(b. 1941, DE)
Portrait of Christian Günther in his studio.
Christian Günther, born in 1941 in Berlin, lives and works in Waldenbuch, Germany, is a visual artist known for his mixed media artworks.
In Stuttgart he attended the Free Art School from 1960 and the State Academy of Fine Arts from 1962. After a one-year stay in Italy with a scholarship at the Accademia di BelleArti in Rome, he started working as a freelance artist in 1968. Between 1968 and 1970 he took part in the film class of the Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart, with Harun Farocki and Hartmut Bitomsky, where he first encountered the cinematic work of Erich von Stroheim. His imagery was strongly influenced by the many years in which he lived between Germany and Greece, between Stuttgart and his estate near Volos. The light, color and vegetation of the Greek landscape have left just as deep marks on his oeuvre as on that of his wife, the painter Dorothee Ziegler. In 2001, after giving up their property in Greece, the couple moved into the Artwalden atelier in Waldenbuch, where they now reside and continue their artistic practices.
In this artist spotlight, we will discover the oeuvre of the German artist with an essay by Joachim Kalka, written back in 1993 for the catalogue that appeared on the occasion of his "Greed" exhibition at the Amerikahaus Stuttgart. Below, the selected works for this artist spotlight are more recent works, however, they still resonate with the essay in question in an intriguing manner.
Joachim Kalka on Christian Günther (1993)
With his GREED pictures Christian Günther has created a very strange and visually overwhelming body of work that calls for our closest attention. Over two hundred pictures in all – an astonishing œuvre in itself – highlight the painter's extraordinary inventiveness and at the same time his dogged interest in one of the great, indeed legendary works of art in this century: Stroheim's masterly movie, created (and mutilated by Irving Thalberg) in 1922-1924.
The parts of Günther's GREED project don't add up to one closed cycle – mostly they hang together loosely, splinters from the same complex plot, some strangers to each other, but all instantly recognizable by the viewer as parts of the same absurdly grand phantom performance on the flickering stage of a half-lost movie, where among massed crowds and painfully isolated faces Zasu Pitts' upraised hands or Stroheim's silhouette (images from within and without the film) appear und reappear like visual spells. There is an archaic secrecy to this – certainly – postmodern enterprise, where cinematic vision combines with a painterly fondness for tactile values and collage puzzles. Sometimes the movie image is rendered faithfully, almost like a slightly enhanced version of a still or even a frame;sometimes there is only a central focus that retains the movie's imagery while new and surprising figures, jostling and gesticulating, enter the perspective.
In general, Günther's GREED project has developed, in the longue durée of fifteen years,from an almost laconic precision to baroque "re-filming". The latest works again rely more firmly on draughtsman ship, after a long "painting" phase, but both these modes intertwine and react on each other continuously. During those fifteen years a vastwealth of techniques has been called upon to serve the artist's needs: water color and encaustic, lithographs and silk screen prints, pen and ink and wash, pencil and pastel crayon, graphite and acrylic on paper. Frank Norris' novel, doubly metamorphosed by Stroheim and Günther, whirls past in a seemingly endless variety of guises, variable as its own settings and props -backroom and desert, gigantic teeth and leering nudes. Günther uses close-ups and extreme long shots, often reversing Stroheim's original camerawork deliberately, pulling the movie's vast panoramas close to his paper screen and throwing smallobjects into far perspective.
While there is a rich store of single formats, some ordered series emerge: of desert landscapes or Stroheim heads. The serial principle is, of course, the film strip itself - Christian Günther makes use of it and tears it up again by continually inserting stubbornly "lonesome" pictures. In a way the artist's use of color follows the - partly hand-tinted - movie's logic, too, enhancing its inherent color up to a point and then breaking it apart and dissolving it again. There's a black-and-white skeleton to Günther's colorful pictures that does battle with the vines and tangles of color. The pictures - many of them worked over several times - derive strength from this contradictory fusion, they are wired by it. In several of them we see Erich von Stroheim shooting GREED. Others capture the director's ramrod relaxed stance, his perfectly elegant clumsiness wonderfully as portraits. Some of Günther's pictures are already lost to view, sold years ago without any record, parts of this world already scattered, somehow a fitting fate for these restless reinventions of phantom fragments.
It is well-known that Stroheim was fanatic about shooting on location. I think that Christian Günther joins him in this: he has worked "on location" indeed, has situated himself at the core of GREED, of this weird and wild and wonderful film that sprawls across movie history like a whole haunted studio by itself. The artist in his studio... In Stroheim's magnificent fragment there are, we know, puzzling gaps and rifts, is has its lost tribes of images. GREED was only allowed to survive as a huge torso, riddled with holes and maimed by invisibilities. Of course, our fascination is fueled by this fragmentary state. And Christian Günther has grown his own pictures in these interstices and cracks, strange and sometimes threatening crossbreeds out of Stroheim and his own imagination, where the original scenes of the movie are broadened or hacked up, where within and around Stroheim's fallen colossus huge new explosions of imagination scatter.
Montage and stage design, melodramatic snapshot and hieratic landscape merge and cross. A strange world of mud wrestling, murder and dentistry. Like other strange worlds sustained by an artist's vision, this fifteen-year-long road movie on paper is perfectly true. True to everyone concerned.
Selected works – 2019-2020
Christian Günther, Greed again, 2019. Installation, 63 collages painted over, mediamix – 260 x 202 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Christian Günther, In Gold we trust (1), 2020. Wax print collage, Mediamix and gold leaf on cardboard – 100 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Christian Günther, In Gold we trust (2), 2020. Wax print collage, Mediamix and gold leaf on cardboard – 100 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Christian Günther, In Gold we trust (3), 2020. Wax print collage, Mediamix and gold leaf on cardboard – 100 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Essay by Joachim Kalka
Edited by Sylvia Walker
Published online on 01/01/2021 by Contemporary Art Issue
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