Comment – Jürgen Raap

The boundaries of the material

Notes on the works of Georg Scheele by Art historian Jürgen Raap

Georg Scheele is a trained stonemason and this professional experience continues to shape his work as a sculptor. Because just like his sculptor colleague Ulrich Rückriem, who also completed a stonemason apprenticeship, and whose material experience with breaking and splitting a stone substantially determines the artistic expression, Georg Scheele too is constantly pushing the “limits of the possible”: Sculpting (the German term is: “Bildhauerei” = “image chopping/beating”) in the exact sense of the word means, as is generally known, a removal of material. During the work process the basic structure of the stone, i.e. the inherent power, the hardness or the resistance of the material and the artists previously outlined idea of form meet each other.

But for the work to „succeed”, as well in the aesthetic as in the practical sense, the artistic will to form and the material properties must be compatible with one another. The sculptor lives through a permanent conflict between his ideas of form and his mental state on one side, and the physical properties of the material on the other side. Georg Scheele: “Following my mental images, my forms stand for treading the transitional boundary between inside and outside, body and soul and show intuitively shaped atomic structures, for which I had not even sought”.

Thus, the process of making is consequently described as a “dialogue” between artist and rock mass. Each artist, painting a picture with an emotional intensity increased almost into the ecstatic, or working on the stone plastic with the highest degree of concentration and seriousness, always does this with the absolute will to transcend his previous achievements and the art-historically known in an innovative way. An artist must therefore also have a profound knowledge of art history, as only through that he can ultimately understand his own time slot and may conduct his own stylistic and conceptual demarcations for his work.

The fact that he takes his orientation, particularly in the beginnings of his career, from predecessors and role models is absolutely part of this: in 1984, at the age of 23, Georg Scheele spent half a year in the famous marble quarries of Carrara, and a key moment for him was the visit to the workshop which Henry Moore kept there. The exhibited models animated Scheele to continue exploring the possibilities of an abstract form language.

His first works, which were created during that phase, were still half figurative, half abstract in their characteristics. Only later in the 1990s, when George Scheele lives in Portugal for a long time, his dealing with the form finally leads to a complete abstraction.

At the center of the sculptural will of expression always lies the question: Which form works and which does not? Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) found an answer for himself in those notions of beauty that derive from the antique ideal of perfection of the body. At the same time, however, Michelangelo and other sculptors of the High Renaissance emancipated themselves from that role that was assigned to the artists in the Middle Ages, namely by daring to let their subjective feelings and emotions flow into the visual language.

Especially in that phase of the 1980’s, when his figurative early work developed, Georg Scheele dealt extensively with the aesthetics of Michelangelo, and also the sculptural concept of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), who, in turn, had discovered the work of Michelangelo on a trip to Italy in 1875, whose view in his own words “freed him from academicism”.

The contradictory and conflicting, which in his search for “all the purity and clarity of the form” also Scheele must cope with every time he works on a block of stone, Rodin had resolved in his own way in the figures as a juxtaposition of psychological and aesthetic differences. For Rodin the ugly or deformed had its artistic justification too, because it was also descended from nature and therefore beautiful in its own right, like everything that nature brings forth.

With this sculptor theory Auguste Rodin’s is deemed to be one of the founders of modernism. His main stylistic device consists in the characteristic to occasionally leave a shape in fragmentary form. Although Georg Scheele’s younger abstract works in bronze and stone now, in comparison to his early figurative sculptures, follow a very different commitment to pursuing an artistic approach in consideration of selected principles of design, an echo of his time dealing with Rodin is nonetheless still identifiable, for example, when he talks about wanting to freeze an “inner condition” in the depiction of motion.

The inner emotional dynamic of the current artistic mood finds its outward expression in a sculptural dramatic art. In this implementation process of vision or sensation into sculptural form, characters of feeling transform into characters of form in Scheele’s works. 1889 Auguste Rodin created his monumental sculpture “The Burghers of Calais”, that did not – as was customary until then in monument plastics sculpting – communicate an inflated heroic pathos, but conveyed an inner emotional movement and mood of despair in each figure. The figure shaping reflects an inner tension. The materialization of Scheele’s abstract sculptures can be described similarly.

As other key figures who have influenced his artistic self-understanding, Georg Scheele names the Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and his brother Antoine Pevsner (1884-1962). Both were founding members of the artistic movement “Abstraction-Creation” in Paris in 1931. In Naum Gabo’s early constructions the volume of a sculpture results from joined slabs.

Some sculptures of Wuppertal based sculptor Tony Cragg also consist of a vertical stratification of flat or bulbous curved elements. They dynamically wind themselves upward, sometimes resembling the movements of Chinese artists rotating plates or swinging fabric strips in loop-like figures.

At first glance comparisons with the knots and tangles of Georg Scheele thus quite present themselves, but Tony Cragg’s sculptures are put into motion at a much greater extent in which the static seems to dissolve. Ultimately, Cragg and Scheele follow completely different sculptural concepts.

Most of Scheele’s work since the 1990s namely quite deliberately stresses a tectonic character to a much greater degree, even with those sculptures, which focus the viewer’s eye on a “lofty” negative mold. Where for George Scheele too, however, it is still about the overcoming or dissolution of static, the final optical result is, in the work process itself, almost always superimposed by the problem of how far the physical tension of the material can be exhausted.

Despite their distinct form-finding methods and visual languages Cragg and Scheele still show something in common: both work process- and not just product-oriented. Sculpture is for both artists, therefore, defined not only in the classic manner of the plastic volume and the view through the cavities of negative forms, but above all as a “form-finding” and “form-building” process in which ultimately also the time factor is a constitutive component.

