alf loehr: painter, thinker, provocateur-in-spirit

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i’ve attempted to speak/write/show about/visualize alf loehr’s work below in 3 posts, in the reverse order of posting as blogs tend to do:

  1. alf’s request for zappa for his burned down studio: a form of deconstructive détournement2. intimacy, that which the spectacle cannot tolerate, or, appropriate: death (in venice)3. objective emotion: a painter’s intervention into the spectacle

 

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i’m continuing the three posts above with this one, which, will feel to readers a bit displaced perhaps. both loehr and i are okay with that, because, # 3 has acquired a new meaning of late, for me, pearodox.

4. subjective emotion follows from a physicality:

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of late, i’ve helped Alf build-out his new studio in whitstable; and have helped him physically move his wren street studio in london, there. my back is sore from lifting impossible to describe innovative methods of packaging painting on paper in tubes of various designs/construction/materials, developed by Loehr in order to transport them by airlines disguised as sports equipment, in PVC tubes with straps like those on golf club bags, etc. and that is only one example of his innovative designs for transporting sport camouflaged fine art. but what has struck me immensely about helping him move his studio, is just how heavy a cardboard tube of paintings on paper can be. [i’ll post pics of his sport-painting carriers at a latter date]

but the shear weight of his production is prodigious. there is not a muscle in my body that is not rebelling from loading them into an elevator, then into a van, then after a two hour drive, carrying them up a set of long stairs into his new studio. imagine, then, what it takes to make a 4X3 meter painting, then imagine what it means to make 20 of them that size, and figure out how to transport them over large geographical areas when airlines classify oversized baggage ONLY as sports equipment. when, that is, one is a brilliant artist who doesn’t have the representation of the 1% gallerists to pay the import/export duties of shipping art over international borders even in a fantasized EU zone.

my points here are two: 1, dissemination of art is controlled by a system/network of neoliberal galleries/mags/museums/writers/art fairs, and the like, signed up to the market; and 2, that the critics/art historians/academia-in-general/museums – constitute an economic system to keep each other in biz to the advantage of the 1%. point #2 means: that ‘intellectual’ networks are no different than the corporate media that keeps 1% politics in biz.

these thoughts are not new to me; but i was reminded of them by the shear, literal weight of loehr’s commitment to the production of art. surely, that shear weight, thousands of pounds of great cultural value, should be at least as important as the shear weight of any GDP of any nation state that consists of TV’s, mobile phones, computers, batteries, home electricity and gas, million pound homes, cars, over-priced pharmaceuticals, trashy popular films and music, supermarkets that sell toxic chicken, corrupt banker payoffs, tax free zones for the wealthy only, etc etc…

what the 99% want and expect and will fight for: is the acknowledgement that this variety of anti-cultural politics is brain dead because those who dominate it are brain dead. they are accountants and tax lawyers, engineers who have zero cultural education – the reagans, thatchers, bushes and blairs and merkels, and now, the mays and trumps and even the obamas of the world. people who only think about their own political advantage, and who care nada about cultural meaning. they are the bottom-dollar technocrat, bottom-feeders who are in fact, imbeciles. the only ‘value’ they can comprehend, is economic value first, and ‘political value’ last, the lowest and most trivial values of all.

so…

back to loehr:

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here’s a bit of writing i’ve done about him, based on a dialogue we carried out via email. the writing comes first, followed by an excerpt of the email dialogue.

Wayfaring is not Navigation

Abstraction does not concern itself with literal representation of the objective, visible world. Yet, paradoxically, because every sensation derives from it, the visible world must be its source. Abstraction, then, at the least, makes reference to salient features of the world as it presents itself to our senses. But to say, ‘presents itself,’ is too simplistic; because that implies a passivity in both the world and in the processes of sensation. Recent theories of cognitive psychology strongly suggest that perception collaborates with the world in quite intimate ways. Perception is an action, and as with all actions, it has both effect ON the world, and is effected BY the world. Abstraction, as in Loehr’s paintings, is the record of an interaction between perception and the world.

The world makes perception what it is; but perception also makes the world what it is. Or, to put it in terms of the pre-classical Greek philosophers and astronomers – zozain ta phenomena – ‘save the appearances’ – if appearances are to be saved, if what appears to perception is to have a meaningful relationship to its appearance in perception, then, what we call the world must be understood as a collaboration between the actions of our bodies on the world, and the world’s actions on our bodies. The only way to save appearances is to apprehend them as two-sided actions; or, as performances of the world on our minds, AND of our minds on the world. The beauty of that attempt is that something always escapes it; no appearance can be perfectly saved.

