Herbert Hinteregger’s painting espouses a conceptual approach based on the language of materials, starting from a time-intensive production process that is also intensively oriented on associative concepts such as deceleration, processuality, and obsession.
Ball pen ink has been his preferred painting material since the 1990s. Obtaining the ink takes time and a lot of ballpoint pens as raw material. Each individual tube is removed from its outer shell, the point is removed, and it is glued vertically to a slat so that the ink can drip out. It is hard for any outside observer to estimate the time required for sufficient ink to drip from the tube. A visit to Hinteregger’s studio suggests that it takes approximately an hour for about 40 drops to be obtained from 10 ballpoint tubes. This deceleration is part of his conceptual work. He deliberately slows the tempo – both of painting and of the production of pictures. After all, he could use blue ink out of a canister obtained from a wholesale retailer for his artworks also – as he did in a specific group of works in which he applied green, yellow, and red ball pen ink using a sponge. Hinteregger, however, intentionally selects this production process, with all its slowness. Flow is the title of the exhibition, and the sluggish flow of the ink is its starting point. Hinteregger consciously juxtaposes the swiftness of the world of pictures with this sluggish working process and with a reduced form language in his images.
Cards with coated surfaces are suitable palettes for the applying of the drops of ink. The ink stays in place well and can be taken up by a brush. Initially, Hinteregger used flyers of the kind found in any bar, but today he has plentiful supplies of exhibition invitation cards. He may be lavish with regard to time in producing his pictures, but he is economic and sustainable in his use of material resources. The outer shells of the ballpoint pens are not thrown away but used by him in installations. In a kind of circulating system, these shells create a connection to the pictures, and are presented together with them in an installation context.
Hinteregger originally wished to become an author; today, instead, he uses the ink from these writing instruments to produce his pictures. While writing is a matter of lines, painting is concerned with surfaces. From the exceptional material of ball pen ink, Hinteregger initially developed the possibilities inherent in working in monochrome, but for a number of years he has increasingly created variations on stripes alternating with untreated painting grounds. To apply the ink, he uses a brush with 0.8 mm wide bristle. Initially, grounding is applied to the places where the stripes are intended to look dark blue; they are then sanded and given a new grounding to prevent the ink from sinking into the carrier fabric. Only in this way can Hinteregger achieve his gleaming surfaces – with a thin application of ink, but with a texture that is entirely different in appearance to the carrier material. In conversation, he likes to describe how, as a young man, he looked at the surface of a black moorland lake in Tyrol and wished he could cut himself a square out of it. The surface created by applying the ink does in fact look like this image from nature. The extensive preparatory work, the repeated scraping and sanding, also serves to precisely demarcate the edges of the color on the carrier fabric. Planned, decelerated, considered action thus characterizes the production of his artwork, in these stages of the working process also.
Variations on the pictures are created by using different carrier fabrics. The fabric may be linen, but it may also be tulle, loden, felt, jeans, or brocade. The ball pen ink and the various fabrics on which he paints also require initial experiments and practice for familiarizing purposes; a comparatively heavily structured fabric like brocade poses quite different challenges to a more yielding and open fabric such as tulle or felt.
For some time now, sand has been added to Hinteregger’s painting materials. It appears on the pictures as a light-colored stripe with a very different surface. If the ink is dense, gleaming, and smooth, the sand stripes are light, matte, and with a light granular quality. Once again, Hinteregger does not use commercially available sand bought, for instance, from the building suppliers. Instead, he collects it during visits to the shores of the North and Baltic seas. He brings small sacks of sand to the site of art production, his Tyrol studio. This collecting of sand from beaches that are geographically distant from Hinteregger’s own location corresponds, in terms of the time-and-effort ratio, to the temporal economy of getting ink from ballpoint tubes. Without a doubt, Hinteregger finds a landscape experience compatible with his decelerated and contemplative process not only in the nature of Tyrol but also on the shores of the North and Baltic Sea. Both experiences of landscape are brought together in the pictures. Here, also, a conceptual approach to painting shows up in the production process.
The form of deliberate deceleration, waiting for the ink to drip out of the tubes, the precise and steady way of working on the pictures themselves; all of this has an obsessive quality and, measured by functional standards, also an absurd quality. The obsession with deliberate slowing down, the absurdity of refusing to deal with time more economically, is to be understood as an artistic expression in itself, one that characterizes Herbert Hinteregger’s entire body of work.