Sorti du Labyrinthe
24 January - 20 March 2004
The current exhibition of works by André Thomkins (1930–1985) at Hauser & Wirth presents a large selection of important works on paper – many of them shown here for the first time – that span a period from the 1940s to the 1960s, demonstrating the artist’s immensely rich visual and intellectual imagination and his penchant for experimentation.
André Thomkins is among the most important Swiss artists of the post-1945 period. Nevertheless, he was long considered an artists’ artist, known only to a few insiders, though enjoying a high reputation among such fellow artists as Dieter Roth, Daniel Spoerri, George Brecht or Karl Gerstner. Since the presentation of his large, colourful ‘Lackskin’ works at Hauser & Wirth two years ago, the multi-faceted and wide-ranging work of André Thomkins can be seen to have experienced a renaissance, attracting a great deal of attention, especially from the international public.
After the large-format ‘Lackskins’, the present exhibition focuses on his small-scale works on paper. The show encompasses curious, polysemous ink and pencil drawings, ‘Schraffuren’ [hatchings] and works created in Thomkins’s unique techniques such as ‘Rollagen’ [rollages] and ‘Scharniere’ [hinges]. These loosely connected groups of works are displayed in successive rooms, each allowing a close examination of the works and thus setting the scene where their singular imaginary world is brought to life.
What Thomkins came to call ‘hinges’ were first developed from the ‘Lackskins’ - works created using a sheet of paper to skim off gloss paint floating on water - around 1960. Thomkins saw them as the logical step beyond the ‘Lackskin’ technique: “The moment the gloss paint floating on the water has become so thick that it can no longer be used for ‘Lackskin’ sheets, it has exactly the right consistency for ‘hinges’”. The technique involves applying a string of paint onto one half of a sheet of paper and folding it as in a Rorschach ink blot test, so that the string is printed symmetrically onto the other half of the sheet. What most attracted Thomkins artistically was the fine delicacy of paint strings and the subtleness of shapes and lines that can be achieved with this special technique. Both the ‘Lackskins’ and the ‘hinges’ are based on a strong element of chance forming an integral part of the creative process.
Similarly, the ‘rollages’ – for which black pigment, or sometimes sand, is mixed with water and rolled onto a sheet of paper – are an attempt to blur the line between random chance and controlled design. As in the ‘Lackskins’, the artist’s concern here is to combine abstraction and figuration: scratching or drawing, he inserts humorous scenes or eerie figures into the wet paint ground, and then gives the composition a whimsical, poetical or ironical title.
The group of works called ‘hatchings’ presents a variety of configurations. Some are made up of strictly vertical, parallel hatching, with lines of ink covering the sheet at close intervals. Some of these line systems are enlivened by small figures or surreal details which Thomkins inserts to break the monotony of the regular straight lines. Other sheets display line patterns that are less regular: inserted diagonally or executed in strokes of varying thickness, they seem to suggest abstract landscapes and spaces.
These delicate ink and pencil works reveal Thomkins’s own wonderful world of fantastic forms and figures, peopled by surreal or puppet-like beings and unique iconographic creations like the conically-shaped figure, reminiscent of Hans Arp’s anthropomorphous creatures, that he called ‘Schwebsel’ [the name is Thomkins’s own word, suggesting something that floats in the air]. A characteristic figure in Thomkins’s work is (in his own words) 'the figure in the air, that’s a figure that has a lot to do with the anatomies I like to create. All the figures in my work are anatomical preparations, mechanisms, sort of carriers of the soul'.
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