Fields of Lines, Light, and Time. Drawings by Dirk Salz
By Peter Lodermeyer
Just as in the old days of classical art theory, drawings are still used today to anticipate works done in other genres. The majority of paintings, installations, sculptures, and often, sometimes even video works and performances, not to mention design and architecture, is essentially based on drawing processes during the design and planning stages. This is why the pertinent theoretic fundamentals of art in modern times considered disegno to be the “father of the art”, since the design drawing immediately refers to the artist’s first idea, the concept of the work of art, both in terms of its plan and “reception”. The reasoning goes that in the drawing, the intellectual imagination of the artists is at its purest and most genuine, and thus, it is the creative heart of his work. In keeping with this, the drawing pencil and sketchbook (or their digital computer substitute) are still the most important items in the toolbox of ideas for many artists. Working out preliminary drawing studies is still a completely natural method of clarifying and defining the concepts of painterly and, in the broadest sense, sculptural projects.
But in the work of Dirk Salz precisely the opposite applies. The idea behind his series of drawing works has developed entirely out of his painting. Their basic impulses stem from experiences with processes and questions that are of a purely painterly nature (whereby the word “painterly” actually needs quotation marks, since Salz’s methodic process of dealing with paint has little to do with the traditional notion of painting as brush work). From 2003 on, Dirk Salz had been exploring artistic possibilities that arise from applying paint to the surface with spatulas and scrapers. This semi-mechanical process allowed him to carry out the painting act as an open process based on a dialectic of planning and chance. From this process-based manner of painting, at least two types of, in the broadest sense, graphic or draftsman-like structures came about in his pictures. On the one hand, these were linear forms, which resulted from applying the spatula to the surface and then lifting it off again; on the other hand, in the interior surfaces of the paint substance, delimitations of form occurred that were unpredictable, sharply delineated or even softly progressing, “outlines” of amorphous fields, these having come about in those places where the upper layer of the paint material “tore off” and the layers of paint underneath became visible. The emergence of planned and accidental graphic structures that resulted from the material and the painting process gave rise to thoughts that the principle of “controlled chance” used in painting could also be tried out in a graphic medium with the means of pure drawing. Surprisingly, the solution was found in the most familiar and classic form: as drawing with pencil on paper.
The technical procedure and basic formal scheme of these drawings he has been doing since 2007 may be quickly described: Dirk Salz draws horizontal lines on small-format, for the most part upright, rectangular (sometimes square), drawing paper. To draw his lines, he does not use a customary ruler, for example, but rather a piece of cardboard with an unevenly frayed edge. Due to these irregularities, the pencil “jumps” in places, leaving gaps in the stroke. This procedure for drawing a line is now repeated many times. Because of the mechanical pressure applied when pulling the pencil along the edge, the edge of the cardboard gradually changes, thus also altering the form of the progression and the gaps in the lines. With the change in pressure and accordingly, the thickness of the stroke, the variation of the distances between the individual lines and the moving of the cardboard aid to the left or right, deliberate design possibilities have been provided for.
As simple as the technical procedure is, the more complex and conceptually difficult it is to characterize the outcome. What is revealed to the viewer is the result of the interplay between unpredictable, purely mechanically created structures and deliberate control. Each individual line, and likewise, the overall relationship of the lines to one another, is determined by this interplay. At the same time the result, the drawing in its entirety, may be interpreted as the interference of two notions of time, one diachronic, and the other synchronic. It is diachronic because we are dealing with a sequence of lines made over time – or rather, with the sequential repetition of a line, whereby this line continually undergoes minimal deviations and changes. For such an interpretation, a sequence of viewing comes about that runs from top to bottom (or vice versa), in which jumps occur, an optical “jolting”, sort of a “flip book” effect. But along with the diachronic, there is a synchronic interpretation, the simultaneous viewing of all lines together as a co-present structure. From this point of view, Dirk Salz’s drawings seem like vibrating, flickering fields, an all-over effect, which may be continued beyond the edges of the page in the viewer’s imagination. The vibration comes about via the close alternation of light and dark, presence and absence, and the richness and emptiness of the mark, whereby interestingly enough, negative vertical structures come about crossways to the way the pencil line is drawn, consisting of nothing but the absence of the trace made by the pencil. The intimate format of the drawings corresponds to the delicacy of the lines and gaps and the oscillating intangibility of its sequence, this field of lines, light, and time, as fragile as it is poetic.
Temporally and structurally, Dirk Salz’s drawings constitute a connecting link between the aforementioned earlier painting with its scraped paint surfaces and the pictures he has been making since 2009. These he makes with the aid of pigmented synthetic resins, which he pours over the surfaces of MDF, or aluminum, or multiplex boards. Possibly, his experiences with drawing have been beneficial for the development of this new phase of work. This may be concluded from the fact that now, with the principle of “controlled chance”, the emphasis has clearly shifted in the direction of control. Conversely, without a doubt the horizontal and vertical partitionings of the picture carriers, and the overlayering effects of the coats of resins and enamel varnishes in differing degrees of transparency, have had repercussions for the design of the newer drawings. This may be recognized most clearly by the fact that they increasingly deviate from the earlier basic scheme of evenly structured horizontal lines, specifically opting instead for the layering of various rows of lines. Formerly, a drawing was finished as soon as the paper had been completely filled with lines. It came about in a single working process. By contrast, many of the newer drawings are apparently the result of several work processes. This means that now, in addition, a second, third, etc. coat of parallel lines is applied, mostly only in parts, but sometimes also covering the entire surface, so that, due to the overlappings, great differences between light and dark may result within the work. A second novelty consists in the fact that now, often, vertical lines are also employed. Because they intersect with their horizontal pendants, dense grid mesh structures result. Since the more recent drawings no longer follow a consistent scheme of formal creation, but rather are constructed very differently from one another, the viewer must newly adjust his view for visually understanding the diverse working steps (i.e., the overlayering of the individual sequences of lines) from work to work. This also facilitates our understanding of the temporal aspect of the processual activity of drawing, namely as an interplay of different layers of time: first the drawing of the individual lines, then arranging them as parallels into a sequential system of lines, and finally, the multi-layering of these various systems (whose temporal succession remains clearly discernible in most cases) to form an overall field. In their synchronic interpretation, these temporal elements sum up to form highly differentiated surface patterns, whose weaves are made dynamic by means of the smallest deviations such as empty spaces, changes in distance, and differences in brightness, i.e., they are set into motion visually. Thus, the drawings by Dirk Salz afford an excellent training terrain, upon which the eye, overstrained by the everyday impositions of the mass media, may newly attune and sharpen itself using the most subtle of details in a never-ending, unrestricted play of the basic graphic elements of line and surface.