Texte über René Böll  

Anne Engelhardt-Ng
Introduction to the René Böll exhibition "Silence without a Name" on 29.04.97

It is not easy having to explain the complexity of artistic creation in a few words. Having to force into the restricting and established world of analytical abstractness everything that the artist himself experiences during the creative process, what he reflects on and what he finally expresses in his works is often like being on a knifeØs edge. We can come closer to the artist and his work or deprive him of his authenticity. It is not always possible to do justice to the artist and his work.

For what makes an artistØs work interesting and attractive, and gives depth to what is superficial, is often exactly those areas which elude the analytical mind and which cannot be perceived by the beholder at first.

Every artist has his own perception and consequently his own aesthetics as well. Both areas, perception and aesthetics, form an interwoven whole which has to be discovered if we want to go deeper into a work and find a way of comprehending it.

As a starting point I would like to pick out just a few aspects of this, in an attempt at approaching the artistic works of the painter René Böll.

As far as I can see there are two important force-fields which exert an effect on René BöllØs artistic work - firstly, the European painting tradition, which is particularly visible in the form of expression and the formal aesthetics of his paintings, and secondly his understanding of artistic creation, which is influenced by the spirit of Chinese philosophy, in particular Daoism, and relates to the traditional approach of Chinese ink painting.

René Böll says that he has studied the painting techniques of the baroque and renaissance period for some time. He has always been intrigued by "how Rembrandt managed to paint these lights and darks. The paintings by Rubens, constructed in several, very thin layers, applied in such a fluent and easy manner, have particularly influenced Böll as regards painting technique and have characterized his way of working."

René BöllØs intense studying of colour, and the exceptional significance he attaches to it, may have its roots here. Untiringly and with passionate energy, he has over the course of time collected an unusual wealth of the most diverse colours earth colours and mineral colours, hundreds of pigments of natural earth colours, ground minerals such as orpiment, vermilion, jasper, coral, malachite, as well as plant colours. The latter, however, are often subject to fading, but he has also collected a large number of modern organic colours which when mixed with other pigments come close to plant colours. René Böll prefers natural colours because in his experience they are more vivid and have a much larger spectrum. Different inks are also found among the treasures he keeps in his studio: such as glistening oil-soot ink and the less shiny pine-soot ink, also an ancient type, which is particularly well suited for the greyer tones. René Böll mixes them himself, as he does with almost all of his colours, and not until he needs them.

From this very pronounced passion for colours, René Böll has developed a characteristic sensitivity for their quality and effect, which is clearly visible in his painting.

Many of his numerous small watercolours work as testimonies to colour, the power of which could almost be said to be demonstrated reciprocally to the limited expressive possibilities of the small format.

The beholder of René BöllØs landscapes painted in egg tempera and oil is inevitably attracted by the atmospheric effects of light produced by the colours, which sometimes appear elevated to mythical heights and give the actual theme of the painting a mysterious, hermetic character. Echoes of the metaphor-like use of light and colour in TurnerØs later paintings come to mind immediately, but also associations with the powerful, rounded and fluid forms in Edvard MunchØs painting are induced when looking at these barren shapes of landscape in dark, earthy tones.

However, René BöllØs language of colours and shape lacks that dramatization which is more or less predominant in the works of these painters, or, as one might be tempted to say, in the European painting tradition as a whole.

At the centre of René BöllØs aesthetics of colour is harmonization a harmonization which relies on the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, in which opposing as well as complementing elements are taken to be a natural whole. Thus, properties such as light and dark, warm and cold, firm and fluid basically all those characteristics which meet in the colour have to be explored and captured so that they can be brought together in a natural, harmonious whole. It is noticeable that René Böll prefers the varnish technique, and the possibilities of additive and subtractive blending of colours comes closest to his idea of the harmonious changeability of colours. René Böll has coined the terms "to yingify" and "to yangify" to describe the change of colours from the warm pole to the cold pole, a change full of nuances.

The attentive beholder of René BöllØs painting may perhaps become aware of how limited our perception of colour often is.

It is in Chinese ink painting and calligraphy that this understanding of colour based on the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, as well as the extremely sensitive form of mastering colour derived from this concept are expressed artistically in the most distinct way. It is thus not surprising that for several years René Böll has devoted himself to the genre of Chinese ink painting, in which the black ink unites the essence of all colours, as it were, and in which the natural phenomenon of changeability and the mastery of this has found its most subtle expression.

It is perhaps the specific spirit which has to be underlying in order to master ink painting. If painting is understood as a specific way of expressing comprehension, then the specific form of comprehending Chinese ink painting is the Chinese philosophy of nature, with its particular expression: Daoism.

Clearly it is this connection to nature being so closely linked to painting which comes so close to the painter René BöllØs temperament and understanding of artistic creation.

If René Böll quotes as the title for his paintings Bada Shanren, that original Buddhist-Daoist monk painter of the 17th century, or Wang Wei, the famous poet and painter of the Tang period, it is because in a particular way these men have expressed in their art a Daoist view of the world, a view attached to nature.

