peter rollny cv texts katalog news

Text by Wojciech Olejnik


In his recent paintings, Peter Rollny incorporates found photographs of figures and objects into his work by pasting them onto the canvas. Using photo-editing softwares Rollny assembles black and white figures of generic males and females from his own photographic sources as well as from the pulp of popular culture, such as newspapers, magazines and movie stills. The resulting personas appear as synthetic (perhaps even prosthetic), organic assemblages; pallets of body parts. They appear strange and awkward, and perhaps because they still retain their iconic nature, they invoke an uncanny familiarity. They stand inexpressively, disassociated and disinterested in their immediate environment. This surrounding space however, is immediacy itself: a barrage of crisp abstract marks and dense splatters of paint. These marks build up a shallow layer of paint, which shares an underlying, grayish hue with the pasted on figures and objects; it engulfs them into its ether, webbing around them. Sometimes the paint seems to deny the figure’s presence, as it presses over and against its contours. Sometimes the paint pools around the figure, acting like its shadow. In other instances the paint acts like an extension of the figure, metamorphosing parts of their bodies into blobs, into something foreign; metamorphosing body parts into the space itself.

The pictorial space of each painting is populated by figures, but also by architectural fragments and common, everyday, domestic objects. One can identify recliners, beds, light fixtures – objects which usually elicit a sense of closeness and security. Untitled 3, 2009, presents such a domestic scene. Here male figures are relaxing and reclining on chairs, though their poses and glances appear fixed on something afar. As if in a daydream, their speculative gazes search the distant horizon, away from these domestic references. Fittingly, the space around them is furnished with hanging lights, a floating canopy and a motor home, objects more closely related to a front yard (or a driveway) than an interior, to the barely outside of the inside. The abstract brushmarks around them weave a blanket of verticality which appears like a celestial ceiling, but never a foundation or something solid and supportive. Instead, the figures are left alienated, ungrounded, spread out across the space of the painting. Such a space seems to be the outside itself, the continuous turning of the inside out. In a strange way, the figures seem to offer more of a grounding in these paintings than the vast field of paint. One may equate their lingering presence, their guarded expressions as the foundational, the permanent, in a sense the safe and the domestic.

Each of these figures is a product of different influences from popular culture, and so none embody an individualized, particular identity, only a general set of characteristics which corresponds to a recognizable type. Consequently, these figures exemplify social stereotypes and psychological clichés. For example, the male in these paintings is always portrayed, as a well-dressed, middle-aged father-like individual, reading a book or smoking. On the other hand, the female is often presented bored, underdressed (sometimes naked) and oversexualized, perhaps representing the idolized, the unattainable itself. In sola, 2009 the glances of the dressed males seem to just braze over the edges of a woman’s body, underscoring a stereotypically shallow relationship between the sexes. These types of relations, these cultural archetypes are commonly unearthed through a psychoanalytical therapy, and here appear to be the physical manifestations of such archetypes. Each is an enigma and appears materialized, weaved together from far and distant memories, from the depths of contingency. Hence, these figures seem to personify a kind of irreducible materiality. It is a kind of irreducibility which one recognizes in Francis Bacon’s figures or in certain sinister characters from David Lynch’s films. But also, these figures in their irreducibility are reminiscent of Jacques Lacan’s concept of the real. According to Lacan the real is that, which cannot be reduced, cannot be symbolized, acts as excess itself. Similarly, these figures represent this irreducibility, the excessive, they are trapped in their disposition, lingering in an unresolved presence clearly defined on the surface of the paintings.

The presence of the figures and objects punctuates the field of paint as the viewer’s eye jumps from one to the next. This movement is detectable in the painted areas as well, and so the splatters and pools of paint, repeating colours – appearing like a mass of scattered neurons connected by synaptic firings – exaggerate the sense of rhythm in the work. Rollny seems to rely on this sense of rhythm and repetition not only in the composition of each painting, but in the body of his work as a whole too. He reuses the same objects and figures in different paintings (sometimes also within one painting), though each time they appear a little different. Such small modifications are typical of the miniscule differences that appear when meticulously examining a film reel, from one frame to the next. Once animated though, once in motion even the slightest, oddest shifts look natural and correct. In this way, the figures offer a plurality of different modes of the same being, where the continuity of movement, the fluidity of time itself has been replaced by the diverse, almost random instantiations of this movement. The same figure in one painting can be found as a negative or a reflection of itself in another painting. In fact, even the paintings appear to be created this way, they always appear as diptychs or triptychs, offering double and triple takes of the same captured moment. In Untitled 1, 2009 for example, each panel is covered with very similar brushwork, similar colours and similar application of paint. Each panel can be thought of as the doubling of the other, but neither seems to be shown to have precedence. In other work the image seems to be stretched out, bleeding over from one panel to the next, defying such a doubling effect. And so in these diptychs each panel carries a mutual and separate existence all at the same time questioning the very consistency, unity and oneness of this space.

The thin space separating the panels is an important device in this work. For as one identifies patterns and repetition, one also becomes aware of an almost undetectable, underlying difference that runs through the work. It is apparent as the gap between the panels, it is even present in the methodology of the application of paint itself. In general, the paint seems to have been thrown on rather quickly, in haste, and perhaps from a distance. The paint requires time to fall on the support, and so here time itself seems to have been reduced to the invisible. It is a moment that seems to not take any time at all, yet it is during this brief flight that the paint changes shape, takes on shape, only to flatten through a violent encounter with the support. In these paintings one never witnesses this shaping moment. One only witnesses its anticipation and its disappearance. Similarly, these figures are a product of an inaccessible process, they seem to emerge out of nowhere, yet they are aged, processed, colourless, drastically altered, their history absent, compressed to an invisible moment. It is a kind of an absence of history that one is accustomed to when viewing Classical sculptures, which are bare and colourless, worn, with missing limbs. Yet to see them (as is sometimes the case in museums) with colour, completely restored, is not to see them in their expected form, and so they appear false. For the contemporary viewer the historical distance to these sculptures is inherent in the sculptures, yet this distance is invisible because the figures always already look aged.

Similarly in Rolllny’s paintings one only faces the immediate present, the history of each figure has been reduced to a spark, one can only witness the result. One can attempt to work backwards, to deduce the predicates, to reassemble the original figures. However, as is the case with Classical sculptures, the origins do not necessarily clarify what seems obscure, to straighten what seems crooked. The more productive approach may be to look at the body of work as a whole, from such a perspective each figure is finally given a context, one finds its diverse incarnations, occupying different moments in different paintings. Of course, there is never a linear transition that one can follow, there is no way to figure out how the different incarnations of the same figure relate to one another, which has priority, which came first, as the figures are always passive, stoic and closed in. Nevertheless, each has a presence in duration even if this duration is not detectable. Each is like a cooling volcanic rock, one knows that it is cooling, but one can never witness the change. The paint also has this quality: it bubbles like boiling lava, its hue often a blackening red, revealing that it too may be cooling (or heating up) from one painting to the next.