Jun 24th – Jul 30th, 2022
Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf
Text by Kito Nedo
Surfers often talk about the “perfect wave.” But is “perfect” really the right adjective when it comes to waves? William Finnegan, for one, has his doubts. The US author and journalist wrote an award-winning book about surfing a few years ago. “Waves are not stationary objects in nature. They’re not diamonds or roses or something that you just look at.” Instead, Finnegan describes the miracle of waves as the end of a process, an “explosion across a reef,” which is affected by the wind and tide. The ephemeral nature of waves is part of their magic. It takes a special kind of nature literacy, courage, and muscle memory to conquer them on a surfboard.
With his two large-format wave paintings Enorme Wirbelwelle (2022) and Enorme Wirbelwelle № 2 (2022), Berlin-based painter Andi Fischer celebrates the unique blend of fear, respect, euphoria and release that he experiences when surfing. Interferences as well as surfaces in light blue, royal blue, and navy blue combine to create a dynamic moment that comes from inside the wave. “It comes very close to the feeling of swimming through a wave,” Fischer explains. “It’s a beautiful feeling.” Fischer’s paintings also need an initial explosion for energy to be released. The artist uses oil sticks to apply paint straight onto the canvas. They are made of compressed oil paint mixed with mineral wax, enabling the artist to express himself directly. Spontaneity and speed are thus placed at the core of the work.
Nine new paintings by Fischer, each with an individual title, make direct references to art history. The source of inspiration and fundamental resource for the artist was Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting The Golden Age, dated around 1530. Today, it belongs to the Bavarian State Painting Collections in Munich and is on display at the Alte Pinakothek. Fischer dissects this allegorical depiction of a paradisiacal garden into its separate components (people, couples, and animals), thus casting a contemporary, highly pared-down view on the pictorial world of the business-minded and politicallyactive Old Master from Wittenberg.
Lastly, Fischer’s third new series of paintings focuses on a group of anarchistic crows. These birds have accompanied humans since the dawn of time; they even precede them. “The cultural history of humankind has unfolded under the eyes of crows,” Berlin-based cultural scientist and biologist Cord Riechelmann writes in his celebrated monograph on the species. “And crows follow this culture if they can expect something from it.” Given that corvids’ eating habits include feeding on carrion, these animals have been symbolically associated with death in people‘s imaginations from very early on. As if in a dark premonition, Vincent van Gogh, for example, had a flock of ravens circle above a summer wheat field shortly before his death in 1890. This existential gravity has a subliminal resonance in Fischer’s paintings. However, a sober and humorous perspective on these omnipresent, feathered companions prevails in these works. Perhaps this is also because we see these birds today primarily as clever beneficiaries of the human culture of abundance. Alpine choughs, for instance, seem to feed less on dead chamois than on things like discarded school lunches in schoolyards. At any rate, we hear that they often show up on time for recess.
Text by Laura Wurth
A raven has put on a crooked grin, almost as if wanting to apologize for the bright red piece of meat that it is carrying in its beak, which it must have picked somewhere from something that used to be alive: “Sorry, but I can’t help it. I am just a raven and that’s what ravens do.” It is not alone; there are more ravens gathered in the other paintings. They all carry their prey in their mouths. For a brief second, we are tempted to perceive the whole scene, which comprises four different paintings, as something moving¬—as a childish-looking scrawl. This kind of scribble, these ravens, awkward figures, and drawings of nature, which are only seemingly chaotic, make up painter Andi Fischer’s contribution to the history of art. And that is not exactly a small feat.
Much has already been said about painting. It has been pronounced dead and it has been said to go on living forever. It has been so thoroughly theorized that its complexity has been elevated to the echelons of quantum physics. It has also been declared superfluous as a medium; it could no longer be used to tell us anything about our digitally-shaped world. But in spite of this endless attempt to decipher it and get to the bottom of its meaning, we are still fascinated by paint and how it comes together on canvas to create images.
