Günter Brus



Not on display

Günter Brus born 1938
Original title
Ohne Titel
Poster paint on paper
Support: 1257 × 900 mm
frame: 1395 × 1040 × 45 mm
Purchased 1987

Display caption

During the summer of 1960, Brus created a series of paintings, which he described as ‘pure outpourings’. Influenced by American action painting and by Arnulf Rainer, these highly spontaneous works were important precursors for his later performances. This work is characterised by vigorous brushstrokes that reflect the frenetic movements of the artist’s body. Brus painted with worn-down brushes that caused scratches in the brown packing paper he used as his canvas, heightening the impression of spontaneity and fervour. ‘One has to live in painting’, he has commented.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

T04927 Untitled 1960 Ohne Titel

Black poster paint on brown wove paper 1257 × 900 (49 1/2 × 35 1/2)
Inscribed ‘Brus 1960’ b.r.
Purchased from Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: Veit Loers and Dieter Schwarz (eds.), Von der Aktionsmalerei zum Aktionismus Wien 1960–1965. From Action Painting to Actionism Vienna 1960–1965: Günter Brus, Adolf Frohner, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, Alfons Schilling, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, exh. cat., Museum Fridericianum, Kassel 1988, pp.115–7, 123–8

This abstract image consists of a dense pattern of vigorously painted, spattered and scratched black marks on brown packing paper. The brushstrokes can be regarded primarily as a record of the frenetic bodily movements involved in the making of the work. In conversation with the compiler on 29 September 1989, in Graz, Austria, Brus said that T04927 was made during the summer of 1960, although he could not remember precisely when. He recalled making about twenty-four works on paper of this type in this period. Most, including T04927, were painted in black, but in a letter to the compiler dated 23 August 1992, the artist said that he used white poster paint in three or four of the works in the group, red in one work and white gloss in another.

According to the artist, this series of paintings was influenced by American Abstract Expressionist art, in particular the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, which he had seen in the early summer of 1960, in the XXX Venice Biennale. Other important artists for him at this time included the European Informel painters Emilio Vedova, Georges Mathieu, Emil Schumacher and Wols. He also admired Arnulf Rainer, who produced monochrome pictures, which he called ‘Übermalungen’ (‘overpaintings’).

T04927 was made in the home of Brus's parents in Giessenberg, near Graz. After finishing his art training in Vienna in 1960 and visiting Spain with the painter Alfons Schilling, Brus was compelled through financial necessity to return to his parents' home. In his letter to the compiler, Brus described the circumstances surrounding the making of T04927 and related works:

The work was made in the attic - a very constricted space. The conditions did not allow for normal studio activities, such as priming. For each painting there was only enough space to work on one format at a time. Thus, technical reasons were as important as aesthetic considerations in deciding the format, although I did aim for a certain poverty in my materials.

Brus used brown packing paper because he could not afford anything else. In conversation, he recalled that he nailed up one, two or three sheets onto the wall at a time, but did not work on them in any particular order. His brushes would scratch and tear the paper because they were so worn down. He completed several paintings in a single session, usually working from late afternoon into the night. Brus regarded the paintings, which he described as ‘pure outpourings’, as his first breakthrough and statement as an artist. In conversation, he said that they represented a ‘breakaway from the academic teaching traditions’ he had experienced at the art academy.

In diary entries, written during the autumn of 1960, Brus recorded his thoughts about the artist's physical involvement in the process of painting (quoted in Loers and Schwarz 1988, p.126):

It has always seemed strange to me, that one doesn't paint with both hands at the same time. Well, if I'm already so far hemmed in technically, that I can't paint with my hair, my stomach or my behind, what's to be done with my second hand though. One has to live in painting. Painting all around. Surely a picture is for that very reason a part of this world and is not self-contained. Spatially incomprehensible - at least imcomprehensible in a traditional sense - that's what I want my pictures to be. A complete and total renunciation of the view that the centre of the work lies within the painting ... Technique? God knows - one has to reduce what one does to a common denominator - how should I know whether it's called painting or the scientific study of caves. Anyone can paint, as such. But today's picture is the best work - it points to the future because it has a future. Away from constant frenzy-I must reduce all the advantages to a common denominator. A passionate, frenzied way of working, yes, but then that's the end of compression and conciseness.

Brus sought a style of painting that avoided a visual pull towards the centre of the picture and in which spontaneity and gesture played a vital role. In his diary (quoted ibid., p.128), he wrote: ‘I haven't yet succeeded in doing a lot of things - what I need is a more spontaneous medium. But I've still to find that. As long as the damned centre hasn't been eliminated, there can be no progress’. In a further diary entry, Brus contrasted Jackson Pollock's gestural abstraction with his own search for a content beyond a view of the painting as the summation of physical actions involved in its making. He wrote of Pollock's desire for the ‘infinite picture’ that flows over its own boundaries in its pictorial and gestural intentions, is neither concentric nor eccentric in its directional pull, but pulls simultaneously in all directions (see diary sketches, repr. ibid., pp.126–7). Brus (ibid., p.127) concluded:

Now, for my part, I find this way of thinking out of date. Yes, I want to try and see paintings in the same way (and thus, really, to do away with paintings and make them into a section cut out of the world)- but this world should, how shall I say, it should contain not just marks I've made, but rhythms, scream, sleep, bean soup, long-haired dachshunds, typhoons, ceaseless melodies, etc. etc. etc.

Brus (ibid., p.128) likened his search to groping in the dark and acknowledged blackness and darkness as pre-requisites for the more intuitive painting he sought to develop. He recalled frequent discussions about work in progress with the artist Alfons Schilling, who was working in a similar manner and with whom he was in close contact, although Schilling was using a wider range of colours in his work.

In an interview in 1984, Brus acknowledged the importance of his early drawings for his actions of 1964–70 (see entry for T03695 ‘Run-Through of an Action’, 1966, in Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1984–6, 1988, pp.497–9). He explained to Daniel Plunkett (Günter Brus: Augensternstunden, exh. cat., Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1984, p.17) that he did not begin his artistic career with actions: ‘These were much more the result of my action painting, which first and foremost grew out of a confrontation with the work of Arnulf Rainer and Abstract Expressionism.’

In his letter to the compiler, Brus wrote that the group of works to which T04927 belongs was left for many years, rolled up, in a flat in Vienna. When they were returned to him, he had no interest in releasing early works onto the market and, anyway, there was no demand for them. Later he decided to offer these works to museums and to collections that were museum-oriented. Brus said he signed the works as they left his studio after being purchased. None of his early drawings were sold or exhibited until the 1980s. The works were sold through the Heike Curtze Gallery. They were never exhibited there, or as a complete group, although several were shown for the first time at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in 1984 (Eindhoven exh. cat., 1984, pls.5–7). Other related works are illustrated in Loers and Schwarz 1988, pp.33, 142–5.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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