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The following Interview is part of the catalogue "Zentralformen" , published for the one person show at "Galerie 5020" in Salzburg, 1994
Johanna Hofleitner and Kurt Kladler in an interview with Robert Schaberl
Your painting as well as your photographic works focus on "Central Forms". This also implies a formal aspect where the process is subject to a certain sensuality. By the same token, this reduction to round forms includes an iconographic aspect. Does one thing bring about the other? Or are these two poles that provide two different forms of access?
I am fascinated by the possibilities of a sober approach to sensuality. Painting is what I associate with it - its superficial quality, its materiality and tactility. In addition to this I see photography as a means of analysis. In the "Central Forms" I am above all interested in the following: Why does the round form appear so often? In nature it is a form of growth. As opposed to this the artistic circular forms have to do with what is practical. The best example of this is the wheel.
I have noticed this sensuality and a certain playful handling of technology and craft in your painting - more so there than in the photographic pieces. What relation is there between painting and photography?
The photographs are an exact documentation of my search for "Central Forms". Thus photographic exploration forms an important part of my painting.
Is there, in this process of painting, something analogous to the perfect form of a circle, a transformation into something gestural?
In regard to the gestural, in painting I am only interested in the dialogue with the material. What interests me is the concentration of light. And the question as to how a quality can develop from the surface, grow out of the surface, in particular its emergence from an imagined center which is not the same thing as the geometric center. Originally, there were arches, open at the top, almost U-shaped forms, which then closed. I arrived at the circular shape by moving the (organic) spiral shape. From then on the stroke of the brush became increasingly finer and the surface quality became more and more central.
So the illusionist aspect has disappeared. The relief has become flattened as it were to bring out the rather the shine and concentration. - In this context, how does the sober work at the computer compare, by which you process your photographs on the screen?
This machine "computer" can do certain things very well and very quickly. But it can never create a surface with ten layers. This is only possible in painting, which is much more direct. By contrast, the camera is an eye, which documents something, and the PC is an ideal tool for quickly producing and transforming sketches and for defining surfaces - metallic effects, hardness, etc. For me, however, both are not artistic means of expression.
Put differently: What does painting do for you?
For me it is crucial to fully master the medium - also in painting. That I do things that I only I can do right from the start: like mounting a canvas, priming it, etc. Apart from spatula, brush and material I do not need any tools.
Yet there is also an artistic intention in your photographic pieces. How does that go together with the way you formulate aesthetic issues in photography as well as in painting?
I can put photography to work like a big stroke of the brush.
Are the connotations "natural" and "artistic" important in the "Central Forms"? Wouldn't this also imply a social aspect?
I'm not a sociologist. What is more important to me than the meaning of the individual "Central Forms" is the visual dimension: qualities such as form, light, reflection. I am also interested in letting things collide and in triggering exact perceptions. It is not a pedagogical claim but rather an aesthetic one which I want to get to the root of with formal means.
What role does the content play?
There is no pretence to make a statement there. On the other hand, I did once deal more intensely with figural issues. My first abstract paintings recall waves, have developed into a relief from the flat center outwards. I arrived at materiality by way of the relief. Later the refinement of the surface became interesting. Then I left out the relief and began to expand this fine center.
You often refer to a phonograph record: Is it the circular form at issue? Or do you also see it as a signifier? The cover of this catalogue is also a record cover, isn't it?
Records are important to me because of their surface: the form, the reflection, the cut, the concentration of light. Originally, I had assumed the circle to be the basic form in the square. Then I asked myself why not make the record the support of the picture? When I paint, I deform the shape of the record, which I also use as an idea. While I use a circle as a basic shape, I destroy its surface. What also appeals to me about is their familiarity and this ritual of not being able to touch them. This is where I begin from in destroying something.
Could you distance yourself from the "Central Forms"?
For me it is exciting to vary a theme. At the same time it is rough because I force myself to focus exclusively on one form. This does not exclude leaps which are never radical because new perspectives appear in the course of my work. They are more like a bridge to a new material or formal situation.
What possibilities of development are there when your individual works are not seen as "variations" but are given distinct qualities?
Of course, there is also the fear: what will follow? Am I repeating myself or am I already making something new? I still have many options in terms of shades of color, surface, concentration. And beyond that I would also like to find a color surface which has the quality of integrating the surrounding space and to reflect as matte shades.
Why do you focus on shades of black?
Material articulates itself in a certain way. Black sets the light surface in stronger contrast, stronger than light gray or white. It is a question of the material. In terms of its materiality, black also functions best in terms of mixture and surface.There is a certain obsessiveness in the way you experiment, look for formal solutions such that certain aspects become clear. For instance, the multi-piece works where the picture is broken open, divided, and there is no totality left. You test it: How does the surface work? How does the picture work? How does reflection function? And as the producer you are extremely involved. On the other hand, photography would always have different ways of addressing the same issues, such as, for instance, reflection.In a photograph you give up a certain part of authorship. This is why I have this ambivalent relation to photography.
When does a picture function for you? How do you bring it to completion?
It is finished when it functions. When it doesn't function - that is, when there are interfering factors in the light shot, the colors, the surface, etc. factors that keep it from being self-contained or when one emphasis works to too strongly against the dynamic of the picture as a whole, I continue to work until these factors have been eliminated.
"CENTRAL FORMS"Galerie 5020, Salzburg, Exhibition of works by Robert Schaberl
February - March 1994