Figural signs between fantasy and reality

By Fritz Jacobi

On Menno Fahl’s works
Transformation is the central leitmotif in Menno Fahl’s oeuvre. Rooted equally
in the Romantic and the Expressionist tradition, he sets his sights on shaping
his images to tear down the boundaries of human or animal creatures’ organic
bodies, heightening these and pushing them into the realm of the bizarre or
grotesque. He seeks to discover archaic primal forces, explore unfettered formal
possibilities and transpose dreamlike visions – always in conjunction with
a pinch of humour and artistic ambition that targets the constructional. Dabs
of paint that flow out into formless shapes, along with terse found objects
in wood, metal or fabric constitute the simplest conceivable triggers for his
burlesque yet pared-down creations, which perpetually track down the changes
that lie within them.
A passage from Menno Fahl’s jocularly ironic text “Werkstattbegehung in
kleiner Gruppe – ein fiktiver Atelierbesuch“ (“Walk around the workshop in a
small group – a fictitious studio visit”) may shed some light on the mood that
also comes into play in paintings and sculptures by the artist, born in 1967 in
Hanover: “I had lost an ornament somewhere or other, and therefore decided
to have a walk around the workshop.[...] Yet if I myself am my best visitor,
all of the others can only be their own guests. Who are these gentlemen in
green and vermilion? What is the lady in grey looking for here? I cannot find
my way through the pink whispering of colours and first take stock: red is not
death, the blue is not on the roof. Better to have the hand on the brown than
black and yellow on the trousers. Alongside this, saws, hammers, drawing
pins and bone glue. A ratatouille of cheap tinting paints and engine oil – who
ordered the whole orchestra?“
Menno Fahl’s expressive figurations seem to have risen up out of intermediate
worlds, and, with the surprising forms he finds for them, appear to plumb
every nook and cranny of the borderlands between fantasy and reality. Whilst
the familiar references to objects are ultimately preserved, as the titles of the
works demonstrate, the artist’s almost abstract and explosive formal idiom
alienates the corporeal images of this world and turns them into virtually
surreal figural signs. Fabulous creatures spring to mind, masquerades of all
kinds, mannequins or robotic devices, yet there are also echoes of primitive
peoples’ religious sites, whose magic creates a distance all its own. Menno
Fahl brings these diverse worlds together, offering scope for art that spins
yarns set between playfulness and rigour.
His works are to a large extent determined by an inner polarity, which his
figures tap into as they develop their growth-like resilience: the luminosity
of the colours is confronted with the bulkiness of the form, a figure that
is, on balance, integral takes on a rhythmic structure via the pronounced
autonomy of the details, or the structure of a work, emphasised through
planar surfaces, is countered by linear and grid-like elements, with their
bifurcations unfolding an autonomous intermeshed existence. This deliberate
linkage between opposing figural qualities leads to something close to a state
of uncertainty and suspense in Menno Fahl’s works. On the one hand, the
structure opens up, almost approximating to a landscape, yet on the other
hand it seems to be shielded, as if a protective stratum stood in the way,
impeding direct entry. An impression is conjured up of abstraction and
empathy coming together in a well-balanced connection which attains a vivid
climax in the signal-like use of colour and the montage-style juncture. This
gives rise to the persistent, mobile fundamental harmony that is such a
decisive hallmark of Menno Fahl’s compositions. Developing out of the interplay
between the various emphases, a permanent process of rapprochement and
letting go, or of attraction and repulsion, emerges for the viewer, focusing a
questing visual interest upon these planar and corporeal formations.
One fundamental structural principle, a defining element primarily in Menno
Fahl’s sculptures, has so far only been touched upon in passing. It pertains to
the relationship between the statuary and mobility, and encompasses the
interrelations between colour and materiality in his rod-like figurations. The artist
constructs, combines and assembles various components of the work to form
a tectonic sign, which always conveys a certain lightness, yet nevertheless
appears anchored in the ground as if it were a statue. However the natureof the composition and the components’ projecting sections, often running
in opposing directions, coupled with the selective deployment of intensive
expanses of colour, also creates a sense that a potential agility is at work in
parallel, generating a less weighty feeling. The corporeality, shaped anyhow
by quasi-Cubist fragmentation, thus creates its own aura, entirely bewitching
viewers, with colour and form entering into a tautly entwined symbiosis.
In this, as in other aspects too, it becomes apparent that Menno Fahl is
both a painter and sculptor, and that he consciously taps into and continues
in the vein of developments initiated in the early 20th century at the intersection
between sculpture and painting, for example in works by Pablo Picasso,
Henri Laurens or Alexander Archipenko. From 1988 to 1992 Menno Fahl
studied painting at the Muthesius-Hochschule Kiel with Peter Nagel; he went
on to study sculpture at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin in 1994, finishing
this course in 1997 as a master-class student with Lothar Fischer. The latter,
who had been a member of the group “Spur” since the late 1950s, with
its interest in expressivity, and also had close ties to Asger Jorn and the
former “Cobra Group”, provided support for the young painter’s goals. Lothar
Fischer’s comments on Menno Fahl are therefore informed by particular
esteem for his work: “Against the backdrop of painting, he picks up on the
figure as a topic for concrete space, yet not for the purpose of representation,
but rather as the end-product created out of the play of colour and form. It
is astonishing that the nexus of problems centred on the dialogue between
colour and plasticity is addressed so rarely nowadays, for it stems logically
from the European modernist tradition. […).“

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