ARKESTEIJN Roel. Tomas Rajlich: A Retrospective in six paintings.
Heden, Den Haag 2008.
BLOK Cor (ed.). Nederlandse kunst: vanaf 1900.
TELEAC, Utrecht 1994.
BLOTKAMP Carel. "Tomas Rajlich" in Bulletin.
Galerie Collection d'Art, Amsterdam 1972.
BLOTKAMP Carel. Lof der Tekenkunst.
Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1973.
BLOTKAMP Carel & HAKS Frans et al. Kunst van nu: Encyclopedisch overzicht vanaf 1960.
Elsevier, Amsterdam 1995.
BONOMI Giorgio. Tomas Rajlich: La monocromia anche.
Fondazione Zappettini, Milano 2007.
BOOL Flip. "Tussen tekenen en schilderen" in Het oog op Den Haag: actuele Haagse beeldende kunst.
Haags Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag 1986.
BOOL Flip. Tomas Rajlich.
Galleria Peccolo, Livorno 1987.
BOOL Flip. En Suite.
HCAK, Den Haag 1992.
BROOS Kees. Tomas Rajlich.
Groninger Museum, Groningen 1975.
BROOS Kees. "Tomas Rajlich" in Elementary Forms.
Ministerie van CRM, Den Haag 1975.
BROOS Kees. Tomas Rajlich.
Haags Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag 1978.
BROŽEK Libuše. "Tomas Rajlich" in Bulletin.
Centraal Museum, Utrecht 1978.
COLLOVINI Diego. Suoni della superficie.
Villotta & Bergamo, Portogruaro 2001.
DE BOER Cees. Aspekte Niederländischer Kunst heute.
Städtische Galerie, Lüdenscheid 1996.
DIPPEL Rini. Fundamentele Schilderkunst.
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1975.
GUALDONI Flaminio & PETERS Philip. Tomas Rajlich: opere 1969 -1993.
Palazzo Martinengo, Brescia 1993.
HONNEF Klaus. Jaap Berghius, Tomas Rajlich & Martin Rous.
Westfalischer Kunstverein, Münster 1975.
IMANSE Geurt (ed.). De Nederlandse Identiteit in de Kunst na 1945.
Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1984.
LAGEIRA Jacinto. Tomas Rajlich: Nacre et Paillette.
Dům umění, České Budějovice 2005.
LAMARCHE-VADEL Bernard & MENNA Filliberto. Fracture du Monochrome aujourd'hui en Europe.
ARC Paris / Musée d'Art Moderne de la?Ville de Paris, Paris 1978.
LOCHER Hans. Tomas Rajlich.
Haags Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag 1971.
LOCHER Hans. Tomas Rajlich.
Haags Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag 1979.
MUSSA Italo. / colori della pittura: una situazione europea.
Istituto Italo-Latino Americano, Roma 1976.
OLIVA Achille Bonito. Europe-America: The Different Avant-Gardes.
Deco Press, Milano 1976.
PAALMAN Hans. Tomas Rajlich.
Schiedams Museum, Schiedam 1971.
PEGORARO Silvia. Toccare con gli occhi e con la mente: la pittura di Tomas Rajlich.
Fabbri CA, Milano 2010.
PEGORARO Silvia & ZANCHETTA Alberto. Toccare la Luce: la pittura di Tomas Rajlich.
Museo Michetti, Francavilla al Mare (CH) 2010.
PETERS Philip. "Kunst van Tomas Rajlich: tasten en zoeken, tobben en afzien"
in De Tijd (15/10/1982).
PETERS Philip. "De eeuwige ruimte: het goud van Tomas Rajlich"
in Museumjournaal 6 (1986).
PETERS Philip. "The Metaphysical Monochrome or the Perfect Painting?"
in Kunst en Museumjournaal 4/5 (1993).
PETERS Philip et al. Tomas Rajlich: Kresby 1965-1976.
Galerie Zámek Klenová, Klatovy 1997.
REISING Gert. Farbe, Felder, Philosophie: Ein ästhetischer Dialog.
Chorus, Mainz 2000.
REISING Gert. Tomas Rajlich: Recent Paintings.
Jiri Svestka Gallery, Praha 2003.
RUYTERS Domenik. Tomas Rajlich: Ouborg Prijs 1994.
Stroom HCBK, Den Haag 1994.
RUYTERS Domenik. "Sensibele Strukturen"
in NIKE, New Art in Europe 54.
SOLIMANO Sandra et al. Pensare Pittura: Una Linea Internazionale di Ricerca negli Anni Settanta.
Silvana Editoriale, Milano 2009.
Tomas Rajlich, "Toccare la luce"
incl. an interview with the artist on ArteTV, 25 September 2011.
