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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Peter Buechler

Peter Buechler

Born in Celle, Lower Saxony, Germany
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

since 1986
Independent artist

Peter Buechler

"His pictures are complicated. In the paintings from his new series of works, Peter Buechler delivers both the old familiar material and strange stuff, things that we are at home with and disturbing elements. The artist packages his motifs in large formats that sometimes reach complete abstraction, dividing them up into grids consisting of small, regular fields of color. From what distance, in what resolution should we look at them? Even in his choice of optimum viewing distance and sharpness of focus the viewer is faced with an almost impossible task. The solution, as with any good painting, is: to stand in front of the painted pictures and not to trust the illustration from the catalogue or an image on a computer screen. It would indeed be easy to come to a quick verdict with so many images all around us. What we see on the World Wide Web seldom affects us. A cataract for example. The keyword “Wasserfall” (waterfall) produces exactly 332,000 illustrations (under “Katarakt” (cataract) you do, by the way, initially come across some quite unappetizing photos of the illness involving the clouding of the optical lens) and under “Niagarafälle” (Niagara Falls) 80 hotels and still 17,400 pixel images come up.
Peter Buechler was once at Niagara Falls. Amongst his oil paintings produced since 2002 is, amongst other things, a 2 x 3 m picture of these vast, cascading waters (O.T. (Niagara), 2009), as they can be observed from the roaring abyss at Table Rock on the Canadian side. A snapshot was taken, a snapshot which, at the time, Buechler was unaware that he would one day be using to paint a picture from. It was winter. The light spots on the blackness of the picture come from snowflakes. It certainly would not stand out from the thousands of Niagara Falls pictures on the Net. Depending on resolution, it would be judged too out of focus, perhaps blurred and it appears to have been taken in weather conditions that are definitely too bad for a presentable Niagara Falls picture.
Our judgment of the painted picture is completely different. As soon as we come across it, its sheer size, its assertive singularity and its craftsman’s exactitude clamor out for attention. And this Niagara painting of Buechler’s is somehow hard to get out of our minds. We stand – rather than sitting – in front of it, stepping forwards, and then back again, trying to get close to it but to maintain our distance, only after some hesitation understanding the motif and feeling our way towards its structure. We can enter in upon a dialogue with the picture, an image that previously – in the pixel image to which it doubly refers– illustrates things with which we are all too familiar. Niagara Falls has been a tourist destination since 1800 and is one of the most frequently portrayed natural spectacles worldwide alongside famous mountains – Matterhorn, Mount Fuji, Vesuvius –, sunsets and rainbows.
The purpose of tourist’s souvenir pictures is both to document (“I was there!”) and to capture a breathtaking natural phenomenon. The value of a photograph is interlinked, as was the case with almost every published picture even 150 years ago, to the value and the size of the object portrayed. And as an illustration, it is necessarily inferior to the original (“In reality, it was much more breathtaking!”).
Not so the case in this painting by Buechler. The painter’s primary concern is not that lofty or expressive something, a motif or a formulation by the hand of a particular, distinctive artist. What is crucial for him is the double reference to endlessly produced and published reproductions by digital cameras and cellular telephones. All Buechler’s motifs are taken from the digital world. They can be landscapes such as Niagara Falls, views of towns, interiors, a door, a shelf that he has photographed himself, or illustrations found on the Internet, such as open-heart surgery or pornographic images of women. Here, what disturbs is the banal: the artist chooses these images from the innumerable possibilities and subject them to a transformation, using an exacting and time-consuming painting process that wrests their arbitrary, everyday quality from them. The process brings their potential, so to speak, to light in actu, producing unique, singular images that are simply calling out for attention.
The process of declaring photographic material found by chance worthy of making a picture, thereby transforming it into something unique – the original is admittedly alienated (enlarged, fogged), but it remains recognizable as a point of reference – is reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s oil grisailles dating from the 1960s and 1970s, portraits by Chuck Close and Thomas Ruff’s photographic treatment of pornographic images from the Internet, work to be found since the early days of the 21st century. Buechler’s translation has chosen another route, the second reference to the digitally illustrated world: dividing up the surface of the image and the motif into grids consisting of rectangular fields, each with its own color value. This, too, is reminiscent of Gerhard Richter – although the latter, still operating in the analogue age, produced compositions consisting of fields of purely abstract color. His paintings neither had digital models nor did they portray concrete objects.
On the contrary, Peter Buechler’s abstractions should be categorized as attempts at getting close to the figurative, to the question of what importance can still be attached to painting today as a portrayal of reality. Buechler’s first artistic solutions date from 2001 when he began painting over oil portraits he had acquired on eBay: the artist produced an illusionist painting superimposing the trunk of a birch tree on a copy of a Franz Hals and adding the ironic logotype New York. He also painted grids over the face of a naive portrait of a front soldier for the first time; the colors for these grids derived from the original located beneath them. Later, these grids came to fill the entire canvas.
Buechler divided up the 6 qm canvas of Niagara into over 3000 rectangular fields onto which he transferred the colors produced on the computer, by hand with a paintbrush in the manner of an old master, field by field. What he thus produced looked, at first glance, like a giant, blurred copy of a digitally produced picture where the object’s every contour and sharp outline – in other words, its graphic quality – has been removed. A paradox, but one with which we have now reached the very core of Peter Buechler’s work: it is precisely the geometrically exact matrix of his pictures – in other words, the graphic quality of their arrangement that lends them their picturesque quality.
In terms of the aesthetics of the pictures’ reception: as he stands in front of the picture, the viewer is forced into something which would hardly be the case when faced with a digital image. He needs to come to terms with the oscillation between the object itself and its appearance within the media. A process that cannot lead to a conclusion. Moving about in front of the image, the viewer is only slowly able to balance the image he sees in his imagination with the one he sees in actual fact, although he can never get them to coincide. He works, struggling between what he believes he sees, what he wants to see and what is actually there to be seen, finally, surrendering to the inevitable, and for instance, getting lost in the boulevard which appears to stretch out into infinity, no longer asking whether this is meant to be Washington, Paris or Berlin, or even somewhere on the moon, and forgetting the question of whether a sunset was ever so beautiful in Caspar David Friedrich or on Majorca.
It is in this exchange, as – if you would like to put it that way – highly charged as it is, where an active role is demanded of everybody, that the quality of Peter Buechler’s painting is to be found."


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