Tineke Reijnders                Bas Heijne                  Peter Brunsmann                   Joost Pollmann

Dry data on an impasto ground
Peter Brunsmann's paintings

Tineke Reijnders



Peter Brunsmann's paintings unite painterly traditions with present-day statistics. This necessarily results in a tense relationship and whoever sees these paintings for the first time experiences them as a shock. The paintings satisfy the material conditions completely, but what is lacking is figuration, and yet they are not abstract either.

These works are bearers of texts and graphics, or rather vehicles of sociological measurements, a function that makes you think more of posters and publications than of skilful, painterly treatment. But the short attention span of the slogan is not something that Peter Brunsmann is aiming at. The sincere outrage that injustice and crime provoke in him deserves a medium with a long-lasting effect. This is why he expresses his concern with that which, in specialist literature, is simply measured in words, numbers and charts, in a painting, in the medium that preeminently slows down and deepens attention. This mysterious power of the art of painting is thus particularly opportune.

Painting has certainly often been deployed as a strategic medium, particularly as a means of expressing visualised constructions of ideas (Magritte, Scholte). The method of painting is then smooth and efficient. With Brunsmann's themes, too, with their message embodied in language and signs, one might expect an impersonal technique. But the opposite is true: he actually makes a lot of work from the process of painting. He deals with elements such as the colour and texture of the background and the colour and form of the letters and numbers in an extremely well-considered way.

The heavy theme is paralleled in the numerous layers of paint. Sometimes this gives rise to an impasto surface, at other times the layers are necessary in order to offer space for texts scratched in the paint like sgraffiti. These texts are legible, albeit with difficulty, and offer background information in connection with the subject. The letters are edged with piled-up accumulations of paint which are the object of an ever-changing play of light, thereby producing a lively skin.

The relationship between foreground and background, between information and painterly background is also subject to tension. The background is in motion, undulating here and there like the sea, while the information comes over harshly and indisputably. Although the contradictory components would lead one to think otherwise, the paintings are never artificial or emphatic. On the contrary, they are expressive of a certain modesty, a remarkable introverted profundity that gives the dry data the emotional value of a personal experience.

One of the beautiful phenomena of art is the way it transforms general truths into individual experience. Nobody, unless face to face with Peter Brunsmann's paintings, would imagine that dry graphics and lists could ever possess such a contemplative power. In its bare enumeration there is something absurd about the information. It almost sets off laughter, and you unconsciously look for escape from the rigid seriousness of the subject. But the nuances and subtleties of the painting style cause the viewer's gaze to stall.

Written elements appear in the paintings of Twombly, as well as in those of Kounellis and Ruscha, while text is the artistic material used by Weiner and Kosuth. In Brunsmann's work it is not a question of poetry or of philosophical considerations. What appears in the foreground here is the naked social truth. In that respect, artists like Holzer and Kruger can also be associated with Brunsmann's work. The engagement, after all, is similar, but the method and the atmosphere, on the other hand, have little in common (the methods of advertising versus traditional painting).

Anyway, Brunsmann's statistical quotations do not usually consist of entire passages. He prefers to make a choice that is explicit as regards the subject, but which still leaves room for less specific interpretations. Just as the meticulous, layered construction of the painting contributes to the eloquence, so too the quality of the text and the way the data is edited is a factor of precision. It is a good thing that it is so well thought-out and that a balance and sense of perspective is found in the utopia of empirical factualness. However serious the content may be, the paintings derive an absurd lightness from the naive idea that we can control everything by measuring it.