VALOCH Jiří. Tomas Rajlich.
Dům umění, Brno 1998.
VISSER Ad de. De Tweede Helft (Kunst na 1945).
SUN, Nijmegen 1998.
ZANCHETTA Alberto. Tomas Rajlich: L'inesorabile divenire.
Massetti Rodella Editori, Brescia 2008.
Tomas Rajlich. Half a century of painting, roughly
Tomas Rajlich, Prague, 1940. This is how the unknown artist presented himself in the Netherlands in 1969, in exile from the Soviet invasion of his country that was to last twenty years.
Nothing was known then, and still little is known today, about the extraordinarily effervescent state of postwar Czech culture in which Rajlich grew up: Skupina 42, the group that formed around Jindřich Chalupecký and fixed a clear gaze on the European avant-garde (one of its illustrious members, Jiří Kolář, stayed in Prague until the Charta 77 affair, before fleeing to Paris in 1980);1 the UB 12 group that emerged at the beginning of the Sixties with figures like Václav Boštík and Stanislav Kolíbal;2 as well as the Klub Konkretistů, founded in 1967 by Tomas Rajlich, Jiří Hilmar, Radek Kratina and Arsén Pohribny. As young artists, they took up radical visibilista positions after gaining a precise notion of the experiments of Azimut in Italy, Zero in Germany and Nul in the Netherlands. He was interested in the repeated interweaving of solid and protruding physical shapes or in outlines reduced to basic graphic cells that proliferated in a uniform pattern on the surface.
Rajlich was born a sculptor and as such was chosen by Jiří Mašín as an exponent of the new avant-garde for his international debut, the exhibition Sculpture Tchécoslovaque de Myslbek à nos jours in the Musée Rodin in Paris in 1968.3 But the Netherlands acted as a tremendous accelerator in clarifying his vision; besides offering a wealth of suggestions, it immediately revealed to him the road of painting. The neo-avant-garde that was rooted there – the exhibition Nul promoted by Willem Sandberg and organised by Henk Peeters in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was a mile-stone in the early years of the 1960s4 – and the availability of the best theoretical and experimental material in circulation in a quantity incomparable with the information that was reaching Prague were a decisive shock for Rajlich. He found a full exposition of the rationale behind Piero Manzoni’s colourless achromes and Yves Klein’s monochromes, which were above all an objective understanding of colour in itself and a pragmatic use of it in making paintings in various gradations of a metaphysical character, at the very moment in which another generation of lucid conceptual proclamations was ridding itself once and for all of any aesthetic or exemplary residue in the work of its predecessors. From 1969 on the gallery Art & Project, which had opened in Amsterdam only a year earlier, presented such artists as Lawrence Weiner, Stanley Brouwn, Sol Lewitt and Gilbert & George, exponents of Rajlich’s own generation, while that of Riekje Swart, who was active from 1964, moved on from a more openly conceptual emphasis, from Marinus Boezem to Ger van Elk and Sol LeWitt, to more Neo-Constructivist positions – Bob Bonies, Ad Dekkers, Peter Struycken, and Jan Dibbets.
In this lively context, Rajlich’s paintings immediately assumed one of the most lucid and radical positions, as shown explicitly and unambiguously in the double exhibition held in the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam and the Haags Gemeentemuseum in The Hague in 1971,5 making him a key figure in the radical questioning of the process and language of painting. It was a painting pared down to its first moments, relentlessly concentrated in the analysis and scrutiny of the roots of its own existence as painting: artifice and discipline, a device for the meaning and practice of expression. What counted most at this moment was not so much the reference to the Minimalist painters of the United States who were currently showing in Europe – Robert Ryman exhibited at Heiner Friedrich’s gallery in Munich and Konrad Fischer’s in Düsseldorf in 1968, and in the following year in “When attitudes become form” in the Kunsthalle in Bern6 – but rather to the European roots, the broad field activated by Piero Manzoni’s achromes. Rajlich evoked his structuring that was essential to the rectangular grid of the surface, and to a lesser extent Yves Klein, around whose idea of monochromes Udo Kultermann had put together the exhibition “Monochrome Malerei” in 1960 with a choice of painters ranging from Lucio Fontana to Azimut, and from ZERO to positions that were radical in different ways such as that of Raimund Girke.7
Rajlich’s Untitled series from the early years of the 1970s questioned painting in its materiality as a physical substance, as corporeal matter, in the development of the distilled and intensive direction in which he had already been experimenting from 1966 on during his Prague years. This was a counter-melody to the basic structuration provided by repeated cells or the basic pattern of horizontals and verticals obtained by addition or subtraction.8
The decisive step came in 1974 with the triad of solo exhibitions in the Yvon Lambert gallery in Paris (where he had shown in the “VIIIe Biennale de Paris” in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in the previous year), Art & Project in Amsterdam, and Françoise Lambert in Milan.
