color, surface, light,
popular culture and democratization
franz thalmair

the sum of light
margit zuckriegl

image processes and work opportunities
martin hochleitner


  /the sum of light

The physical phenomenon of light and its visualisation has been the immanent intention in the work of Anton S. Kehrer since the early nineteen nineties. While he was originally concerned with the non-colours grey, white and black and with the dense materiality of graphite, a subsequent material disengagement penetrated his pictorial premise to such an extent that he turned the colour spectrum in the direction of chromatic light.
The artist has placed his graphic work in a relationship of tense dialogue with colour photographic prints since the mid 1990’s. He combines photography with painting within the spatial context of installation realities, graphics with photography, solidity with immateriality, transparency with the impenetrable; the manifest picture meets the transitory light screen.

Photography as picture of light

Ever since the first photographic experiments in the mid 19th century, discussion in the two principle arguments concerning the general characteristics of photography has turned between: the representation of light phenomena and the preservation of an ephemeral pictorial image from nature. In accordance with this, the first surviving photographs are nothing more than copies from photocopiers that are so familiar to us today: an image of some kind is made on the subject wherever the light can penetrate and wherever the process is interrupted or prevented deepest black is shown. In this process the brilliant light source of the photocopier merely replaces sunlight that can equally produce similar effects. The light sensitive coating and the various innovations to preserve a specific condition, to stop the light immanent process made each improvement and refinement possible in photographic practice. The potential of photography in the representation of nothing other than pure light was soon recognised – independent of the reality addicts’ greed for pictorially true documentation, in which the largely photographic production of the late 19th century was threatened with exhaustion. Despite this, photography was trusted with tasks extending further: almost contemporaneously and with an entirely similar intention to that with which Victor Hugo produced his darkly atmospheric ink drawings, August Strindberg began his photographic experiments. Both writers extended their literary creativity through the medium of the image and both attempted to track down with finality and clarity the atmospheric, the illuminating, abstract light. They wanted to extend narrative descriptive mood with physical, scientifically empirical criteria, possibly even to correct it and in this attempt they appeared to credit the pictorial image with greater authenticity than language; by means of the immediacy of its impression and the simultaneity of its experienced knowledge from temporally and atmospherically long drawn out processes in the photographic or the drawn and painted image, a momentary suggestive effect is achieved. Strindberg’s magical photographs of moonlit nights communicate this potential precisely as do the dark, swelling waves of the sea in Hugo’s graphic work.
The question that surrounds the possibility of representing situations of pure light was posed afresh in the pictorialism of the turn of the 19th century and reinterpreted by various artists using the new possibilities of colour photography: in the photographic process mirror images and reflexions represent the mere reflexion of reality as a manifestation of light and material, mostly without presenting the intended object itself.

Anton Kehrer returns to this initial consideration of the dialogue of the graphic and photography on the one hand, and the pictorial dominance of light (freed from the object) on the other and dedicates himself to this field of problems with new media implementations.

Pictorial light in the photographic process

Starting from the premise that Kehrer’s photographic works are ”pictures” in the sense of an optical design and not colour prints in the sense of standard photo processing, we will make the attempt to apply the criteria of an assessment in terms of the history of art to these works.
”Über das Licht in der Malerei” (On Light in Painting) by Wolfgang Schöne is the standard work on the subject. It is dedicated with considerable profundity to ”light” in the history of western art – from the Sacred Light of the Middle Ages through the light as illumination of the Renaissance and the dramaturgical light of the Baroque down to the ”colour and light in the painting of the 19th and 20th centuries”. ”In contemporary painting, light reaches us only as the substantial emanation of colour, but we are not aware of it as a factor in its own right” Schöne concludes at the end of his disquisition and thus brings into focus the most significant point not only in the abstract image: in the wake of Impressionism the dominance of localised colour is equally as obsolete as the design and image constituting principle of light and shade.
Photography would appear to have apprehended and taken on these characteristics. The bright and the dark as the representation of atmospheric processes, the development of contrast in contradictory chromatic values in dialogue with each other, accentuations making use of light, illumination, the application of colour belong to the vocabulary and the canon of every ”portrayer of light”.
It is purely in abstract painting, as in photography that leaves all attempt at portrayal aside, that the dissolution tendencies diagnosed by Schöne approach each other.
The contemporary media art that deals in light and the trans-substantial qualities of projection, image resolution and digital image transfer, has thoroughly redefined all the former paradigms for pictorial light. Anton Kehrer however, comes across in this respect as classical, as ”conservative” even: he retains the optical criteria of classical image design, his procedure is analogously photographic in accordance with traditional principles and his panel pictures approach the major abstractions of the history of art and their intentions.

Abstract photography and contentism

In the event of abstract painting having appeared at that point in time when photography took over the representation of reality, it may be deduced that abstract photography would make its appearance at a time when another medium had picked up the service of reality. We would like to take an opposite position to this historic-chronological thesis; content does not disappear from pictures in abstract design, it shifts to another level.
It is not ”realism“ and its reflection that depart from the plastic arts, but narration, the structure by which the relation of events is made is changed. The mere ”reflexion“ as the dimension of content can no longer be sufficient in itself.
In precisely the same manner as Ellsworth Kelly has developed his panels, shapes and discs by means of modules and moveable scenery in relief since the nineteen fifties, the material presence of which is no longer detectable in the later images; or as he has captured light-shade patterns by means of black and white photography from items that were originally board fencing, fragmented parts of buildings or pieces of wire that had been found, in the same manner anonymous figurative or cityscape photographs by Gerhard Richter mutate to uncoloured grey paintings. The remnant of something seen, known, found is present as the core of content and can be sensed although it is not visible in an emphatic sense. The chromatic and material character of colour and light are put to test by the use of colour bars and colour patches: banal industrial colour cards and industrially produced nuances and values serve as parameters. The grisaille paintings presented by Richter together with his coloured panels imitate the potential for abstraction of black and white photography and are the immanent sum of all colours – grey. Since the Middle Ages painting in grey (e.g. on the outer wings of panel altars) has always had an alternative (reduced) character of reality than that intended in the brilliantly coloured altar panels and thus demanded a higher degree of interpretation and perceptual transfer: more must be known about the contents presented in this manner, a connotation of content must be present.
Anton Kehrer provides a similar coding of content in his abstract photo panels: the photographs play with the idea of abstraction, of colour fields, they project a form of artificial designing, that leads us far away from the original content stance and going so far as to imitate the virtual strategies of digital image mutations.
His ”Lightflows” and ”Horizons” had their origins in the trivial light situations that occur at filling stations, suburban streets, in discotheques and at scene clubbing, they are borrowed from other artistic installations, from videotapes or advertising script: a form of adoption and reinterpretation concentrating on the pure quality of the material and chromatic light, a type of focussing that negates all forms of anecdotal legibility of obvious contents, a kind of demonstrated abstraction that culminates in pure form and pure colour. Kehrer’s photographs are in the virulent tradition of the modern, that seeks a solution that is relevant formally and in terms of content in the abandonment of the object and of the referential in the image. Kehrer’s paths continue to negate the materiality and the substantiality of conventional painting and exhibit an eternal photographic objective: the image as the sum of light.

Margit Zuckriegl