Catalogue entry

Arnulf Rainer born 1929

T03905 Untitled (Face Farce) 1970-1

Wax crayon and watercolour over black and white photograph 590 x 417 (23 1/2 x 16 3/8)
Inscribed ‘(?schlief) A. Rainer' b.1.
Purchased from Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf 1982
Lit: Arnulf Rainer, ‘Face Farces: Grimaces, Facial Forms, Over-Drawings, Painted Photographs', in A. Rainer Face Farces, exh. cat., Galerie Ariadne, Vienna - Cologne 1971; Arnuf Rainer: Facefarces. Bodyposes 1968-1975, exh. cat., Galerie Stadler, Paris 1975; Arnulf Rainer, Tägliches Kleinzeug, Stuttgart 1976; Wolfgang Hartmann, '"Face Farces" von Arnulf Rainer: Zu einem Aspekt künstlerischer Selbstdarstellung' in Arnulf Rainer: ‘Der grosse Bogen', exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bern 1977, pp. 17-28 and in Arnulf Rainer; Retrospektive 1950-1976, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich 1977; ‘Mit dem Rücken zur Wand' and ‘Langsam erschliessen sich die Klassifizierung; Ein Selbstinterview' in Otto Breicha (ed.), Arnulf Rainer Hirndrang; Selbstkommentare und andere Texte zu Werk und Person, Salzburg 1980, pp. 105-12

The overdrawn photographs T03390, T03391 and T03905 belong to the loose grouping of thematically similar works Rainer made between 1968 and 1975. All are based around self portraits, but range from full figure images to portraits focusing on the artist's head or even individual facial features. Some works are overworked, while others rely for their expression solely on the facial and bodily grimaces and contortions created by the artist. The inscription on T03390, ‘Hieb oder Stich', means ‘cut or thrust' (with also, perhaps, a punning reference to the phrase ‘Hieb und stichfest', which means ‘invulnerable').

Before Face Farces Rainer used photography to record his body paintings and face paintings in series such as Furchen (‘Furrows') 1967-8 (repr. Kunstforum International, vol 26, March-April 1978, [p.114]) and Face Coloration (1967-70; repr. ibid., [p.118]). With Face Farce Rainer assimilated the photograph into the artistic process and soon began to work directly on the photographic images.

In the Vienna - Cologne (1971) catalogue, Rainer describes how the Face Farce series came about:

During the years 1968 and 1969 I began to go to the train station nearly every week at night. There is an automatic picture-booth there, which not only makes passport pictures but postcard portraits as well. During the day, people who waited impatiently in front of the booth or peeked curiously through the curtains often disturbed me. Some even wanted to see samples when I took ten or fifteen postcards out of the slot and destroyed most of them because they weren't good enough. So I put in a later appearance, when the last trains had left and it was almost time to close the station. After a quick glass of wine under the suspicious glances of policeman at the counter. I went to work. A certain feeling of excitement was necessary; an abundance of expression in the facial muscles and nerves. I talked myself into this state all day, especially when I drove my car through the city. I still practice this sort of auto-suggestion, combined with more or less harmless drugs. Intoxicating drugs don't work; they heighten the imagination but weaken my muscles [p. 4].


At the start, Rainer concentrated on facial expressions, regarding his need to work alone as more important than wanting a ‘good picture'. Soon the product of the photo-booth proved inadequate to his needs. Particularly because of the difficulty of synchronising his facial expressions with the exact moment of exposure:

The biggest problem was guessing the moment of release. Either I came too early, or the machine did. Therefore, it was always difficult to capture the real height of facial tension. Today I prefer a trained photographer, who takes a lot of quick snaps. We began by practising with a bell which I rang. Of course this disturbed my concentration on some of the poses (ibid., [p.41]).


