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The Friedrichs Foundation presents a comprehensive selection of works by André Butzer from the collection, ranging from N-Paintings to his recent figurative work. 

“André Butzer is 36, as the Grablegung von Winnie Puh / Entombment of Winnie the Pooh, 2010, is created. Over the previous 15 years, he has moved through everything he had, color, form, expression, themes, contradictions, to get to his own image. An image in which history, with all its extremes, is acted out equally in hope and terror. Until it finally comes to its end motivally and the painting to itself.

On a craggy and pastose ground Winnie Puh emerges in a tender night blue. Meltingly or as if thrown down in one pour, almost cosmic as a shimmering starry sky. It is Butzer’s last figurative painting before his N-Paintings. The honey-golden form drifts apart and falters at the same time. A clear shape can only be vaguely sensed, be it a bear, honeycomb or a gold nugget. As the colors are intimately interrelated, the gold is potently embedded into the blue.

Within the painting, receded distance and tangible closeness meet. Further accentuated by two enormous white arches, guiding the way for the golden lump like two otherworldly companions of the soul or as a pair of white gloves straight out of a Disney cartoon gently lay it to rest. With a light air, woven into the white are the three primary colours and a fourth one added by Butzer, the incarnate, embodying and allowing for a human presence even amidst of the highest abstraction.

As abruptly as figuration, pastosity and all colors are withdrawn and kept within, the image as image nonetheless persists.

High and wide stands Untitled, 2011, laid on cloud-like, in delicate silver-gray. Held alone by two forms, deep black bands drawn into the agitated pictorial field. At the top, a horizontal one. Towards the right side a vertical one.—A perpendicular, already anticipated by an imperceptible stake stuck into the Winnie the Pooh painting.—Each placed in its own right, these two forms are just as searching, cautious and hesitantly pondering as they are decisive, unquestioning and precise. It is for this opposition that the picture finds into its full openness and immovable hold.

It is an intuitive balancing act. If the gray turns to glistening white, the intensity and expansion of the black is also increased. Butzer thinks all supposed opposites as one. The unmistakable form of a painting is neither constructed nor calculated in advance, it is always an indivisible whole. For instance, the basic directions of the image mutually measure the planar dimensions. Even black and white are a single sound of light that has left the dualistic behind. The colors are by no means abandoned but completely integrated and present in potential chromaticity.

Butzer lets the N-Paintings escalate. The black bands expand. Darkness displaces all light. The white wanes. Oppressively, everything closes in. The upper horizontal form becomes more massive and so heavy that it crushes and almost collapses the vertical. Despite this, the latter asserts itself over the years and with tremendous effort ensures the balanced cohesion of the images.

Unstoppable and overpowering, the repressive blackness spreads. Yet at the moment of absolute overwhelming, when the images seem to be lost and fading into black, brightly, as on Untitled, 2016, a single, fine ray of light opens up. At the moment of their own annihilation, the images turn. It is for the inconspicuous vertical fugue to restore the pictorial balance.

The question remains why Butzer, after all that was, paints such images for seven years. From the beginning, he has painterly questioned the assaulted existence of man and still struggles with it. The gesture of his hand inscribes itself into the gesture of the paintings. An expressive stir that can be felt as a pictorial echo of human presence on every N-Painting.

Taking Lucca Signorelli’s allegory Vivant portant le Mort, 1500—a living body carrying a carcass on his shoulders—, Butzer finds a parable for human existence. From the elementary relation between the horizontal and the vertical, he creates a pictorial figure that inevitably reveals the finiteness as well as the possibilities of being. In this tremendous condition the N-Paintings have their immaterial measure. In imageless immediacy, each of them is unique, unrepeatable, individual. An individual that unexpectedly and ever anew challenges us to question our wavering stand in the world. 

If the early N-Paintings were a crossing over to the existential place of the image, the late ones seem like a renewed turn toward the world. Together, all N-Paintings form a threshold, holding itself open for the full experience of suffering and joy, this realm and the hereafter, death and life. A threshold that is not corporeal and at the same time still appears to be corporeal. Completely disconcerting but completely human. Broken, ashamed and overwhelmed, upright, composed and steadfast.

Thus Untitled (Früchte), 2016-2017, is only at first glance a figurative painting. The radiant orange becomes a kind of gold ground. It creates a place of pure appearance, whereupon the two fruits embody both symbols for abstraction, with which Butzer invents his future image of man, body, flesh and of potato chips, as well as return and rebirth after the N-Paintings.

These figures were always abstract, already at the very beginning. They symbolized the path from an initially unknown end point to the actual beginning. Moreover, the gradual coming-into-their-own of the images is expressed by eight watercolors, which, like a unifying bond, take up the golden tone of Winnie the Pooh, weave themselves into the N-Paintings and eventually, springing forth from them again, lead as a flowing stream of iridescent light dots into the Früchte painting. 

From the last figurative image before N to the first seemingly figurative one after N, from one of the first N-Paintings to one of the last, the exhibition spans two broad, mutually intertwined arcs. A thoughtfully related constellation, in which the simple togetherness of these four paintings gives a glimpse of the breadth and wholesomeness André Butzer’s painterly horizon of experience encompasses.”

Text courtesy of Friedrichs Foundation.