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The chemical composition of the coloring in connection with the painting techniques developed by him yield opaque, wettish-shimmering surfaces that let the brush strokes vanish while retaining a painterly vagueness. A basic motif of Hinteregger’s decision to make this kind of color his personal material goes back to an early idea of a reality transfer: the recollection of the dark water surface of a moor lake in the vicinity of where he grew up and the idea of cutting out a piece from this surface and putting it up on the wall as a picture. While his conceptual, reductive, but at the same time subtly expressive visual language relates Hinteregger’s works to certain New York School painters, in particular to Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin, it is the European interest in the perception of nature ranging from Northern-European Romanticism to Impressionism that expresses itself in his color spectrum and the material nuances of his paintings in which the dark blue, violet and pink shimmering ink combines with the natural colors of sands from beaches, mountains, and volcanoes, and with matte, velvety linen.
Through his titles, Hinteregger adds to his works a further layer of interpretation. The descriptive titles seem to tell us something about the paintings, to locate them in specific landscapes or link them with memories. But in fact, they have been assigned to the works randomly and emerge in a copy and paste procedure: For example, Hinteregger combines art-historical quotations as a reference to the pictorial concepts of Impressionism with names of actual, but little-known locations on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. Hinteregger’s picture titles function not so much as keys to the understanding of his works than as a level that is added as a playful transfiguration and associates in particular contemplative experiences of nature and landscape.
The path of abstraction in Modernism towards ever-greater clarity and visual purity takes a turn in the opposite direction in Hinteregger’s work, a direction towards diversity and material, spatial performativity. The art critic and curator Martin Prinzhorn described this inverted path in a text accompanying an exhibition in 2013 as “additive abstraction”4. In concentrating on selected systems of form, on specific materials and their visual qualities there emerges an abundance of differentiation, including and exploring forms of hard- and soft-edge, meticulous precision and painterly diffuseness, coolness and sensibility in his work. To the perceptive level of experience are attached ambiguous codes of form, color, and material that have been shaped by society but can be read as divergent. Thus the level of perception and interpretation becomes an essential part of Hinteregger’s works, which is reflected also in the fact that the specific materiality of the paintings, their immediate reaction to light, movement, and change of perspective includes the viewers in this conception in an almost performative manner.
The exhibition Untitled (Flow) explores Hinteregger’s multi-layered approach to painting in the form of a specific spatial staging of his works. It combines a selection of more than seventy paintings from the past fifteen years with a focus on recent works. The exhibition’s spatial concept breaks with the conventional verticality of viewing painting and its connection with the disembodied gaze that disregards space in order to get the clearest possible visuality. The radical horizontality of the “float”, the flow of images conceived by Hinteregger for the exhibition, enhances the presence of his paintings: their materiality, their existence as objects, their relationship to space and light, and their relationship both to each other and to the viewer.
The float was developed by Hinteregger in dialog with the architecture of the glass-roofed hall of Taxispalais and newly interpreted for the exhibition spaces of the Kunstverein Heilbronn. Both spatial settings have in common that they challenge the frontal perspective, as the seemingly unquestionable vantage point for the viewing of paintings. The concept of the horizontal stream of images that drifts through the space creates a relational perception that is not fixed on a predefined vantage point, but includes many possible perspectives that interact and complement each other.
The choreography of Untitled (Flow) at Taxispalais combines multiple levels of perception, interlocking exterior and interior space, distance and proximity, horizontality and verticality. The float is formed by a low platform of white modules, whose size derives from the modules of glass in the roof overhead. The platform as it were is a representation of the view from above through the glass roof, turning the hall’s side walls notionally into the horizontal, providing a background foil for the elevated panoramic view in which the individual works merge into an overall view. However, the float is not a direct reflection of the glass roof; rather it extends to the sides drifting in an almost defiant way through the space.
The excessive horizontality of the paintings results in a moment of perceptional friction which in the process of close exploration turns into a productive sensitization. The unfamiliar perspective accentuates the effect of shimmering of the ball pen ink, emphasizing at the same time the tactual qualities of the surface materials, which in addition to a coating of primer paint include fabrics, sandpapers, sand, glass, plasterboard, and veneering. The flow of the pictures through the space is reminiscent of digital image streams; the modular synergism of the paintings, their systems of form often containing distortions, breaches, and overlays, evoke in part the technological aesthetics of virtual images. Hinteregger’s image flow picks up this reference to the virtual at a level of association, yet undermines it fundamentally by enhancing the individual physical presence of the pictures through their horizontal staging.
The stream of images blends in the exhibition at Taxispalais with a flickering all-over installation of several thousand depleted ball pen barrels, which running through the hall’s glass ceiling connects exterior and interior perspectives both spatially and metaphorically. Hinteregger’s all-over installation refers to the pervasive grasp of mass production while at the same time undermining the mechanism of the throwaway culture through his own system of re-evaluation and recycling. Both the content and the housing of the appropriated ball pens are valued artistic elements in his work. The eye searches for structure and orientation in the dense weave of transparent cases with their blue caps, particularly as the individual ball pens are reminiscent of arrows or lines of perspective, finding only brief moments of stability in the flow that cascades, almost as if by accident, to the floor. The visual impression arising from the all-over installation much the same as from the staged flow of images is based on a performative perception that evades definite allocations and hierarchies.
The specific quality of Herbert Hinteregger’s painting and its conceptual expansions consists in the development of new and visually impressive pictures for the language of abstraction. His works take up pivotal concepts of abstraction like all-over, color field painting, the autonomy of materiality and visuality, and translate them into the present time connecting societal references with personal attitudes. Aspects like diversity, horizontality, interconnectivity and contextualization, individual adoption and resistant deceleration transform abstraction into a more complex and entirely current language.
1 The specifically slow paced electronic music style of the late 1990s’ Vienna Downbeat and Herbert Hintereggers approach of visual and processual slowing down share a common interest in experiences of deceleration.
2 Cf. the essay “Slow Flow” by Cliff Lauson in the catalog Herbert Hinteregger. Untitled (Flow), Taxispalais, Innsbruck; Kunstverein Heilbronn, Cologne 2017.
4 Cf. the essay “Partially Gone with the Wind” by Sabine Schaschl in the catalog Herbert Hinteregger. Untitled (Flow), Taxispalais, Innsbruck; Kunstverein Heilbronn, Cologne 2017.
4 Martin Prinzhorn, “Additive Abstraction,” exhibition, October 10, 2013 – January 11, 2014, Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna.