Martin Kippenberger, Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1988, oil on canvas, 94 1/2 x 78 3/4 in., Private collection, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

In February of 2017 when I returned to painting, a particular work by Martin Kippenberger arrived to greet me: Untitled from 1988. I loved it instantly. It shows a rather sad example of an aging man holding and gazing at a linear geometric structure with vague traces of the sexual. I had looked at other artists who had painted 3-D diagrammatic objects, but this was the one for me!

This painting epitomizes for me the engagement of the artist to the thing made: this gazing at some structure with a teasing logic, trying to figure out how the parts that make up the world work, what they are, and how this contraption might help somehow. The gizmo he depicts with slapdash but accurate strokes of orange and red is reasonable, yes, but dissolves into the vagaries of emotional weather; it does not add up to the logical structure it pretends to be leaving poor blue Martin at 6’s and 7’s.

“Not that the world is mappable, but that it wants to be,” Elizabeth Hardwick in “Sleepless Nights” opines.

Martin Kippenberger, Untitled, 1989, watercolor, ballpoint pen and crayon on paper, 29 by 21 1/2 inches

The guy in the painting holds onto a loose string attached to a balloon which is paradoxically buoyant. It is here, inside a thought bubble perhaps, that the contraption floats. Here, he can have it but not have it. He can wonder at its meaning. He can replicate it as if it were, perhaps, some vital chart of the absolute. He can locate himself. He can locate space. He can follow its trajectories and hope for resolution.

Or, the balloon is his head. The contraption, before it was made, is his vestigial mental invention. Or, it is a map of his neuronal and syntactical trailblazing. Here and there I went! Or, it offers the possible routes ahead: I must go there, or I could go here. A sort of google map of evanescent darting notions.

Oh, and how it is painted! Did several different Kippenbergers revisit this work in several different times in several different states of mind? The balloon came first. It is scumbled on like some fading pareidolial trace on a stucco wall. An image or a stain? Don’t ask me! Next that unwieldy contraption is brushed on casually, neatly, in some territory between isometric perspective and an exploded view. A collapsed view perhaps? Then that man: Earnestly modeled with classically great brushwork, yet orthopedically challenged and disc-like in depth. The three cross paths in a great overlapping hyperspace.

Martin Kippenberger, Worktimer (at MOCA Los Angeles), 1987, steel, briefcases, and rubber, 95 11/16 x 101 3/16 x 55 1/8 inches, Grässlin Collection, St. Georgen, Germany, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Kippenberger also made this contraption with real materials in real space. But, for me, the painting is where it’s at! Worktimer from 1987 seems to be a still life for the later painting. Worktimer the object, changes in the painting because we see him. While we can gaze at this sculpture, in the painting, we can gaze at the artist gazing at the sculpture. We can think about gazing.

All in all this is the enterprise: using our great brains and blue hearts to figure out the world somehow, the urgency building as the bell rings for the last critical lap.

Heide Fasnacht, Turbulence (red), 2019, Acrylic paint on manipulated photo mounted on Wood Panel; 48” x 60”  © Heide Fasnacht Studio

Heide Fasnacht is a New York based artist who works in painting and sculpture. Her show at the Martin Art Gallery opens November 19th 2019 and is up until Feb 8th, 2020.