These rapidly altering poses, according to the artist, went beyond formalistic changes of character and the addiction to communicate, to include, ‘a summoning of dormant, or psychopathic, reserves of energy'. Rainer describes uncovering his artistic consciousness through being an ‘exhibitor':

I am neither a painter, nor a poet, nor a sportsman, nor a film maker, nor a philosopher, but an exhibitor. In my work, figurative art is miming and gymnastics. Gesture, body dynasium or facial kinetics are for me neither a game nor a theatrical tool, much less a ritual, but consciousness, that is, the most important form of communication of man (and of many mammals). In order to document this body language in its static or moving aspects, I use photographs and films (‘Arnulf Rainer: Bodyposes', Flash Art, vol.39, Feb.1973, p.12).


Rainer works himself into trance-like, almost hypnotic states, which are then recorded by the photographer. His decision to overwork some of the photographs results partly from the artist's experiments with mescalin in the spring of 1970, when he began, ‘to perceive spots of colour and facial corrections on the photographic portraits which lay about' (Vienna - Cologne 1971, [p.51]). He found that he was able to take up this suggestion, ‘(an hallucinatory impulse typical of that state), and was able to repeat this psychic projection in a normal state' (ibid., [p.5]). Another reason was in response to a perceived ‘stiffness' in some of the photos, despite the fact of being near nervous collapse during many of the photo-sessions. ‘The documentation was insufficient. Therefore, I was prompted to paint over it, the dynamism and tension I did not find in the photos. In such a way I was able to emphasize my expressions and analyse graphically the dynamism of the gestures' (Flash Art, vol.39, Feb.1973, p.12). Overworking the photographic images made the artist feel he was, ‘practising accentuated self-reproduction, but also symbolic change and self-destruction' (Vienna - Cologne 1971, [p.5]).

What Rainer describes as ‘the expansion of my person through mimic attributes, theatrical poses and graphic formalisms' (ibid., [p.5]) led to an exploration of his self-image in various other art forms. In 1973 he was filmed by Peter Kubelka (documented in Günter Brus (ed.), ‘Peter Kubelka filmt Arnulf Rainer' in Die Schastrommel, vol.11, Jan.1974). In the same year a team of photographers photographed an outdoor ‘Séance' performance in Graz, which combined earlier elements of self-exposure with theatre and involvement of the public (Fotointerpretationen einer Séance im Steirischen Herbst 73, exh.cat., Galerie H, Graz 1974).

Throughout his various writings, Rainer lays great emphasis on nervous excitement which, for him, is inseparable from the act of drawing. He describes the process of drawing on, or painting over, one of his photographs as ‘correction' or ‘accentuation'. ‘I draw over it and strain myself to concoct new, important, significant falsehoods. As soon as I start to believe in it, I abandon the sheet. The stronger the physiognomic quality, the quicker goes the graphic intensification' (Breicha (ed.) 1980, p.105).

This process is applied to only a small selection of the hundreds of self portrait photographs taken in any one session, those in which Rainer immediately recognises either ‘facial transformation' (Gesichtsverwandlung) or ‘nervous tension' (Nervenspannung) amounting to a ‘change of character' (Persönlichkeitsveränderung). The remaining photographs are stored away and checked every so often for ‘missed discoveries or nuances'. Rainer believes that photography on its own is incapable of adequately reproducing exertion or strain, whether of an agitated or static kind. He rejects the notion of himself as an actor, but admits his work is half way between performance and fine art. ‘When I first began graphically to work on the photos of my mimic farces I discovered things; entirely new, unknown people who lurked within me but whom my masks alone could not formulate' (Breicha (ed.) 1980, p.106)

A similar work to T03391, almost certainly originating form the same session, in which the contours of ear, nose and mouth are distorted by Rainer's line, is reproduced on p.115 of Kunstforum International (vol.26, March-April 1978). This is probably the most comprehensive illustrated survey of the various categories of Rainer's oeuvre; it also includes information on his collection of pictures by psychiatric patients and a note on ‘catatonic art'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.254-5