David von Bahr Goes "Ultra" @ Gallery Steinsland Berliner, Stockholm
With Ultra, David von Bahr (b. 1992) picks up where he left off. If his previous exhibition was characterized by cognitive passages, his new work explores unplannedness along with an inquiry into the reality of layering. The leitmotif comprises a kind of automatic, intuitive randomness where the paintings construct themselves. Some of these are created by means of penetration of a spray can. Using a sharp object to inflict piercing damage, the operation creates a shapeless entry/exit hole. Instantly, spray colour gushes violently like a spring flood as von Bahr applies it to the canvas. The procedure is over in a few seconds. Intensity forbids thought and intuition is the sovereign of motion. The fast and energetic manoeuvres attach to the canvas like a frozen moment, and they are the ones that de facto constitute the motive. This performance presupposes that von Bahr lets go and loses control, while maintaining a firm grasp of the spray can. In the encounter with the works the viewer will be confronted with the aesthesis of this painterly drama where the aerosol has dissipated, and like a spirit has vaporized from the scene of the colouristic deed.
Other works have a different expression. For instance, paintings that in fact consist of several paintings separated from each other and appearing as schematic units in a kind of superficial collage. von Bahr determines the dimensions of the surface, which is subsequently painted over and thus coated in favour of a new section. When the painting unfolds, something else unfolds: it is a pure, exposed development. Let us call it a partial pentimento, that is, the presence in the painting of an originally drawn or painted element that is eventually painted over by the artist. Just as you cannot regret your chalk line, just as little can you regret your sprayed colour. As the paint sets, it is in the choice between adding or desisting that the fate of the work is sealed. When it’s over, it’s over.
It may strike one that the lack of a plan is a phantasm. Is there not an apparent opposite here? The plan not to have a plan is also a plan, and it may be perceived despite the instantaneous spontaneity that truly is von Bahr’s artistry. At the same time, there is no room for remorse or second thoughts. Thinking for too long gets you stuck, he reasons. He must continue onwards and not look back. When asked what his inspirations are he cites music, the sister art of painting. As he paints, von Bahr surrounds himself with blaring sound. A rather habitual routine that he shares with many of his colleagues, certainly, but which adds another dimension to the atonal harmony that is his art. Transcribed to musical nomenclature, his movements become phrasings as they traverse the canvas from one point to another atop the foundational stratums of the composition. This is clearly a veritable theme in his practice, shaping distinctive and original emblems with ambulant strokes on canvas and plexiglass alike. Similarly, his random automatic practice resembles a virtuoso in his complete mastery of his instrument’s technical nature. The same applies to his colouring, which in this context can be translated with timbre. Oscillating betwixt having tonality traits as bright and intense as warning signals in concert with a sfumatoesque disposition, Ultra is a conspicuous manifestation of motion as well as a tribute to the craft of painting and drawing in its most unbridled form.
Text by MARCEL ENGDAHL