Rajlich now tended to leave the material density of the painting clear, remaining as decisive irritations and disturbances in the painted surface, and to produce works that were more openly expressive.
It was a decisive moment, also because the Netherlands was one of the places in which the upsurge of what is variously called analytical or fundamental painting was taking place, amid a variety of national idioms and attitudes that emerged clearly in the flood of exhibitions that succeeded one another in Europe from the early 1970s.9
On 25 April 1975 “Fundamentele schilderkunst : Fundamental painting” opened in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Curated by Rini Dippel under the directorship of Edy de Wilde, it included Jaap Berghuis, Jake Berthot, Louis Cane, Alan Charlton, Raimund Girke, Richard Jackson, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Tomas Rajlich, Edda Renouf, Gerhard Richter, Stephen Rosenthal, Robert Ryman, Kees Smits, Rob van Koningsbruggen, Marthe Wéry, and Jerry Zeniuk.10 In the same year Rajlich, Berghius and Martin Rous were the three artists from the Netherlands who showed in the Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, where Klaus Honnef had organised the large-scale exhibition “Geplante Malerei” in the previous year.11
It was Honnef who, with Hans Sizoo, launched the travelling exhibition Elementaire Vormen (Bonn, Saarbücken, Nuremberg, Saint-Étienne, etc.) in May 1975 to demonstrate the richness of the specific Dutch situation: Akkerman, Berghuis, Buurman, Fernhout, Van der Heyden, Hoving, Van Koningsbruggen, Rajlich, Rous, Schoonhoven, Verhoef, Visser, and Van de Wint.12 These were heavily theoretical years, and the concern for reducing the complexity of a singularly open and shifting artistic panorama to clear interpretative patterns favoured a simplification by affinity rather than an appreciation of singularities and excesses. That basic affinity consisted in a dedication to painting in its specific quality as a medium, a refusal to countenance any lingering Dadaism or loss of disciplinary rigour as proclaimed in “When attitudes become form” and by the strict Conceptualists.
Of course, it was painting at a high and relentlessly cerebral level, above all in its questioning attitude – a critical calling into question of painting in the very act of painting itself. At the same time, however, it was also an attempt to shake off the historical ballast of the discipline in order to maintain and affirm its creative identity. For many it was a claim to the inevitable necessity of the pictorial – its metaphysical mark discernible in genealogies traced back to Malevich
, Mondrian, Reinhardt, Klein – and therefore the more convincing hypothesis of the continuity of a historical identity, that of painting. In spite of its fortunes and crises, however extreme, in the end it did not fail to present itself as the crucial disciplinary point of articulation that for centuries had been the hallmark of what is artistic.
This concern to define a highly homogeneous territory was more of a theoretical and in some respects strategic choice as a barrier against the progressive tendency of art vivant towards non-painterly or extra-painterly forms, or experiences that not only stepped outside the medium but openly presented themselves as championing the negation of painting, an element that provoked ambiguity rather than clarity. Proof of this can be found in the extremely well-attended “documenta 6” held in Kassel in 1977. Within a year attempts were being made to draw distinctions. The most explicit was “Fractures du monochrome aujourd’hui en Europe”, at the ARC in Paris in 1978, where Rajlich was one of the exponents. Bernard Lamarche-Vadel wrote of the analysis of “different modes of fracturing, because I believe that in the fracture of the monochrome, in the space and moment of this fracture, something new is happening in art which has nothing to do with the minimalist mechanics of which we have seen too much already and which, for therapeutic reasons, we should abandon”, moving towards “fractures that do not generate a system, because I struggle against systems.”13
aptly summed it up when he wrote that monochrome can also “represent the mystical, internalisation, contemplation, the imperceptible, the unspeakable, the infinite/eternal, pure sensibility, nothing. Or revolt, refusal”, because, in the face of “visual pollution, monochrome can be an aesthetic hygiene” and therefore “a zone of purity, beauty, well-being, concentration, simplicity, quintessence, integrity”.14
Still, it is clear that, if at the time the structure of orthogonal grids, the absolute austerity in the use of colour, and the sense of seriality implicit in Rajlich’s work were gains at every other level of interpretation, today we can note the persistence of the irrational component and of the aleatory indeterminacy of the painterly acts, however implicated and preserved in the act of painting, leading one of his most attentive and continuous observers, Philip Peters, to write years later that his concrete actions “also refer to a different type of experience, a world of dreams, thoughts and actions that cannot be explained easily from a logical point of view”.15
In other words, in the repeated geometrical grid that functioned as all-over spatial lens and specific space of experience, the minimalist aspect was seized upon first, perhaps losing sight of the fact that it was rather the primary foundation – with precise historical roots, from Neo-Plasticism to Constructivism – of a concreteness of the field of action and vision without which any painterly act would have become no more than a stale formalist exercise. “Form fascinates when it is no longer able to encompass the force that is inside it, the creative force”, wrote Jacques Derrida.16 So Rajlich’s how was overexposed and framed, neglecting the fact that from then on he was aiming, by way of purified intentional acts that were even carried to the limit of conceptual torment, at a painting of substance and energy that would go beyond the merely optical phenomenon – after the Kleinian saut dans le vide, precise pulsations of a possible meaning.
