Sturm im Kopf – La Tormenta
An approach to the work of Alexander Höller (Munich, 1996) must paradoxically involve a necessary exercise of distancing on the part of the viewer. This should not be strange: the artist has transformed contradiction into a creative process.
The singular and extravagant image projected by Höller, the enormous media coverage of any of his actions and the great success achieved on the international market despite his extreme youth, should not distract us from the truly important issue: his pictorial production combines technical and plastic values, as well as rare intellectual and intentional qualities. A more in-depth critical approach allows us to discover a serious, involved artist, a great connoisseur of the history of art and of the springs of the different aesthetic languages, with an extremely versatile production that seeks to experiment and take on new challenges, blurring the distances between genres and overcoming the frontiers that separate the different arts.
Trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Höller can be considered the most recent offspring of the fertile German school of painting, strongly marked by the long shadow of the Neue Wilde of Baselitz, Immendorff and Kippenberger. It is possible to intuit, however, the artist’s desire not to pigeonhole his production under certain labels and aesthetic-thematic keys. And this should not be surprising: the influence of the non-style established by Gerhard Richter, who freed creation from the stigma of a representative mark and its insertion into a chronological sequence where evolution was the only possible path, is strong.
On the other hand, the young artist from Munich has understood that the post-modern pictorial field cannot develop in isolation and that its only possibility of validity lies in hybridisation, in mixture, in an uncomplicated openness towards sources, resources and processes taken from his own history or from other creative fields.
Höller’s work delves into the past, channelling all the inheritances received, opting for painting as a valid manifestation to listen to contemporary sensibilities and rescuing certain guidelines of preceding, now classic authors. But this same production also projects itself unequivocally into the future. Knowing how to modulate these contradictions, these discordances, to bring them together and transform them into assets is one of his great achievements, an aspect which gives the final result an enigmatic and timeless character.
One of his first series, Forest, is a contemporary reinterpretation of a genre, the landscape, which had been somewhat neglected by the historical avant-gardes and which conceptual and processual dematerialisation had not been able to recover beyond as a space for the event, although its presence was perceptible both in American abstract expressionism (Pollock, Motherwell, Mitchell and Frankenthaller) and in European post-modern neo-expressionism (Anselm Kiefer, Volker Tannert and Miquel Barceló), sources from which the artist inevitably drinks.
These telluric landscapes always appear under the painting, not on it, making the pictorial exercise a kind of magical process, which the more it tries to conceal the more it reveals about a topography that is real. It is known that Höller draws his inspiration from scraps of photographs, and this is where it is possible to point out another interesting aspect: thanks to the action of the artist-shaman, the image slips from being an objective paragon of nature to being transformed into another, different reality, an emotional, sensitive and therefore subjective reality. It is also known that the artist, once the superimposition of layers of oil paint has been completed, sands parts of the canvas (a variation on Rotella’s décollage), in a clear application of sculptural resources to the pictorial process.
In his production there has been an attempt to glimpse an epigonic reflection of German Romanticism. It is true that there is much of that literary and aesthetic spirit of the Sturm und Drang movement, but a close look at the canvases, their glazes and transparencies, the formal dynamics, the compositional complexity of surface and background, the violence of the gesture and the aggressiveness of the line, soon reveals that beneath hasty readings there also beats a certain baroque spirit. Of that central, northern European baroque, much more luminous, festive and celebratory than the southern baroque. And this is evident in the chromatic range: the palette of pinks, greens, golds of inexhaustible shades and hues. From the contradiction of uniting the expressive and mystical drive of the Baroque with the mental and dramatic passion of the Romantic sentiment, symbiotic results of transcendent attraction emerge.
Figurative and abstract are simple formal definitions which, in the case of the Bavarian painter, represent ambiguous and often permeable boundaries. If Forest swung towards abstraction, the series The Silent Scream, a tribute to Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893), implies a redefinition of figuration, a figuration that draws on the resources of interwar German Expressionism and synthetic Cubism as well as, without forgetting the teachings of Basquiat or Haring, the most contemporary graffiti or comics.
In this latest series, with its acidic and dazzling chromatism, Höller abandons the oil and brush of previous works and transforms the iconic image, through the use of spray paint and pastel, into a field of vindication and experimentation. El grito silencioso is not only an exercise in the search for a certain confrontation and social denunciation. Beyond this, it signifies an experimental renewal of the portrait genre, of a specific typology of anonymous and anguished portrait (in a line of temporal inter-influences that we can traverse inversely: from Bacon to Picasso, and from Picasso to Goya).
This pictorial cry alerts and places the focus on two key elements to understand our times: the isolation and isolation of the individual, grotesque in his desire to attract the attention of society; and the importance of the image as a mechanism to achieve attention that rescues him from this anonymity, even if to do so he must resort to the fallacious mirage of the selfie or selfie.
Iván de la Torre Amerighi,