An architectural reference in Scheele’s recent works in stone is especially palpable, where form fades into supporting elements at the bottom. But at some point the artist felt that he was indeed again and again hitting a boundary with these works: For the further development and implementation of his ideas of form the exclusive restriction to stone sculpting proved inadequate to an increasing degree, and so finally, parallel to the marble sculptures of the last years, bronze sculptures were increasingly created as of 2002.

Although some technical rules must also be regarded when casting a metal sculpture, the artist is not in such a great extent dependent on the physical-material characteristics of the material as in the carving of a stone. This opens to him very different ways of focusing on his will to form.

Both techniques, stone sculpting and bronze casting are historically very old and were already quite brilliantly mastered by the sculptors of antiquity. Although until today, it may play a major role for the aesthetic difference that the marble and granite blocks originating from quarries still carry a reference to nature, as, like aforementioned, for example Ulrich Rückriem refers to in his work. The psychology of perception of the monumental and colossal impact on the viewer of a large bronze statue is therefore quite different than, say, that of an equally sized massive, rocky monolith.

In the bronze version the external shape is, because of the complexity and intricacy of the manufacturing process from design to the finished cast, more “engrossed” than the archaic approach of the stone sculptor, where the “stone breaking” is still felt in the artistic end product.

Historically and structurally both sculptural techniques are perhaps in a similar relation to one another, as are an animistic nature religion to an institutionalised religion.

So in Scheele’s bronze sculptures with intertwined loop like and winding flows one has the impression of a bigger effortlessness, than with a similar language of shape of the in parallel time created marble works, for instance „Going together“ (2008) or „Get ready“ (2008). If, however, a marble sculpture is also able to convey such a „Nature of being“ (2008), then mostly because a tectonically supporting construction is heavily retracted, in this case in favor of balancing a rocking motion.

The previously created sculptures „Everybodies darling“ (2005) or „Beach crawler“ (2003) however, are much more tectonic and therefore appear “heavier”. The advancement of Scheele’s language of shapes is consequently to be described as a successive dynamism.

In the course of the shapes (paths) in the more recent works, one, at times, is reminded of movements found in nature like vortexes, at other times more of technical movements as in rotating drills. The design is optically removed from gravity, mainly with the bronzes, but even the stone sculptures are being shifted to a more effortless, floating state with the newer works since 2007 like „In stiller Vereinigung“ (2007). The dialectics of heaviness and lightness, stillness and motion reflects the emotional contradictions mentioned at the beginning, but also the outer upheavals as involvements and developments, which the artist existentially experiences.

In other words: in the artistic concept of form an unearthing of essential moments manifests itself. Herein, time and again changes can be made to the drafted basic concept while working on the piece, i.e. in the process of forming itself.

It is well known that it is part of the essence of the sculpture that, when created as a detached statuary, it is always viewable from all sides, in contrast to a relief and other sculptures. The transfer of the sketch into the computer program as a 3D simulation now allows viewing of the sculpture body from different angles, whereat the shape can be rotated – so there is no need to previously make a model which is viewable from all sides, as the sculptors used to have to.

However, this does not only mean assistance for the sculptor in the purely instrumental sense, because this model allows him extreme experiences to view new twists and turns from different angles out of the stone block.

Within the artistic development over the years, not least thanks to these digital simulation capabilities, the realm of imagination has become “more manifested” compared to the (natural) space of the actual view: the artist has got the form “in his mind” and plots his vision. The computer provides him with printouts of various views, by which he can check in advance whether the sculpture “works” from all sides. On the PC, the original idea of form can be corrected without the necessity to create a real second, improved shape model. When designing in the virtual space of the PC, the division of light and shadow that underlines the plasticity of the real work is also anticipated: this mathematical outline does not yet follow the material properties of the later concrete sculpture, i.e. in this early design stage it is actually initially secondary whether a realization in stone or metal is planned.

However, despite this technical facilitation by simulation in the “free space” of the PC program, the concept only passes its practical test, whether the material actually allows the realization of such an idea of form, in the subsequent carving of the stone.

With each new work, Georg Scheele therefore always takes on a tightrope walk between success and failure, whereat the failure can be one of craftsmanship as in the accidental breaking of the material as well as aesthetically, if he still rejects the result artistically despite technical success.

The risk the artist takes with all the intellectual, emotional-psychological, artistic and material-scientifically explainable tensions in the particular work process, is in the finished work sometimes clearly, sometimes only indirectly perceptible for the sensitive viewer. But each of the sculptures documents the permanent approaches to certain pressure points that have been experienced in the creative process.

Basic themes of recent works (2009/2010) are all intertwined paths and loops, i.e. the course of movement takes place within a closed system. At first glance, some of the knots might remind the one or the other observer of motives of MC Escher, but in substance there is no connection between these two artists, because Scheele’s works are not about phenomena of optical illusion. With Escher everything takes place in an imaginary space also precisely because of these optical illusions, whereas Scheele’s sculptural approach on principle requires the realization of the sculpture for an installation in the physically experianceable space.

While in this case the wing-like shape of the sculpture “Zwischen leicht und schwer” (2006) opens to the room, the Hermetic in the more recent works can be interpreted as a metaphor, which is also heavily fed by biographical experiences. The momentum of the Hermetic in these recent works, communicates on one hand, a radicalness, on the other hand, the rhythmically running movement in space is tamed. The shape resembles the course of a roller coaster with a well-calculated change between acceleration and phase-out of the momentum.

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