Thus the landscapes depicted in René BöllØs paintings are, just like the Chinese landscape paintings, not views of concrete objects but vehicles of meaning for something which is underlying and reaches beyond the external appearance of things. The landscape, in Chinese this word is formed from the two signs for mountain and water, is a synonym for nature in its broadest sense. Nature particularly enables us to see beyond the external appearance of things without having to forfeit the joy and fascination at its forms and its variety.

The landscapes in René BöllØs paintings are in many respects reminiscent of the world of imagination of Chinese Daoism. René BöllØs landscapes radiate quietness and solitude. They are places which are far away from the distracting and tiring influences of the din of civilization, in them time is different from the time of history. Nature is left to herself. Her elements fire, earth, water, air, the sun and the moon, seas and mountains follow the Dao, the "eternal way" in continuous change. Nor is man, embedded in nature, the measure of all things. In the form of death, the skeleton or the skull a very frequent motive in René BöllØs work he too is integrated into this great cycle of Dao. In the process of dissolution, man is not dramatic or romantically small, but natural without any sign of resistance. Life and death, like all phenomena of nature, have no presage.

This view of the world may disconcert us, we do not know it or perhaps we do not know it any more.

Many titles, which René Böll has given his works, such as "Forgetting Oneself", "Corresponding to Nature", "Fearless Emptiness" or "Becoming a Tree" are Daoist terms as well and signalize the artistØs intention and method at the same time.

The expressions describe the different elements which underlie the Chinese term Wuwei, "non-action". Wuwei embraces many aspects, also including the close observation of nature through contemplative reflection only in this way can the qualities and natural tendencies of things be captured and followed. Wuwei further comprises practical experience with tools the ancient Daoists were not only enthusiastic alchemists but, unlike the Confucianists, they also valued handicrafts, because handicrafts generally understood the true nature of materials better than sophistic knowledge. Finally, Wuwei also embraces that inner peace and quiet and balance, that "emptying oneself" of subjective conditionality, of the wanting which moves against what is natural which today we would call manipulated demands.

Many of these briefly outlined elements are also present and alive in the artistic creation and the works of René Böll.

The painter René Böll enjoys spending time in the countryside, where he records his impressions in sketchbooks. He travels to many countries, landscapes which are still left to nature, for instance the Andes in Ecuador, the jungle and the Galápagos Islands and the Antarctic all fascinate him. Also the days of his youth in Ireland with its lonely landscapes, overgrown with moss and lichen but otherwise lacking in vegetation are reflected in the landscapes of his paintings.

Like the Daoist alchemist in search of the elixir of life, the painter René Böll is always in search of ever newer colour substances and mixtures of colours. He learns Chinese ink painting techniques from Chinese artists and becomes absorbed in the meaning of Chinese philosophy and painting.

René Böll meditates and has practised tai chi and qigong for years. It is necessary to stimulate those energies through exercises, to unblock them and free them from obstacles, and to make them flow. These exercises are not only meant to strengthen the abilities of the body but also the mind. The relation of these exercises, in particular of their medial aspect, to artistic creation is well known. (Qi has, by the way, become an important aesthetic term of quality in Chinese calligraphy and painting. If a picture or an example of calligraphy does not have qi, its quality is impaired).

The ability to gather oneØs spirit and concentrate before the act of painting, and the "forgetting" of oneself during the act of painting releases the potential which is obstructed in the state of clear consciousness. So it speaks for itself that René Böll claims that his pictures turn out best if he paints them in a trance, particularly at dawn or dusk times of exceptional change of light.

René BöllØs art is concerned with "self-achievement", creating spaces within, and is less directed towards the outside, aggressive self-portrayal, and because of that it tends to move him closer to the Far Eastern image of the artist than that of many of his Western contemporaries.

Other artists, including Bissier, Tobey and Grave, have referred to Far Eastern sources in their painting and have explored and found their abilities and potentialities for their own expression. In doing so they did not have to adhere strictly to traditional Far Eastern styles and ways of expression, but they have enriched Western art with an additional aspect.

In this sense the ink paintings by René Böll are not attempts at copying Chinese originals either, but expression of a spirit which is capable of moving outside trends in popular art and capable of creating its own worlds of imagery in relation to other cultures.

René Böll has found an authentic form of expression in his works with ink, as regards brush technique, structure of the picture and composition. Thematically, they take up motifs of his oil paintings and egg tempera paintings. However, these motifs, such as the sun, the moon, mountains and water, appear to have detached themselves from the overall context of his landscapes, and are developing a life of their own. Nature suddenly seems very close, its concrete forms more and more turn into their qualities, which now reveal themselves in ink and brush technique: light and dark, from jet black to light grey, wet and dry, soft and hard, smooth and fissured, concentration and dissolution all come to the foreground. The concreteness which eluded the vision of the landscapes becomes abstract, abstract becomes concrete. Vision and detail meet and blend together in the infinite space of the white Xuan paper.

"The dimension which counts for the creative man is the space which he creates for himself. The inner space is closer to infinity than the other one and it is the privilege of a balanced spirit and the search for equilibrium is essential to be just as aware of the inner space as things external." (Graves)

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