Abstraction in art, at its best, nevertheless aims to save appearances with perfection in order to release us from the restraints of ‘meaning’; from reason’s determination to fix the world and its objects, places, and events in singular explanations and unchanging interpretations. It aims to restore to the world its wonder and enchantment by releasing it from the grip of reason which aims to confine it with its laws and formulae, with its categories and taxonomies, with its diagrams and maps that pin it to its Latin names like dead butterflies that can no longer fly.

Loehr’s paintings release us from the limiting effects of reason; they are records of world-perception, interactive performances. They release us from the limits of reason’s cartography that allow only for navigation by dead reckoning by plotting a course from A to X on the numerical grid of latitude and longitude by drawing a line with a ruler. In the worlds of Loehr’s painting dead reckoning is impossible; instead, we must navigate by wayfaring, by following the aliveness of our senses one mark or sign at a time; first from A to B, then from B to C, until we eventually DISCOVER our way, hopping from one island in November when trees bloom with red flowers to another in December where the wind blows from southeast to northwest and huge waves crash against ochre cliffs, until eventually we find our way from W to X. In this sense: Loehr’s work is committed to abstraction as an aesthetic argument against modernism’s (over)ruling commitment to rationalized geometry as the compositional device par excellance of composition.

Rather than limiting the world to singular meanings, Loehr’s paintings increase them to the point of a de-mathematized, formal, meaninglessness. We cannot say what they are, what they are about, that they represent some specific thing or experience or emotion. They require that we, the viewers, abandon dead reckoning and become wayfarers in an ocean of multiple meanings, without familiar landscapes; where it is up to us to discover a way through their thousands of islands without a map. It is up to us to discover what is Bedeutung in them, and only through that Bedeutung discover their value to which we can, only then, GIVE them their resonant ‘meanings.’ And there will always be multiple meanings in every Loehr painting, in the same way no musical note is pure but vibrates between several microtones and grace notes, never coming to rest on a single pitch until it is no longer a note at all and becomes a perfect stillness. Even then it can only approximate silence because it remains a vibration in our memory.

Still, much of the world is to be found in Loehr’s paintings. One of his remarkable talents is that of a mimic or a ventriloquist. The red chaos of chills filling a shallow woven basket as they dry in the hot Indian afternoon sun at the base of a pink or turquoise colored building, is present. As is a bright orange hemispherical basket lying upside down on green grass. The white lungis and colored sarongs worn by men in South India, the patterned saris worn but its women, are materially present in the hand woven Indian cotton fabric on which the paintings in this exhibition are painted. As Loehr himself has said: ‘We live in a world where art can use the materials of everyday life; where composition is non-formal and the search for one meaning is irrelevant.’ One importance Loehr gives to his work is that the gallery is not their final destination; that they will travel to other places, as they have traveled from other places, to the homes of their buyers where they become part of their lives, where they take on entirely new kinds of importance and are given new meanings, perpetually. Because their abstraction allows them a freedom to change as the viewer changes, as much as with the shifting light of every day and through the seasons.

[ note: the following was posted before it was ‘properly’ edited… so there were a number of grammatical errors, some of which are interesting, others of which, are not… pearodox is a one human band, so to speak, so sloppy grammar is sometimes inevitable. so i hope readers will allow this human some slack. it should be noted that even such a prestigious newspaper, with huge resources and teams of editors at its beck and call, as the Guardian, is regularly replete with grammatical errors. 🙂  but if anyone who has previously read the following wishes to reread it, then they will find ‘most’ of the grammatical problems resolved. some so called grammatical errors are due to the fact that alf loehr’s first language is german, so his ‘english english’ doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of say, Strunk and White, nor does it follow american english, anymore than the american born pearodox is able always to do flawlessly.]

The following is an excerpt from my conversation with Loehr about his work. Text-in-black, is Loehr’s; text in red is that of pearodox, mostly. or maybe it was the other way round…

 Without Patterns/Without Signature – OR – NOT cut from the same cloth

Loehr:

What is deconstruction fashion? It’s a fashion item that looks unfinished and the designer is still in the midst of experimenting with the product. Normally, the fashion item has exposed seams, raw edges, displacement of certain component and some sort of treatment to make it look distressed. Deconstruction fashion is meant to challenge the traditional perception.

