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
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:
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
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
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
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)