Gallery visit: Rolf Iseli – Bern, Switzerland

As part of my ‘getting to know paint’ for my new OCA course (PoP1), I went to the local Galerie Kornfeld in Bern (January 16 – February 20, 2016). The exhibition was called ‘About Painting‘. The main scope of the gallery is auctioning substantial swiss and international art. They also do exhibitions and publishing art books (at quite high prices though).

When I walked through the rooms I felt attracted by the swiss artist Rolf Iseli (b. 1934).

In the 1950s Iseli’s work was around abstract expressionism in the context of Pollock and the Tachism painting movement. Later he focused more and more on using natural material in the context of Arte Povera.

Isle’s work is connected with ‘le terroir’ – the earth in St Romain or in Spain. The reddish earth from location is applied in his works as a medium and also as the foundation of a landscape. His works are somewhere in between landscape and abstract art. The horizontal format leads towards a landscape image, on the other hand the viewer felt attracted towards the picture, to get inside of it.

For Iseli earth has a deeper meaning. It takes time that earth is created, and it has a structure unlike skin. By that the support of his work become a second meaning: building up structures made from a structural element.

Iseli used besides earth also charcoal, gouache, found feathers, and wire. Quite a mixed media approach and close to what I used so far for my personal project.

  • ‘Überlagerungen (superimpositions)‘, 2007
    Charcoal, earth, wire, gouache on paper (70 x 100 cm)
  • ‘Feathers St Romain‘, 2011
    Charcoal, gouache, earth, feathers, wire on paper (70 x x100 cm)

I have the feeling though that Iseli’s works are not quite resolved. Hearing my tutor’s feedback on my personal project. I think that he played with the material but is still locked inside a compositional frame. Isle used wire as a rather human element in an otherwise natural environment. By that the work becomes more of a articulation of the relationship between nature and the human presence. The wire can be also connected to an articulation of nature at risk, a kind of alienation that may trigger further thoughts.

Nevertheless, I do think that those works do visualise a certain tactile sensation.

It would be worth to push further the structural element of earth into perhaps a more abstract work – and perhaps to overcome the frame delineation of the support.

Questions to me:
  • How far can the idea of using material from location be pushed?
  • What could be the key idea behind this?
  • Would a more focused series of works be more assertive?
  • How could I elaborate on this?


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