The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

All Issues
MAY 2012 Issue


German Stegmaier makes oil paintings and graphite drawings; he sits well within tradition and displays no desire to work with new or novel materials. He often presents his work in groups, clustered and unaligned. His paintings are described as abstract, yet the structure and atmosphere of the work is deeply associative: landscape, weather, urban constructions, plans, or buildings come obliquely to mind. The modest profile of the current exhibition rewards quiet, contemplative viewing; nothing here is rhetorical or loud.

German Stegmaier, installation view. Courtesy Galerie Zink.
On View
Galerie Zink
March 3 – April 14, 2012

In previous exhibitions, Stegmaier’s territory of interest might have been quickly summarized by mention of the great Raoul De Keyser. And on the subject of painterly relations, one work in the back room looks very much like Stegmaier has discovered Gary Stephan. De Keyser and Stephan both occupy the disputed ground between abstraction and figuration. Yet these two awkward (though expedient) misnomers don’t even get close to what goes on here. Let’s just say, for example, that drifting in and out of the recognizable is just fine for some painters. And how can anyone talk pejoratively about this mode, as if it were retrograde? In the context of Stegmaier, one thing to mention about abstraction is the opportunity it provides for the artist to create a distance from storytelling and the pursuit of other obvious agendas.  It is then possible to muddy the waters from this point, with associations made strongly enough for one to perceive links to the seen—if not completely understood—things of the world. Abstraction can work in both directions, and for Stegmaier it does just that. 

A lone sour note is struck by the unfortunate presentation of drawings on a table. This method of display is novel, currently fashionable, and in this instance unhelpful. It’s a pity: the simple lines and muted creams and grays of the drawings presented are difficult to see against the harsh white surround of the backboard paper, and their subtlety is substantially diminished.

Any saturated color in the paintings peeks out from underneath coats of gray, ochre, and white paint. All tones are impure, dirtied, and mixed, avoiding sharp contrasts and sudden steps. There is a strong sense of coaxing the image into appearing; nothing is done in haste. No literal crossover exists between Stegmaier’s paintings and his linear pencil drawings, which map the surfaces of worn and slightly shaped sheets of paper in a triangular net, or follow the exterior contours of partially viewed and imagined (or then again, possibly real) objects. Erasures and irregularities mark the paths of lines traced and retraced. Such a linear quality stays with the drawings, while in the paintings we find broad shapes with blurred borders. It would be interesting to see the two collide.

What these separate bodies of work do share, however, is a softening of edge. Where this occurs, be it a torn paper edge or a paint mark wrapped around the side of a canvas, an allegiance to used surfaces and objects is forged: a scuffed table, a doorframe, or a well-thumbed book. This notion of uncertain boundary, together with a color atmosphere of transience, gives Stegmaier’s work its focus. It is a focus on areas that don’t aspire to, or have the capacity for, idealized form or repeatable pattern. Consistently imperfect geometries allied with quiet material process make for shared affinities rather than repetition. Eschewing seriality, Stegmaeir takes slowness on a long and constant detour.


David Rhodes

David Rhodes is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

All Issues