Lionello Puppi: Michael Ramsauer The poetics of "perturbation"
Michael Ramsauer's approach to painting is uncompromisingly consistent and stringent:
not for him the relaxing pause nor the sudden stop before launching off in some more convenient, but unforeseen and unforeseeable direction; he will not avoid an obstacle by seeking the respite of an easy, circuitous route, nor swerve and plunge into tangled, tortuous vicissitudes of dizzying complexity; nor yet is he ever allured into the quicksands of falsely seductive oases. If he does come to a fork, he plans parallel, specular routes that are destined to rejoin each other further along the road they left. Ramsauer's way is, therefore and however, a rugged and perilous one, unaccommodating and treacherous: it is founded in the chance logic of a gamble and the consistency and stringency that govern his approach are none other than a determined keeping of faith with that wager, which postulates the inescapable commitment of a coming to terms with reality which, however, must be translated and achieved only through the visionary transfiguration of it, though it also remains possible to accept the provocation of the exercises in mimetic translation represented by his predilection for classical portraiture. Seeing therefore, informed seeing, not for the purpose of reproducing on canvas selected aspects of the tangible universe of experience but rather for them to be transferred and left, as it were, to settle and steep within for their spirit to be distilled and impressed on canvas. Obviously - and while the choice of subject arises, as V. Bash has pointed out, from the pulsing of imagination and feeling (in short from the Stimmung of existential subjectivity) - the effecting, or rather the execution of such a process (Ramsauer describes it with an eloquent metaphor as a “mit den Ideen der Bilder schwanger gehen”) and its reduction to the approach and the absolute seal of form, was bound to require first the conceiving and creation of suitable linguistic instruments and then the development and refinement and prescription of adventurous techniques capable of representing the orchestration on canvas. This being the case it was inevitable that Ramsauer, from the beginning, started by exploring the historical horizons of visual art, searching out ideas and stimuli to satisfy his own expressive needs; indeed his earliest paintings suggest a veritable fervour of experimentation. He is attracted by the sensual opulence with which Rubens renders the nude body but at the same time he deliberately draws attention to and inflates the obscenity of flaccid folds of adipose flesh hunkered in lascivious poses with sabre swipes of light à la Caravaggio.
But in general, Ramsauer's earlier work features a fondness for deformation which starts from a fascination with the more extreme exponents of Mannerism - Pontormo, von Aachen and Spranger - but also feeds off black Goya and the chromatic hallucinations and the most extreme linear declinations of German Expressionism as well as showing acquaintance with the agonised facial expressions of Messereschmidt and the ironic, cruel brutality of Grosz's caricatures: other influences included Auerbach and Baselitz, and for a time the impact of De Kooning and Bacon was all-pervasive. The explanation for such a range of influences - which in actual fact are not at all contradictory or dissonant and on the contrary are linked by a deep and secret sequence of correspondences - lies in the collapse and aimless drift of romantic poetics and involves the ambiguous life of eros, sublimations and frustrations, frontier areas of man's interior being: but the fantastic universe that unfolds therefrom rejects any mechanism of narrative or descriptive representation and opts instead for a sequence of parodies of representative art. From the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s we find the stiff, clumsy movements of naked, obese bodies, flabby masses of swollen, livid violet or earth brown flesh at the very edge of dissolution into putrefaction, seen against shroud-like backgrounds of blue and green and sludgy red, enlivened by fleeting flashes of light; faces staring from sightless eye-sockets, conveyed sometimes like a grey impression of an out-of-focus photographic negative; bestial couplings; still lifes of flowers with delicate pink petals bruised blood-red and blown into disarray by ice-cold winds; landscapes, blue and green again, as if shaken by earthquake shocks. But gradually, and quickly, Ramsauer forged himself a confident, personal idiom, original and unmistakable: the frame and support of the linear structure become unstable and approximate, outlines of black profiling colour masses or being drawn into them, thickening and disintegrating to the point of liquefaction, so that the impact of the image is as of a construction of pure planes superimposed, mixed, intersecting, interlaced with colours from a palette that emphasizes his sometimes parsimonious selectivity, like that of Klingsor in the "letzter Sommer" related by Hermann Hesse, which nevertheless manages to assert a free and inexhaustible colour paraphrasis (or rather a visionary epiphany in colour) of the data of the phenomenal world. Let us look closer, then, at these two complementary aspects that constitute the irreducible perspective of Ramsauer's approach to painting.
