Lutz Friedel *1948

Looking at the total oeuvre of the painter and sculptor Lutz Friedel,  phases of relaxed understanding and of dark foreboding seem to succeed each other. The latter prevail, as impending disaster had been a determining theme in earlier of Friedel’s works. He began his career as painter in Leipzig. Then, in the late seventies, pictures were created which, in a metaphorical and symbolic encrypting, communicated daily disappointments, lost hopes, as well as the disgust experienced by a younger generation of East German artists  when faced with reality. Friedel was one of them, and for a period of time he partook in the unsparing, merciless assault which his generation made on the body, in order to protect the soul and gain strength for finding themselves,  by means of an intensive life. The paintings of those years had indeed literary ambitions, without being narrative as such. They convinced themselves that they were understood, and yet, vis-à-vis the official public, their expression remained encoded. Their works dealt with doom and flight impulses, with thunderstorms, threats, self-injury, impeded movement, rigidity and self-reference and egotism. Long before the tragic Titanic story became a pop-myth in film, Friedel had existentially realized it in a triptych. His painting of thunderstorms did not promise a summer sky to follow, his escalators did not lead anywhere and the people of his cultural and art-historical allegories stared indifferently from empty eyes.

In 1984, Lutz moved to Frankfurt/Main, and soon thereafter to Berlin. In these new surroundings, the mythologically based symbolism of early years had lost its justification. Breaking out into openness made different guidelines important. Consciously, Friedel now brought his painting into a context with the European culture, and “learned” to see without artificial assistance. This was, perhaps, less a gain in autonomy , but certainly the experience of  a pictoriality which replaced the social view for the sense of sight, without losing the consciousness for the associative importance of the new objects. Whilst travelling through France and later on, through Italy, Lutz Friedel acquired the skill of employing light as a form-giving element. More or less in the sense of Georges de La Tour, it derives from an uncertain source, and thus, essentially and intrinsically creates all three-dimensionality, all plasticity. In parallel thereto, there is the development of anthropomorphic round forms, plastic-sculptural shapes, which Friedel copies from nature but, in the end, reinterprets into format and effect. Haystacks, fruit, shells, stones, craters, birch stems, asparagus spears or skulls – in Friedel’s idea of painting, these are at first plastic happenings, which have to assert their volumes in the two-dimensionality of panel paintings, whatever their format. It seems as if he wants to satisfy himself about the inner forms, which he intends to work up into partially oppressing monumentality, in order to be able – at a later stage – to resolve them into the overall sketch, the totality, of the landscape which he beheld. Here also, is the beginning of the transitions into the architectural:  here also, swelling, expansive round forms: stadiums, arenas, bridge arches and Babylonian towers. One could call these processes  his very own pictorial archaeology. The individual object, even if won from the observation for a picture, is closely examined as to its quality as a symbol not only for a state of the world, from which it is taken, but also as a symbol of a wholly individual importance for the artist himself. And this examination is not made by the integration into anaesthetically constructed context of meaning. To the contrary, this context is but established by it. Means thereto are, first and foremost, the colour, and only then the alienation through the dimension, in which the objects are captured in the painting.

Earlier, the paintings had association guiding titles such as “Sintflut” (The Flood) or “Ehemaliges Gelände” (former site), and were, as yet to be read in the context of German experience, as the oppressive, dark invocations of past catastrophes, as well as premonitions of what is to come.

In this phase, Lutz Friedel almost completely obscured the faintly ironic undertones of  his works, and only with the Totentänze (dances macabres) they reappear in varying nuances. At the time, Friedel wrote that the 20th century had gone well beyond all boundaries of the imaginable and doable in art; there are no limits, there is no linear development, there are no taboos. The concept of art has fallen apart, has lost its importance. He also said, that he did not believe that it made any sense to re-define it repeatedly. What counts, is the seriousness with which the artist builds his case and advocates his cause.

Lutz Friedel has never lacked seriousness. For two decades, he has been painting and, in parallel working on a never ending series of head sculptures made of wood – wooden sculptures in different, mostly larger-than-life-size formats. They could be brought into the broader context of the so-called “painter – sculpture”, created in the 20th century by Matisse, Degas, Picasso and others, up to Baselitz and Penck. The non-academic, surface and light related form of expression would underline this. However, Lutz Friedel’s sculptures are according to himself “dilettante” in the positive sense of the spontaneity and excitement involved in their creation – nevertheless, they are indeed conceived in the sense of three-dimensionality. Their physiognomic individualization is in accordance with the material and the possible depth of the dimension. Friedel’s heads having nothing in common with the furiously expressive gestures of Baselitz or with the wooden, terse ordinariness of Balkenhol. Their individuality is the sum of single observations made during the process of work, and does not invite any characterological definition. And this is their secret:  we do not know with whom we deal, although we believe we know them. Like the heads of puppets who become alive in accordance with an external principle, they absorb our own projections of  idea and expression and, as it were, throw them back at us. As the self-reflections of the artist, the are reproductions and metaphors alike. In their totality they stand for the “condition humaine” of that time, which no longer knows how to differentiate between an individual concept of life and the levelling in the masses. And exactly herein lies the sub-theme of the Totentänze: death concerns everyone and everything, the individual, as well as the community.