The systematic aspect, the regularity of the process, the insistence on the non-illusionist visual concreteness of two dimensions, were for him necessary premises without which in the application of colour and its actions – understood in turn in their most complete plenitude and physical tangibility – he would have been unable to concentrate on the question of his identity, character and vocation.
In 1993, when for more than a decade the artist had been weaving dense, irregular patterns of black/colour and yellow, and hints of pink and sky blue, cautiously taking on even gold, filling almost the entire surface, incising it too with horizontal and vertical grooves cut out of the rugged material (these incisions were already heralded in an incunabulum from the early 1970s), I happened to write: “Colour, splashed on in short, tormented cadences, occupying by itself the whole of the image, is devoid of any instrumental or compositional logic and any linguistic hierarchy: it is, and offers itself, as image, as a substance that is itself to be seen: as light”.17
And there is ever less colourlessness and ever more light in the tonal variations on white with which the artist made the transition from the 1970s to the 1980s: light, slightly impoverished because intuitively captured in a moment, all in the service of clarity. Playing with colour, which had been put in brackets for a long time along with the phantom of chromaticism, now became possible because the analytical experience had obliterated any even remotely naturalistic filiation: the colour is understood a priori as self-referential, an affirmation of itself for itself, without implying more explicit ideological or theoretical statements.
By now the paintings had become extensions of light, concentrated and pure epiphanies, even capable of bearing a symbolic charge. The rightness of this direction has been shown by the successive stages of the artist, in which the farsightedness of the act permits fuller confidences and stimuli, and cadences that tend to dominate the pronounced optical tension of the surface. There are colours such as black but also gold – a metaphysical turn with mystical roots. With even greater determination, Rajlich operates on the plane of the saturated image; but now this saturation does not only concern vision; it is rather a plenitude that involves the very idea of light associated, in our culture, with the sense of colour and supernatural vertigo.
This is the moment of the outburst, if only in the operational brightness of one who can but regard painting as an autonomous, physical basis of language and meaning, of more than an echo of wisdom.
In Rajlich’s paintings, in a concentration that is now for him complete and unfettered freedom, these are the years for which the words of the old German specialist Shmuel Sambursky seem to ring true: “yes, colour is by its very nature the appearance and emanation of light”.18 It is an epiphany in the sense of a divine hypothesis. Or the mood of the highly ambiguous Sefiroth of the Kabbala. Or the well-considered receptivity to a popular culture – for Rajlich, a Czech by birth, the anthropologically rich Slav tradition – with its pagan symbolic complexes in which white, black and gold, and blue and red, are the very pillars of an entire cultural cosmos. A recent interpretation of the artist’s work by Jiří Valoch points in this direction,19 while Gert Reising wrote in 2003 that Rajlich’s latest works had become “seductive or even lascivious in their Baroque-Bohemian character by comparison with the objective austerity of their ancient predecessors”, stressing the “hieratic-heraldic aspect in their formal proportions” and the desire “to remain a painting, not a setting, not a mise en scène, not a media event, but remaining solidly in the dignity of the image obtained by painting”.20
From one painting to another, the spiritual tension in Rajlich’s work evolves, breathes, lives. The up-to-datedness, the original component of feeling oneself a member of the avant-garde, fades in these works, while the painting itself remains: “a zone of purity, beauty, well-being, concentration, simplicity, quintessence, integrity”.
1 Z. Pešat, E. Petrová (eds), Skupina 42, Atlantis, Brno 2000.
2 M. Slavická, J. Šetlík, UB 12, Galerie Gema, Gallery spol. s r.o., OSVU, Prague 2006.
3 J. Mašín (ed.), Sculpture tchécoslovaque de Myslbek à nos jours, exh. cat., Musée Rodin, Paris 1968. In generale T. Vlček, České kořeny holandského období Rajlichova díla, in Tomas Rajlich, exh. cat., Národní galerie, Prague 2008.
