A review of Hans Dieter Grossmann's art
by JD Jarvis
MOCA contributing editor
Hans Dieter Grossmann was born in Frankfurt in 1926. He studied
painting and graphic design at the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin
from 1948 to 1952. He became a graphic designer and later art
director for Telefunken and moved with that firm to Ulm in 1957.
There he became involved with teaching special classes in painting
and drawing at the University of Ulm (aka Research Institute
for Practical Orientation of Knowledge), which was well known
for its progressive avante garde approach to fine art. He has
exhibited his traditionally-made work in Berlin, New York, Kansas
City, Toronto, Bangkok, Washington and Stuttgart to name a few.
He made his first "computer paintings" in 1996, winning
awards for this work in 1998, 1999 and 2000, with shows in Frankfurt
Herr Grossmann's first image presented here in the Museum
of Computer Art is true to his statement. Done in the style of
the watercolors he created just before he took up the digital
tools, we see in this piece the polished rendering style of an
accomplished artist, as well as an interest in somewhat symbolic
and perhaps metaphysical themes. The drawing is tight and expressive
and a fascination with applied paper texture is evident. In this
piece, he is proving to himself that he can maintain control
of his work with these new tools. In the subsequent imagery of
this MOCA presentation, we see the innovation of new technique
and the search for new motifs that he rightly senses must arise
from the serious exploration of radically new tools.
This collection of work vibrates between abstraction and surrealism.
While the forms do not directly represent recognizable objects,
there is a mysterious, deep connection to them. Many times these
shapes appear to be bits of fabric blowing and twisting in the
wind. I have seen these shapes in the limp drapery and bellowing
garments depicted in some of Salvador Dali's work or the sensual
petal shapes of Georgia O'Keefe. Combined and contrasted with
sharp geometric shapes, these forms seem to burst out of still
surroundings, as if the canvas has suddenly erupted or torn open.
Ultimately I am left with the feeling that these pictures are
of frozen moments of time, caught just after there was complete
silence and just before chaos has completely taken over the picture
Grossmann makes good use of certain filters and image manipulations,
transforming an image until it juts out like a table or shelf
from the surface of the painting. Painter's "Distorto"
brush is employed to pull and push areas of color into streamlined
shapes. Drop shadows repeat these forms and create a sculptural
element that lends realism to the abstraction. Careful, controlled
use of select bits of fractal imagery and vortex tiling are composited
into the picture and do not overpower the imagery. In this way
poetry is not supplanted by digital technique, but rather supported
by it. It takes the control of a real master to not succumb to
the flashy eyewash of multiple filters, whizbang brushes and
textures, and wave upon wave of psycho-digital colors. There
should be a term, perhaps "abstract surrealism," to
describe Grossmann's work. There is insightful intellect, masterful
control and quiet vigor here.
Grossmann's years in design have given him the awareness that
an image on a phosphorus screen and a digital print are essentially
two different things. According to him, he is continuously making
proofs of his work on an HP Deskjet 999c as it progresses. When
he finally determines that a piece is finished, he sends a photo
glossy proof along with the file on a CD to his print shop. In
this manner, he never loses sight of what is possible, keeping
his eye on the final goal; which is a large format inkjet print
of the work either on canvas or traditionally heavyweight (250
gr.) watercolor paper. These prints, sometimes up to two meters
large, are then either stretched or mounted on foam board and
presented and marketed as "one of a kind" art work.
My thanks to Ansgard Thomson for the communications and translations
Between Time and Space
They are near us, and yet they are strangers to us, his pictures
painted in his particular techniques which have become
his trademark since a long time. He himself, sensitive creator
of this mysterious oeuvre, remained a "well known stranger"
for us, a "homeless person" residing in Ulm since more
than 30 years.
We deal with Hans-Dieter Grossmann, painter (by talent and
passion) and graphic designer (more by necessity as a provider
for his family) however, he has never become an Ulmian;
the same way as he would have never become a Berliner in the
past. Not that he ever had anything against Ulm with its Gothic
Cathedral or personally against any citizen of this town. And
here, over the years, he has gathered a group of friends around
him, faithful friends of a sort rarely to be found these days.
He ranks himself amongst them, but yet stays outside. He joins
them-and distances himself, continues, in a double sense, in
his work as an artist.
Flight into his pictures: pictures which are his real home
and address. Anybody who is familiar with his work, and who has
encountered his paintings at exhibitions knows the subjects of
Hans-Dieter Grossmann in their "coagulated" aggregate
form: There are the many water-colour paintings of landscapes,
the "wall" pictures, female acts woven into masonry
work or falling apart the down-pinning portrayals of prominent
people (without having received specific orders) or the "nude"
self portraits without pity for himself, the critically prophetic
"environmental' cycles, expressing a clear position, and
the purely documentary pictures like the Brandenburg Gate, Ulm
Cathedral, etc., as well as the colour compositions.
In summary because of the aforementioned coagulation effect
which does not seem to allow distinct contours, for quite many
a viewer of Hans-Dieter Grossmann's oeuvre his work may have
a blurringly beautiful character. Somebody else would observe
in this trait a conscious withdrawal, an attitude balancing between
existence and non-existence. You may perhaps ask yourself, too,
whether Hans-Dieter Grossmann's clots are simply what syncopation
is in music: the attenuation of the unattenuated (tactworthy)?
In this round, totally outside of this frame, quite different
the shocking, entering surrealism "settlement" pictures
with their Freudian instruments they could originate directly
from the soul workshop of this famous psychiatrist. Here somebody
engages in a self-torturing manner against the overwhelming female
principle, somebody defends himself in a violent helplessness
against the mythos "Woman" spreading fear, makes himself
small and ugly on the one hand and reducing on the other hand
the female body into a closed abdomen
Here becomes the artist-doer uncomfortable, who is always
a victim, too, who confronts us with a mirror. The nightly human
sides are brought to light, this renders concern, invokes opposition;
causes embarrassment, this touches sectors which nobody wants
to be true
You experience Hans-Dieter Grossmann as reserved in the usage
of colour. When portraying and representing landscape sceneries
the artist shows his a sensitivity and detail-correct design.
"A strict, empathetic master who cannot be bribed"
thus characterized by his students, who during 20 years
of teaching them the art of live painting at the Ulm Volkshochschule
and of the Ulm University. Besides using nude models for live
paintings and portraits he uses more and more, too, modern media;
he uses self-made videos as models for differentiated means to
trap faces and mimics.
By the way, video: Increasingly, he occupies himself with
the wide field of video art, experimenting with its diverse possibilities
in order to fully indulge the technical effects artistically.
As far as his style is concerned, he easily changes sides
seemingly without difficulties: He estranges concrete objects
to the abstract and compresses wobbling shadow-tissues and line-meandering
into anthropomorphous creations. What constitutes for the author
his card index, for him is the collection of sketches. Many a
water painting (aquarelle) has its origin in the woods: There
the artist's eye feels magically attracted by strange tree tumors
knotty roadwork or farcical moss polsters.
A 'fugitive' pencil sketch is being streaked And at some point
when the fingers are itching, when he is haunted by this well-known
creator's unrest, then the sketch is selected for which he feels
having a special relationship. A new oeuvre is being created.