Günther Förg

Year and place of birth: 1952, Füssen, Germany Date of death: 2013 , Freiburg, Germany

Günther Förg was one of the most important abstract painters of the late twentieth-century and early years of the new millennium. With his postmodern work, he reacted against the modernist aesthetic in art and architecture. In the words of Rudi Fuchs “Förg used the formal strategies of abstract geometric art without adhering to the moral attitudes of modernism”. Förg himself put it much more simply: “You make something. You look at the space and you ask yourself what you could do with it. There are hundreds of possibilities and you choose one of them.” The apparent ease with which the artist conceived his work stands in stark contrast to its richly layered meaning.

Förg ultimately aimed to banish figuration in favour of a totally abstract, pictorial-spatial effect. He allowed the energy of colour to speak by means of intensely physical gestures and brushstrokes and wanted his work to have a spatial impact. Förg’s legacy mainly comprises murals, paintings and architectural photos. As a photographer and sculptor, he never lost his painterly eye. He worked intuitively, spontaneously and fast: “If you have to consider for a long time when painting, the work becomes constrained.” Förg painted the grid – a rigid pattern typical of modernism – freehand. Grids and rhythmic brushstrokes were both method and expression in his view (as seen respectively in his ‘Gitterbilder’ [grid paintings] and ‘Punktebilder’ [spot paintings]).

Förg became a professor and taught for many years in Karlsruhe and Munich, where he had himself studied from 1973 to 1979. Painting was dominated by neo-expressionism during his student years. In this period, he experimented with monochrome black and grey paintings. Förg’s later paintings on lead, aluminium and copper echoed these early works. After graduating, the artist did not immediately have a studio of his own. He consequently made site-specific wall paintings in monochrome colours. This influenced his enduring focus on presentation as an integral part of the creative process.

From an early stage, Förg also made large-format photos of friends and modernist architecture. He had a marked preference for steps, stairwells and windows. For his ‘Fensterbilder’ [window paintings] he photographed windows from inside to outside, paying close attention to their structure of horizontal and vertical lines, which also appear in his paintings. Enormous footprints were framed behind reflective glass. He was thus able to integrate the viewer and the surrounding space into his pictures. In certain exhibitions, Förg combined monochrome painted wall surfaces with photos or paintings, also framed behind reflective glass, as if these were architectural elements.

Günther Förg began painting on lead in 1986. He revealed the impenetrability of the metal and how the paint interacts with the buckled support and the stains on the exposed areas. His paintings took on an objective character that foreshadowed his later bronze steles, reliefs and ‘masks’.

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