4 The Ekspositie Nul was held in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam from 9 to 26 March 1962 with Armando, Bernard Aubertin, Pol Bury, Enrico Castellani, Dada Maino, Piero Dorazio, Lucio Fontana, Hermann Goepfert, Hans Haacke, Jan Henderikse, Oskar Holweck, Yayoi Kusama, Francesco Lo Savio, Heinz Mack, Piero Manzoni, Almir Mavignier, Christian Megert, Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Uli Pohl, Jan J. Schoonhoven, Günther Uecker, Jef Verheyen and Herman de Vries. It was preceded in November 1961 by the release of the magazine “nul = 0 : magazine for the new conception in the visual artstijdschrift voor de nieuwe konseptie in de beeldende kunst / revue pour la nouvelle conception artistique / zeitschrift fur die neue kunstlerische konzeption” edited by Peeters and, De Vries and Armando. In general, A. Kuhn, Zero: eine Avantgarde der sechziger Jahre, Propyläen Verlag, Berlin 1991; ZERO, Internationale Künstler Avantgarde, Museum Kunst Palast/Cantz, texts by J.-H. Martin, V. Hilling, C. Millet and M. Visser, Düsseldorf/Ostfildern 2006.
5 H. Paalman (ed.), Tomas Rajlich [note, from this moment on, the simplified way of spelling the artist’s name] exh. cat., Schiedams Museum, Schiedam 1971; H. Locher (ed.), Tomas Rajlich, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague 1971: more exhibitions were held in the museum in The Hague over the years.
6 H. Szeemann (ed.), Live in your head : when attitudes become form : works – concepts – processes – situations – information, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Bern 1969: though Ryman was the only one there to play with the objectification of the painted surface.
7 U. Kultermann (ed.), Monochrome Malerei, exh. cat., Städtisches Museum, Leverkusen 1960.
8 Cf. the recent reconstruction of this stage in the artist’s development in B. Tempel (ed.), Tomas Rajlich : Verfstructuren = Structures in paint : 1966-1976, exh. cat., Gemeentemuseum, The Hague 2016. On the drawings, P. Peters, Struktura nebo poesie?, in Tomas Rajlich : Kresby / Drawings : 1965-1976, exh. cat., Galerie Zámek Klenová, Klatovy 1997.
9 A detailed reconstruction is out of the question. See the comprehensive survey in: I. Mussa, I colori della pittura : una situazione europea, Istituto Italo-Latino Americano, Rome 1976.
10 E. de Wilde (introed.), Fundamentele schilderkunst : Fundamental painting, text by R. Dippel, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1975.
11 K. Honnef (ed.), Jaap Berghuis, Tomas Rajlich & Martin Rous, , Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster 1975. In “Geplante Malerei”, 1974, the emphasis was on “planned painting”. The exhibition included Erben, Girke, Graubner, Van Severen, Teraa, Renouf, Marden, Ryman, Zeniuk and the Italians Gastini, Griffa, Olivieri, Guarnieri, Morales and Zappettini.
12Elementaire vormen van hedendaagse schilder-en tekenkunst Nederland : Formes élémentaires dans la peinture et le dessin contemporains aux Pays-Bas, exh. cat., texts by H. Sizoo and K. Honnef, Bureau Beeldende Kunst Buitenland / Office d’Art Visuel pour l’Etranger, Amsterdam 1975.
13 B. Lamarche-Vadel, F. Menna (eds), Abstraction analytique :Fractures du monochrome aujourd’hui en Europe, exh. cat., ARC / Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris 1978: the artists were Alan Charlton, Pierre Joly, Carmengloria Morales, Olivier Mosset, Jürgen Paatz, Pino Pinelli, Tomas Rajlich and Jerry Zeniuk.
14 G. Honegger, in La couleur seule. L’expérience du monochrome, exh. cat., Musée Saint-Pierre Art Contemporain, Lyon 1988.
15 P. Peters, op. cit.
Absolute Painting. Giorgio Griffa, Tomas Rajlich, Jerry Zeniuk
“One should remember that a painting, before representing a horse in battle, a nude woman or some anecdote, is in the first place a plane surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order”,1 wrote Maurice Denis in 1890. Shortly before, Paul Sérusier had painted the legendary Le Talisman, which Denis was to own for many years.
This was the first moment when painting realised that it was not a question of a possible abstraction from its highly stratified iconographic tradition either, but of much more: to think of painting as the act of painting, a self-grounded and self-sufficient act. Here became clear what, mutatis mutandis, had already become clear when the Carracci embarked on their career, that is, “a new awareness, which is the critical awareness of the action. In short, what emerged here was an eminently critical conception of the creative act”.2
In other words, the raison d’être of painting is not its subject (what is represented), nor its how (the question of style), but its very existence as an absolute “made by human hand” (cheiropoieton) – in contrast to the myth of the acheiropoieton, the fixation through mysterious metaphysical paths on the image of Christ “not made by human hand”, and therefore fundamentally authentic because not an artefact – that emerges from the lucid process of intellectual scrutiny of its very being as painting.