There have been and there will always be artists who have something to add to what was already there. It may not be something that is completely new, but it gives us a different perspective on art and, most importantly, on ourselves.
That’s basically how Andi Fischer goes about his work. He presents complicated entanglements and complex emotional situations in a way that appears simple at first glance. But Fischer does not make things simplistic. We should not have any misconceptions about this. In fact, it is in the imperfect painterly gesture that the human being’s complexity is concealed. This includes their attitude towards mistakes and potential failures, but also their determination to dare and face life in spite of them. It is precisely because the figures painted by Fischer appear rather contrite, insecure, and a bit clumsy that we are perhaps more inclined to recognize ourselves in them.
Fischer’s exhibition starts with abstract nature drawings. However, they only seem abstract at first; if you sink into them for an instant, you realize that this confusing, proliferous growth is actually what Fischer worked his way out of, so that you can now see all the more clearly what he sees. This growth transitions into large-format wave paintings. But instead of trying to do the impossible and paint a wave accurately—which is total nonsense anyway, as every wave, like every person, is unique—Fischer has painted his memories of being caught in it, swashing back and forth either as a swimmer or on a surfboard. With a few strokes in oil pastel, he speaks of the ocean’s overwhelming power. This is kitschy, of course, and not without pathos, but that’s just what it takes to work your way towards the place where major and important things are decided. Because the ocean is overwhelming. You can’t fight it. Fischer has expressed the greatness and uncertainty that it confronts us with primarily through the empty spaces in his painting. The majority of the canvas remains white; blue elements hold back and provide the large expanse of white noise with a rather subtle outline.
In a large cycle of paintings in nine parts, Fischer has turned his attention to the Golden Age as seen by Lucas Cranach the Elder. In Cranach’s painting The Golden Age, we can see naked people in a garden holding hands, predators playing around instead of devouring each other, trees covered with fruit. People are dancing, the deer frolicking—right next to one another and unafraid. The whole scene takes place behind a wall. It is shielded from the world’s evils, which pile up on the other side as large, grey mountains. On one of the mountains, you can make out a castle on a hill in the far distance. Behind the wall, people live in harmony with nature and their fellow residents. Apparently, questions regarding the possibility of a different, less efficiency-driven way of life were also asked by Lucas Cranach around 1530. Today, these are perhaps more questions as to whether we still have to and want to work five days and 40 hours a week, whether it would not be better to spend our time with the people we really like, instead of eventually referring to our colleagues as family. Can’t families also be formed by people who don’t share a gene pool? And as a society, don’t we have to ask ourselves much more radically what we actually need and what really makes us happy? Particularly in light of a natural world that is having to bear more and more heavily the burden we are imposing on it. The answer is quite straightforward: yes, we do.
Just like the ravens, the people in Fischer’s paintings are always holding something in their hands, somewhat contritely. For the ravens, this something is meat; for the people, it’s apples. But the gesture is the same: “Sorry, just can’t help it.” It goes without saying that a human being can’t help but pick the apple. At the same time, it begs the question of whether that's actually the problem. It is obvious that neither humans nor ravens can break out of their skins. But perhaps this is more about how to deal with different natures and needs, with the fact that everyone can just be as they are.
Fischer paints quickly. Speed is one of the main concerns when he produces his work. It is about imperfection, but also about not trying to dramatically drag out the creative process. There is nothing here that is supposed to be artificially loaded with meaning. Everything is meaningful only to the extent that we are willing to attach meaning to it. And if Fischer’s figures lie on the ground, offering one another the apples they have plucked from trees beforehand, living together peacefully, behaving tenderly towards each other, taking everyone’s needs seriously, it is because this has a lot to do with how the Golden Age was painted by Cranach, who transported himself into his images. It’s actually not all that complicated. And without being understated, Fischer offers here a utopia that is neither naïve nor too short-sighted. After all, it is grounded in careful reflection and deeply anchored in collective cultural memory.