In philosophy, deconstruction reveals the instability of meaning of words and phrases, simultaneous “forming and deforming, constructing and destroying, making and undoing clothes.” The design and anti-design are equally essential.

pearodox:

deconstruction is never ‘destroying.’ it is always creating, often by ‘negating’ the limits of meaning. but by negating the limits of meaning, it produces other meanings.

Certain binary oppositions inform general views of fashion in a contemporary setting, and it is natural for one to be valued more in both the eyes of the consumer and the designer. We emphasize the final product over the process of its creation, what the garment looks like from the exterior rather than it’s interior. We value the integral structure over the decoration, and often, a garment’s form over its specific function. Deconstruction is concerned with ‘unpicking’ these traditional, uneven binaries and elevating the silent partner ( R, Gasché. 1987. p 3-4)

But what if this silent partner is not the stitching or the lining but the fabric itself. What happens when the fabric is not of a simple colour or complicated decorative pattern anymore, what if it does not derive from the systematic approach of the weaver? But instead tries to carry meaning itself. Not information but meaning.

‘fabric’ is a great word. but ‘meaning’ is the very concept that is problematic. the world is basically ‘meaningless.’ of and in itself. so to deconstruct meaning is to liberate the world. to free it from the limited ‘meanings’ given to it. to allow the ‘fabric’ of the world to have power, means to free it of the meanings that have come to limit it.

Lets say the fashion designer gets hold of a painting, not patterned fabric with symbols or an illustration but a painting that has meaning in itself.  He cuts it up and stitches it together in a different order. We would call it a collage. Is the painting destroyed or is it still alive in its reassembled form or is it more alive because it leaves its singular viewpoint on the wall by shifting shape and form.

but your painting are ‘meaningless.’ ‘free of meaning.’ because ‘to mean’ something can mean ‘to be mean’, in the sense of ‘to demean’. to insist that something must be one thing and not another, and therefore to restrict what it can be, and thereby do it injustice.

Over the years we have learned to see in more complex ways. We do not expect a painting to have the same composition as a still life. Expressionism was followed by Cubism was followed by constructivism was followed by abstract expressionism and than there were so many “isms” that a centralized discourse became meaningless as it only meant excluding everything that existed but did not fit in. We learned to see and live on different layers simultaneously.

yes, many meanings ALL at the same time, but no ‘meaning.’

Any deconstructivism requires the existence of a particular archetypal construction, a strongly-established conventional expectation to play flexibly against.

not – to play flexibly AGAINST, but to play flexibly WITH

Fashion design is essentially about construction. We must first make in order to take apart. However, I do not believe the structure of the garment is more important than the process of getting there.

no-yes, a deconstructionist would say: i might begin by, making to take apart, OR, i might take apart in order to make.

After the artist  has composed his painting, the designer cuts according to his idea of a dress or a shirt. The process is one of deconstructive creation because his aim is to keep the creation alive by creating a certain flow where the painters mark-making gets transformed by the designers reconstruction and where the work of art than gets worn by people in the street.

The process is one of returning art into craft without loosing the qualities that [my] painting can reveal and give the viewer.

but it also ‘means’ – turning, returning, craft into art, and, art into craft.

Ikareth’s [the Indian fashion designer Loehr worked with to make the image above] role is to bring the secrets to the surface and in this he is as autonomous as I am in creating my paintings. The paintings have no intention to be anything else but works of art. Ikareth explores the surface of the material in the same way that I pour pigment and water on heavy paper – the inks I use are absorbed in a very specific way by the heavy India silks or the fine hand woven cottons. The irregularity of the marks influence the ways Ikareth cuts them. The material is not the same for me as for Ikareth, whose more casual everyday collections often explore geometrical patterns and stripes, which makes him similar to an architect. while the erratic and convulsive nature  of my paintings make it impossible to simply be an architect. More than often, my marks look so accidental that on a dress you might find it difficult to distinguish between a wine stain or a Windsor an Newton Crimson Hue deliberately falling from a certain height at a certain place, at a certain time of the day. While the way Ikareth works with them, always brings us back to structure. He does that  not only by giving the flat surface shape but also by adding lines through embroidery, on the large flows of paint.

the above paragraphs is very lovely, and exactly ‘right’, in a decon sense.

 

alf loehr: painter, thinker, provocateur-in-spirit

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