That something transcends theory itself, divorced from the time-hallowed genealogies, breaking away from them in many ways as it moves towards the goal of a painterly operation that can be called absolute in itself.
This applies to the few, among the protagonists of the extraordinary decade of the 70s, whose trajectory did not stop at New Abstraction, fed as it was by a “conceptual approach to painting”, already grasped by Ben Heller in 1963,3 but was based on emphasising the mentalisation of processes.4 They no longer confronted the problem of non-objective abstraction nor that, which had already been widely explored in many ways, of monochrome,5 but had something else in mind.
On this occasion we present the work of three painters – Giorgio Griffa (1936), Tomas Rajlich (1940) and Jerry Zeniuk (1945) – whose careers spanning several decades have remained faithful to the basic choices, but transcend the specific contingencies of what has been variously called Analytische Malerei, Geplante Malerei, Fundamental Painting, etc., in spite of the fact that they were protagonists in that movement, in their quest for a different possible value of the absolute.6 These artists belonged to the generation that reached maturity at a time when non-representational art was no longer an issue. However, neither did they allow the pictorial object to be reduced to the chill demonstrative exercise of a thought located elsewhere in the version of Conceptualism that tended to prevail initially. Their way of making a painting aimed at an effective and full experience that involved their physical and intellectual totality, obviously free of any irrational tension of Nervenkunst, but understood as an effective moment of listening carefully to the material, space and specific time in which the painterly actions take place.
In 1975 the exhibition “Fundamentele schilderkunst : Fundamental painting” opened in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, featuring Zeniuk and Rajlich among others.10
Rajlich had shown a more than passing interest in Piero Manzoni’s Achromes, evoking his use of rectangular grid structures, lacking signification in themselves, to structure the surface. In 1971 he already demonstrated an urgent and radical questioning of the process and language of painting.11 He too moved from a totally physical understanding of painting as material, distilled in essence, naturally recognising its vocational space in the support of the painting as the location of precise, condensed events, to a lofty and resilient level of mentalisation and of questioning. This found expression in a critical reflection on painting in the very act of making a painting. His approach was also a non-disciplinary one: once freed from the historical ballast of all its obligations, painting could now be considered as a perfectly unrelated and autonomous experience.
Rajlich too, like the elder brothers of Azimuth and of the Zero group, had at first sight a degree zero, but his approach was immediately a strongly constructive one. Instead of sheltering within the ideological terrorism of theorisation, he set out to extract the purest juices from the foundations of painting. Leaving aside the readings given at the time in the light of concerns of the moment, the artist’s painterly actions immediately began to weave a new experiential fabric, “a world of dreams, thoughts and actions that cannot easily be explained in terms of logic”, and whose identity lies in the perfect purity of painting.12
And colour reappears there, in considered brushstrokes, in the form of self-referential colour. Already in 1993 it was possible to write: “Colour, applied in short and deliberate cadences, filling the entire image, is devoid of any instrumental, compositional logic and any linguistic hierarchy: it is, and presents itself, as the very substance of vision, of the image: as light”,13 leading to a plenitude that includes the idea of light itself associated, in our culture, with the sensation of colour and of supernatural vertigo.
In the work of Griffa, Rajlich and Zeniuk, the critical experience of painting in the very act of painting, free at last of all theoretical and disciplinary trappings, aims to distil and recover its fundamental identity, the degree of autonomous, indefinite but precise incandescence. It is the absolute, or rather the idea of an absolute (if one wishes to avoid, more prosaically, the pertinent but more ambiguous term “beauty”) that skirts around philosophical currents without becoming their mouthpiece, a condition bared in a questioning that stirs a sort of internal and totally autonomous diapason of the painting.
1 “Se rappeler qu’un tableau – avant d’être un cheval de bataille, une femme nue ou une quelconque anecdote – est essentiellement une surface plane recouverte de couleurs en un certain ordre assemblées”: M. Denis, Théories 1890-1910, III ed., Bibliothèque de L’Occident, Paris 1913, p. 1.
2 A. Emiliani, La tecnica di Annibale e di Agostino nel periodo bolognese, in Les Carrache et les décors profanes, Actes du colloque de Rome (2-4 octobre 1986), École Française de Rome, Rome 1988, p. 6.
3Toward a New Abstraction, exh. cat., ed. B. Heller, The Jewish Museum, New York, 1963.
4 Ad Reinhardt, “Twelve Rules for a New Academy”, in Art News, vol. 56, no. 3, May 1957, pp. 37-38, 56, wrote: “Everything, where to begin and where to end, should be worked out in the mind beforehand”.