To start with his subjects. As we move into the mid-'90s it is clear that the formerly preferred field, where the artist had concentrated his efforts to an almost obsessive extent, begins to dilute and dilate at the very time when his relationship with reality - and his consequent selection of aspects of reality to interiorize and give formal expression to through his work - is becoming more relaxed and serene (though this certainly involved no loss of tension in his vein of fantasy and visionary vocation. To use a few telling quotations proposed and commented on by Remo Ceserani in his stimulating essay on The Fantastic", we can say that Ramsauer, like John Barth, has realized that in the last analysis reality is a pleasant place to visit ("nun, ich bin sehr froh hier zu sein", he does not hesitate to admit) though he also knows that no-one really wants to live there for very long; that therefore, like J.R.R.Tolkien, he has recognized that the creative imagination must base itself on the tenacious acceptance that the things in the world are nothing other than as they appear to us: on the acceptance, therefore, of what we define as facts and things instead of on slavery to them. I believe, however, that this softening and abatement of his perception of reality detracts not at all from his awareness of unheimlich - which translates approximately as perturbing - in the sense proposed by Jentsch and accepted by Freud in his extraordinary essay about E.T.A.Hoffmann's Der Sandmann, published in 1919 and entitled Das Unheimliche: and subtended by the critique of Nietzsche (the clarity of whose thought fascinates Ramsauer), not so much of reality as of the "distortions" and "inconsistencies" of the dominant cultural models that filter and relay reality to us. And secondly, his idiom. Its colouristic connotation - from the beginning intrinsic to Ramsauer's method but in his early work opaque, hesitant and almost in need of support or emphasis - became confident and distinctive as he came to rely on a range of basic values, releasing from each, in their relationship with light, the apparition of a moment of phenomenal reality as if transfigured by the process of interiorization, and the fixing of that moment in the formal destiny of its definitive poetic representation. The allusion, as with Proust, is not to a mere question of technique but of vision, the constitution and significance of which prescinds from, indeed shuns any naturalistic reference or mimetic justification and shuns too any symbolic attribute that may have been assigned to colours, whose contrasting and modulating tonalities condition all appearances. In other words, the light-colour event that now connotes and qualifies the painting of Michael Ramsauer is not the demonstration of a programmatic option but germinates, flowers and matures unpredictably in an interiority of moods and sentiments where the datum of reality is transfigured and transcoloured and achieved through the chance of the gesture that impresses it on the canvas and gives it truth. That that datum - whether a face or a human figure, nude or clothed, a landscape, trees or flowers, any of the mainstay themes - should thus be decontextualized and recontextualized precisely in the event that gives it significance is both consistent with the visionary poetics of Ramsauer and inevitable. But its relationship with the space in which it is recontextualized is deliberately ambiguous, for one does not know if it is an uncertain shadow in a misted mirror or a thicker brushstroke or a highlighted timbre or a profile laid down on the current context, on which he embroiders and festoons, or whether it is a breaker, foam, a whirlpool that have gushed, sprung or overflowed from the same source: yet the experience transmits to the viewer the emotion of a thrill you feel as awareness that reality is perturbing: unheimlich. Ramsauer's brush searches furiously in the cadmium yellow, light and dark, lemon yellow and straw yellow; in deep orange and bright orange; in vermillion and carmine, in wine and brick reds; in grass green, emerald and peacock greens; in cerulean and cobalt blues, ultramarine and midnight blue; in marble white and milky white, immaculate and off-white: his placid brush impregnates the colours with light, works them to create violets, reddish or bluish, smoky, lead or anthracite greys, browns of burnt sienna, rust and mahogany. He lays them in compact or tremulant layers shot through with the counterpoint of dissonant streaks of black or explosions of vertical, horizontal or oblique flashes. The strident colours of the early years have become a gentle whisper that may be broken by shrill, metallic sobs or raised to soft, caressing tones or lowered to a sort of ?chthonic? hoarsening; the violence of deformation gives way to a presage of compassionate pity; the plastic turgidity of the bodies is smoothed into gracefully sinuous, mannerist lines; the gleam of quick glances sparks deep in the eye sockets; pale glimmers of sunlight loom or flash over landscapes of fields and sea.
Michael Ramsauer's approach to painting - our starting point but the repetition is no tautology - lies in painting, passing masterfully through wastes crowded with the wrecks left by the catastrophic experiments of a thousand improbable avantgardes, post-avantgardes, trans-avantgardes and, having come to terms with the historical dimension of the idiom itself, asserting his originality and visionary authority and taking his place in the history of painting.