Arnulf Rainer

Two Flames (Body Language)


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Not on display

Arnulf Rainer born 1929
Original title
2 Flammen (Body Language)
Oil paint and photograph on paper
Support: 505 × 607 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

Rainer sees himself as both a performer and a painter. For the Body Language series, he was photographed in an ecstatic, almost hypnotic state. He felt that the original photographs did not convey the intensity of his performances, so he reworked them with oil paint and pastels. Rainer's expressive, almost violent markings emphasise the artist's movements, but also obliterate his body and evoke themes of destruction, suffering and sacrifice. The cross is a recurrent motif in Rainer's work, and his pose here is reminiscent of the crucifixion.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Arnulf Rainer born 1929

T03389 Two Flames (Body Language) 1973

Oil on black and white photograph 505 x 607 (19 7/8 x 23 7/8)
Inscribed '2 Flammen [arrow pointing upwards] A Rainer' t.l.
Purchased from Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf 1982
Exh: Staging the Self: Self-portrait Photography 1840s-1980, National Portrait Gallery, Oct. 1986-Jan. 1987, Plymouth Arts Centre, Jan.-Feb. 1987, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, March-April 1987, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, May 1987 (repr. p.117)
Lit: as for T03388

Rainer's Body Language or Body Pose works followed on naturally from his 'Face Farces' (for which see the entries on T03390, T03391 and T03905); the majority were made between 1970 and 1975. They rely to a considerable extent on Rainer's observations of the behaviour of mentally handicapped patients and other social outcasts - what he has called 'artistic theatre', in which artist and work (or actor and role) are indistinguishable. Rainer's self-identification or empathy towards his subject matter is clear from the following statement: 'I grow, expand, and recognise myself in this monological theatre ... In the case of certain psychotics this "autotheatre" is pushed to the point where dramatic intensity fuses dream, hallucination and even suicide. This dangerousness makes it a cultural taboo, but its provocation affects everbody' ('Identifizierung: über das autistische Theater', in Breicha (ed.) 1980, p.101).

The process of retouching, even obliterating, pasts of self-portrait photographs is similar to that described in the entry on Rainer's 'Face Farces' (T03390, T03391 and T03905):

Through over-drawing I accentuate my bodily expression and graphically analyse movement and gesture ... This self-portrayal is a very intensive thing, by which non-civilized gestures, body poses, face farces and the like come into existence. Perhaps they are pre-verbal elements of behaviour, early childlike forms of communication, the meaning of which I still do not recognise and the titling of which leads to difficulty because they are archaic, multivalent, untranslatable.
Thus I pursue art as anthropological investigation, since man is only a lump ('Ein Klumpen Keime', ibid., p.101).

In a text written for the Venice catalogue (1986), Rainer relates the Body Poses to his earlier work:

In 1955 I began to conceptualise body language by drawing blindly [Blindenzeichnungen]: I then sought to record the graphic traces of an excited, motor-like hand by over-drawing. One can interpret the resulting overpaintings [ubermalungen] as the dialectic negation of the body. These led me to forms in which heads as well as partly concealed female figures became included in the images. A theme of physiognomy began in the mid-sixties (profile and mask drawings). When I noticed in 1968 that, while drawing, I myself grimaced in much the same way as those faces I was forming on the paper, I decided to document photographically the mimicry of my face (Face Farces). Later I developed expressive, corporal poses by working with the entire body (Body Poses) - since photographs barely record the accompanying nervous excitement, I have tried with graphic retouching and revising to suggest the latter [p.9].

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.549-50

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