5 For a comprehensive discussion see D. Riout, La peinture monochrome, revised and expanded edition, Gallimard, Paris 2006.
6 For an excellent survey of this period see I colori della pittura, exh. cat., ed. I. Mussa, Istituto Italo – Latino Americano, Rome 1976.
7 P. Fossati, “Griffa tra empiria e funzionalità”, in Giorgio Griffa, exh. cat., Martano gallery, Turin 1968.
8 G. Griffa in Giorgio Griffa, exh. cat., Claudio Bottello gallery, Turin, April 1975.
9 F. Gualdoni in Giorgio Griffa. “Matisseria” e altri lavori, exh. cat., Martano gallery, Turin, 1982.
10 R. Dippel, in Fundamentele schilderkunst : Fundamental painting, exh. cat., ed. E. De Wilde, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1975.
11Tomas Rajlich, exh. cat., ed. H. Paalman, Schiedams Museum, Schiedam, 1971; Tomas Rajlich, exh. cat., ed. H. Locher, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1971.
12 P. Peters, Struktura nebo poesie?, in Tomas Rajlich : Kesby / Drawings : 1965-1976, exh. cat., Zámek Klenová gallery, Klatovy, 1997.
13 F. Gualdoni, “Pitture di Rajlich”, in Tomas Rajlich. Opere 1969-1993, exh. cat., ed. F. Gualdoni, P. Peters, Nuovi Strumenti, Brescia 1993.
14 Fundamental texts on the works of that period are A. Pohlen, “Jerry Zeniuk: Malerei”, in Kunstforum International, 35, May 1979, and Jerry Zeniuk. Bilder. Paintings. 1971-1989, exh. cat., ed. S. Salzmann, Kunsthalle Bremen, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 1990.
15 This and the following citations are taken from J. Zeniuk, How to Paint, ed. H. Liesbrock, Sieveking, Munich 2017.
16 Jerry Zeniuk Paintings: Not for your living room, texts by A. Klar, J. Daur, L. Romain, E. Bergner, P. Forster, Kehrer, Heidelberg 2014. For example, in 2001 the artist painted a 4 x 8 m canvas in Mainz.
The solo exhibition ABC-ARTE dedicates to Tomas Rajlich, to celebrate his half a century of painting, represents a proper selection to show the audience a complete vision over his career.
Born in 1940, Rajlich grows inside the avant-garde Prague group Klub Konkretistů, in the wave of the international neo-avant-garde movements symbolized by Azimut in Italy, ZERO in Germany, Nul in Holland. After expatriating Czechoslovakia in 1969 following the Soviet invasion, Rajlich moves to the Netherlands, where the avant-garde atmosphere is alive and where his conception, based on working on regular squared grids, close in a way to Piero Manzoni’s Achromes, is immediately very welcome by the heart of growing conceptualism.
In 1974 he has very important solo exhibitions at Yvon Lambert in Paris, at Art & Project in Amsterdam and at Françoise Lambert in Milan – for many years his reference galleries – and the following year he is one of the main artists, together with Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Gerhard Richter and others, in the memorable exhibition “Fundamentele schilderkunst / Fundamental painting” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, a milestone event for the international affirmation of Analytical Painting.
In 1993 Gualdoni, curator of the “Fifty years of paiting” exhibition, organizes Rajlich’s first retrospective ay Palazzo Martinengo in Brescia, followed by the ones at the Haags Gemeentemuseum dell’Aja in 1994, the Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe in 1996, Prague’s National Gallery inl 2008, as well as the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague in 2016, the Museum Kampa in Praga 2017 and in 2018 at the Boijmans museum in Rotterdam.
Rajlich has been recognized as one of the main artists among the international neo-avant-garde panorama.
From 1999 to 2002 Rajlich was an artist in residence at the MNAM/Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, which includes his works among its collections, as well as other institutions, such astheCentraal Museum in Utrecht, the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie in Saint Étienne, the Musée Cantini in Marseille, the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Národní Galerie in Prague, the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation in Amsterdam, the S.M.A.K. in Gent, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam, the Stedelijk Museum de Lakhal in Leiden, the Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof in Delft.
Genova confirms its predisposition to open and connect with the most innovative and contemporary cultural initiatives, through the definition and increase of an analysis started in the Sixties and the organization of events, taking place also inside its own cultural institutions and inspired by friends and colleagues of the Czechoslovakian artist, who shared with him a radical vision of painting.
Major of Genova
In continuation of its past programme, the ABC-ARTE Gallery pursues its in-depth exploration of the work of the protagonists of the international neo-avant-gardes. This book documents its retrospective of Tomas Rajlich, a milestone in the international recognition of analytical painting and co-founder of Klub Konkretistů.
