Markus Amm concentrates on several groups of works at once, alternating between small and large formats, photograms, collages, and oil paintings. At first glance, each group of works seems complete in itself, but a closer look reveals that the artist poses formal questions that he answers in different ways. He continually returns to the question of the surface, which can be transparent, closed, reflecting, or opaque. In his works, the surface is interrupted by a line or sometimes a crack, which represents a special kind of line. But when we try to describe this surface appearance in language, it loses its distinctness. Does the line really break up the surface? Is it a seam separating two canvases, or is it a painted line? This play with optical illusion brings up questions about painting’s potential that go beyond its formal aspects.
In his newest paintings, Markus Amm worked with several coats of chalk primer. This traditional material is called gesso – a chalk or plaster mixture which has been used since the 14th century to prime canvases and give them a smooth absorbent surface. In Amm’s art, the primer becomes a subject in its own right. Instead of covering the different colors of primer with a layer of oil paint or acrylics, Amm uses a difficult process to apply the primer in several coats, after which he removes or sands down selected sections. The result is a monochrome work with an unusual luminous intensity and gravitational pull.
In another group of art works which he created at the same time as the first, the result could not be more different. In these works, Amm applied only one coat of primer, allowing the texture of the canvas to show through. He then laid a reduced structure of lines over the large gray surfaces. Because these lines would bleed if applied with a brush on the thin layer of primer, he used an elaborate, lengthy process of spraying paint with stencils to draw each line. Several of Amm’s large works actually consist of two canvases put together in which he allows the shadowy gap to become an integral part of the composition. Only close-up does it become apparent that these lines are not painted.
Through Amm’s clear and reduced painting style, the beholder is coaxed into believing that everything is visually comprehensible and definite, only to be surprised over and over again. This is precisely the difference between his work and classical positions in art history like minimal art and constructivism, whose aesthetics Amm doubtlessly applies and reflects on in his works, but without building on their content. He is not interested in the historical idea of an “honest painting,” which would require all aspects of his painterly methods and techniques to be optically comprehensible to the beholder. Instead, Amm chooses to engage in a dialogue with viewers.
Text from the exhibition catalogue of Markus Amm’s solo exhibition at Kunstmuseum Stuttgard, by Simone Schimpf.