There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
– John Ruskin
Our first visit to Hanns Kunitzberger’s Berlin studio was in late October 2018, an autumn day when the sky matched the pavement.
With time it becomes apparent that Berlin’s ‘farben’ hides in the diverse cultural matrix of the city rather than in the material range of its architecture. In this sense it can be initially foreboding as a city, appearing to lack the intimacy that those of us from the new world so energetically seek out on our European “wanderjahr”.
There is an emotional temperature to its architectural range, an austerity that one can’t help but feel dovetails with aspects of Berlin’s singular 20th century history – and roaming as extensively as we do, it is not hard to form the view that there is something preconceived about its astringency. The city’s odd blend of neoclassicism and brutalism feels neither strategic nor casual just weirdly inevitable.
However, stepping into Hanns Kunitzberger’s and Catherine Kunitzberger-Emanuely’s apartment the autumn chill that had been following us towards Charlottenburg swiftly dropped away. There was warmth and chromatic ambience in abundance…and ginger tea.
Painting envelops Hanns’ and Catherine’s life. There is an extraordinary level of commitment and clarity given to its manifestation and I quickly felt aware of their shared focus, one that is directed towards the long arc of a painting practice. Each painting that we viewed on those first visits belonged to each other and though every work has a completeness and resolution that grows more evident each moment we spend with them, there is an overarching conceptual and aesthetic lucidity that feels scarce in these erratic times.
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Kubler-Ross’s statement reveals something I’m sure Kunitzberger recognises. That beauty is more likely to be unveiled amidst diminishing light – between the veils of real loss. For Kunitzberger the pursuit of beauty as a trait in itself is a Narcissian folly, one that leads to a false seduction. For painting to head down this path, however beguiling it might appear, risks ensnaring both the painter and the audience in an unconsummated tryst.
Is the painting then altogether resistant to beauty? Though Kunitzberger may be inclined to paint a kind of lamentation to beauty’s evanescence, there is some chance that his audience might be ambushed by its latent presence. In this sense, his refusal may not be wholly shared, but what he does offer us is an uncommonly sensitive manifestation of the components of remembrance.
It is the case that much of the work that I respond to shares a sensibility and a pledge to making that warrants the foundation of its visual architecture. The approach that each artist takes to this is inevitably unique but there is real pleasure for me in intuiting some small aspect of this. Whilst one seldom witnesses that ceremony, feeling something of it in the objects’ character is akin perhaps to hearing the fingers on the fret or the key…it doesn’t technically alter the note but, it reminds us how it is made.
This framing of a pure note with the mechanics of touch – that fleeting moments when the hair of the bow first contacts the string and coerces its response or that initial exhalation of air that contrive to vibrate a reed or solicit a note from a voice. These traces of making are amplified in Kunitzberger’s work, especially at the margins where we see the pigment both assembling and dispersing in vaporous shrouds. There is no theatre to his gesture, no flourish that announces the performance. Rather we feel his colours emerge like a tone that rises from nothing, building layers of intensity and then softening again to emptiness. It is at this moment – when the vibration ceases that we are left regretting its absence and indeed knowing beauty because it has gone.
The considerations that Kunitzberger makes about the support, the nature of the linen, all seem to be impacting the behaviour of the paint and contribute to the visceral quality of the objects. Some of the pigment sits within the warp and weft of the linen making its fine body part of the structure, even the composition.
The tooth of the linen itself creates a discreet visual oscillation in the surface, like the subtlest vibrato alters the fabric of a note.
Kunitzberger’s gentle coaxing of colour towards the interior establishes weight and body that never quite ceases to be atmospheric rather than fully corporeal. It feels as if his paintings aim to evoke memories of the somatic so that our experience of the paintings draw on a multitude of senses and a newer, unexpected awareness.
Stepping back into the autumnal brace near the atelier I was ambushed by an avalanche of feelings. These paintings justifiably carry a responsibility only to themselves and Hanns, yet their gentle conduct, their refusal to participate in the fashionable histrionics of the time gave the experience a hermetic shape that I immediately felt reluctant to leave. But as we walked back to the hotel, the evening sky opened up, the chill deepened, and I understood that the paintings are also happily rooted in nature and the forces of meteorology. Like Ruskin, Hanns Kunitzberger is pleased to welcome the approach of winter with its broodier horizons and its low-light solicitation of a subtler tonal register. His colours are not captive to describing these phenomena, rather they marry with the most sophisticated and tender gesture to evoke atmospheres that are as much cerebral as visceral, as much metaphysical as physical.
– Andrew Jensen
Hanns Kunitzberger is an Austrian painter (b. 1955 in Salzburg) who now works and lives in Berlin. He studied at the Salzburg Mozarteum (FKA the Salzburg University of Music and Performing Arts) where he completed a Diploma Thesis on stage design and scenography, as well as studying theatre and film directing. His artworks are now held in multiple public and private collections, mainly in Europe, including the Hilti Art Foundation, Kunstforum and the City Collection of Vienna.
The visible is never the object itself, but always only its boundary.
– Hanns Kunitzberger