The works on show range over a period of fifty years to enable the formation of a comprehensive picture of the work of Rajlich. He went into exile in 1969 after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and moved to the Netherlands, where he was able to become acquainted with the theories of the Dutch neo-avant-garde group Nul. That group, with such prominent figures as Manzoni, Klein and Sol LeWitt, was intimately involved in the debate that dominated the most important cultural and artistic movements of the time in Europe.
Right from the early 1970s (he participated with Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Gerhard Richter and others in the memorable exhibition “Fundamentele schilderkunst : Fundamental painting” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam) he was regarded as one of the leading representatives of Fundamental Painting. His works, solidly anchored in the quest for the roots of painting, are notable for a materiality that becomes a symbol and metaphor of physical substance and a highly controlled language of gesture. Rajlich consolidated his fame in this period with several important exhibitions in Holland and Paris, where he has successfully shown his work on more than one occasion.
In the two successive decades and ever since, the work of Tomas Rajlich has bolstered his international reputation to make him one of the leading figures of the most influential avant-gardes. The artist is involved with exhibitions in the principal international institutions that hold works of his in their collections.
Head consultant & director, ABC-ARTE
The Genoa Local Authority has always shown great dedication to the promotion and diffusion of its cultural patrimony, and has on several occasions in the past had the pleasure of hosting events organised by ABC-ARTE. In this context it is important to mention the solo exhibitions of Giorgio Griffa (Esonare il mondo) and Tomas Rajlich (Fifty Years of Painting), which set out to gain a more in-depth understanding of the works of both artists in the course of their long careers and to introduce them to fellow citizens, students and lovers of contemporary art.
This book and the related exhibition explore the careers of three of the most important exponents of Fundamental or Analytical Painting.
The city of Genoa is also focusing its attention on the appreciation and promotion of its extraordinarily rich landscape and culture for tourists and in the region. The vitality of the cultural attractions of the city is also demonstrated in quality cultural events such as Absolute Painting. This exhibition aims to highlight an important moment of cultural ferment in the aftermath of the Second World War, in which the international avantgardes (Nul, Azimut, Zero among the best-known) were able to develop their own researches and to trace developments that were to become crucial for the history of contemporary and Italian art.
I would like to express my profound gratitude to ABC-ARTE, one of the most authoritative galleries of our city, and to all those who in various ways have made possible the holding of this exhibition in the city of Genoa, the custodian as ever of a vast artistic and cultural heritage.
ABC-ARTE continues it path of research and in-depth analysis of the theme of painting in the 1970s with the major European avant-gardes and their protagonists. In its endeavour to contradict the death of art and its reflections on the raison d’être of art through the specific act of painting, Analytical Painting successfully established itself internationally with new proposals and a return to the poetry of colour and material.
After the book La Pittura in sé/The Painting itself by the collective of artists consisting of Pino Pinelli, Ulrich Erben and Claude Viallat, that on the personal exhibition of Giorgio Griffa entitled Esonerare il mondo, and Fifty years of Painting on the personal exhibition of Tomas Rajlich, this one compares the parallel trajectories of three artists who have been protagonists of the historical experiences of Fundamental Painting and Radical (or Analytical) Painting.
Giorgio Griffa has a way of painting that puts the emphasis on features that are considered essential such as colour, space and composition. His canvases are free, not confined by the stretcher, ready to conquer the space. In this immediate, essential and luminous representation, Griffa traces lines that go back to the long memory of humankind, kept alive thanks to painting as the link between present and past knowledge.
Rajlich founded the avant-garde Prague group Klub Konkretistů in the wake of the international neo-avant-gardes such as Azimut in Italy and ZERO in Germany, while in the Netherlands he was able to confront the theories of the neo-avant-garde of the Nul group. His works, which are solidly anchored in a quest for the roots of painting, stand out for a materiality that is both symbol and metaphor of physical substance and carefully controlled gesture.
The painting of Jerry Zeniuk first found appreciation in the 1970s after he took part (together with Tomas Rajlich, Jaap Berghuis, Jake Berthot, Louis Cane, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Kees Smits and others) in the landmark 1975 group exhibition Fundamental Painting in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Colour is the fundamental element in Zeniuk’s painting; physical and visual beauty is the goal. According to the artist, colours are not only bearers of emotions, but their interaction is capable of reflecting social and, more generally, human relations too.
The artists documented in this publication are eloquent examples of an approach that that has gone beyond the artistic developments of the 1970s to become, in its evolution down to the present day, a singular and definitive experience. The thread that connects them is fidelity to painting in the specific essence of the medium, free of all theorisation, to achieve a lofty and resolute degree of mentalisation and operational concentration.
Head consultant & director, ABC-ARTE