Roam Grabner – “THE FAIRY BASTARD’S MASTER-STROKE“

Roam Grabner - "THE FAIRY BASTARD’S MASTER-STROKE“

RONALD KODRITSCH - THE FAIRY BASTARD’S MASTER STROKE
The world is in turmoil. Conflict zones as far as the eye can see. New imperialisms come up against old
enmities, old racisms against new loyalties. Natural disasters ravage entire regions, an obscure fear of
terror seems to have a tight grip on society and, most recently, a new virus shakes the very foundation of
our neoliberal societies. And what is Ronald Kodritsch doing? He is painting flowers! Bright, brilliant, and
quite beside the point.
What could be more useless than floral paintings? They are the epitome of decadence, repudiating the
political developments of their time, flagrantly depicting luxury, and indulging l’art pour art. They
blossomed with floral still lifes in 17 th -century Holland as the nation revelled in economic excess. People
lived and painted like there was no tomorrow, until war broke out, the Dutch broke the dams and flooded
their own country. The economy collapsed and many artists went bankrupt.
Is the exuberantly floral still life the harbinger of a future calamity? Is the celebration of the apolitical a
critique of the apathy of our society? Or does Kodritsch paint these pictures because no contemporary
artist is able sincerely to paint floral still lifes? Monet raises a sceptical eyebrow, Sigmar Polke shrugs his
shoulders, and through a murky window one sees the knowing smile of Richard Dadd.
Ronald Kodritsch, self-proclaimed fairy bastard, has struck again and with masterly brushstrokes he has
created a new series of works in which irony and ingenuity abound. He has adopted the most treasured
motif of the amateur and Sunday painter and painted a series of floral still lifes that oscillates between
kitsch and avant-garde, romanticism and abstraction, appropriation and originality.
Taking as his starting point Richard Dadd’s enigmatic magnum opus “The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke”,
Kodritsch has taken not so much the fairies of the former’s painting as his model, which we might equally
have expected, but rather the daisies, which the solitary Englishman so mysteriously embedded in the
image space. The painting depicts the woodsman Fairy Feller surrounded by various denizens of the fairy
kingdom, while he uses an axe to chop a great chestnut tree, which is to be used to make Queen Mab’s
carriage. Dadd eschews perspective in such a way as to create a flatness, which gestures beyond its time as
a fundamental emblem of modernity. The widely held belief that fairies are a ‘small people’ gives rise to a
discontinuity of proportion and lends the aforementioned daisies a monumental size within the image
space.
Dadd was a highly talented young painter who began to suffer from paranoid hallucinations after a long trip
to the Orient. He was convinced that he had been delivered to the ancient Egyptian god of death, Osiris,
whose voice he began to hear. In 1843, catastrophe struck when he stabbed his father in a crazed attack,
believing that he was the masked devil. He fled to France, attacked a fellow passenger during his escape
and spent several months in prison. He was sent to the state institution for mentally ill lawbreakers in
Bethlem, where he was allowed to continue painting and worked on the eponymous painting for nine
years, which remained unfinished, before he was moved to Broadmoor.
Dadd wrote a long and dissolute poem for his painting entitled "Elimination of a Picture and Its Subject", in
which, despite its richness of detail and symbolism, he essentially denies his picture any meaning. It ends
with the statement: “You can afford to let this go; For naught is nothing it explains; And nothing from
nothing gains.” One could apply this plea to let the picture be picture and not reflect on it any further, since
it is null and void and therefore neither explains nor can explain anything, to Kodritsch’s floral paintings and
leave the critical engagement with his latest works at that. It is what it is. As Plato already stated: Ask
pictures something and they do not answer. But Plato also spoke about the image as illusion, as deception,
and the fairy bastard Kodritsch is known for deceiving, tricking and leading people astray. So why did
Kodritsch begin to paint pictures of flowers?
It still seems like a provocation when a contemporary artist, who places a certain demand on his work, sets
out on terrain that is ostensibly as shallow as floral still life. Kodritsch has always challenged the established
norms of taste, the traditional parameters of what is worthy of art, and questioned the established
conventions of what should be considered art. It is the tendency towards the banal, the desire for the
decorative, the play with kitsch, the examination of painterly traditions, but also the contrast between the
beautiful and the ugly, which manifest themselves (again) in his latest works. One must think of Kodritsch
as being in the same vein as such outstanding figures as Francis Picabia, who in 1921 declared his
withdrawal from the Dada movement – that he himself had founded – in order to exhibit a series of
Spanish women the following year, which he made in the style of clichéd watercolours by Sunday painters.
It is not just about the humorous undermining of expectations, the ironic questioning of the boundaries
between e-art and u-art, or the mischievous undercutting of standards of good taste, but also the
unfettered pleasure in painting and cheeky reflection of art-historical traditions. Picabia has described his
pictures as the ‘most beautiful, idiotic painting possible’. The qualities of self-irony, understatement and
self-confidence as an artist that are expressed in this phrase are also an essential core of Kodritsch’s art.
With his new series, Kodritsch is of course also positioned as part of a long and great tradition in the history
of painting.
‘Man’s life is like a flower’ was a common expression around 1600, in the so-called Golden Age of Dutch
painting. ‘In the floral still lifes of the 17 th century, the idea of ​​transience is always present, even if the
superficial beauty and the mimetic character of the flowers and bouquets are initially fascinating. Not
infrequently, the flowers gesture to the finitude of existence, to the nullity and transience of earthly
splendour. The constantly shifting condition of the flowers and fruits in the pictures almost inevitably
brings the shifts in earthly existence before our eyes.’ 1 The Viennese floral painting of the Biedermeier
period is explicitly concerned with this historical phenomenon, but neglected the symbolic content of the
different flowers, fruits and insects and searches instead to depict a reality that did not actually exist, that
was constructed and staged. What looks like a realistic image of a bouquet of flowers is in reality an
artificial and artistic arrangement based on floral images. The artificiality of the representation seems to
refer to the construction of the social order, because although the Biedermeier period was a relatively
peaceful time, it was also an age of surveillance, paternalism, and economic hardship. Kodritsch begins to
paint his flowers just at the moment when the Central European feuilletons read of a new Biedermeier
period. Coincidence?
In Austria, the floral painting of the Biedermeier period leads to the tonal impressionism of Emil Jakob
Schindler, with notable figures like Marie Egner and Olga Wisinger-Florian, who in turn form the basis for
the landscape and floral pictures of Gustav Klimt. Kodritsch has titled some of his floral pictures as ‘Being
Ronald Klimtovich’, alluding to Spike Jonze’s film Being John Malkovich. From 1907, Klimt turned to the
close-up depiction of cottage gardens and flowers, while previously he let his gaze wander over meadows
and depicted the individual flowers as patches of colour. His later style is characterized by pastose,
pointillist brushstrokes, bright colours and a ‘flatness’ and openness that prefigure future generations.
According to tradition, he owned around 50 sketchbooks, but all but three of them were destroyed in the
Second World War. In the artist's last sketchbook, which dates from June 1917 to January 1918, one can
see rushed sketches of different flowers with colour annotations. Kodritsch seems to be thinking about
these sketches further and, above all, to finish painting them, except that the motif of the cottage garden
or flower meadow becomes a perception experiment of pure colour. Richard Dadd’s painting “The Fairy
Feller's Master-Stroke” also draws on the past and points to the future. It contains the botanical accuracy
of an Albrecht Dürer, the small-scale figure cosmos of a Pieter Bruegel, and points ahead to the all-over of a
Jackson Pollock.
1 Gerhard Graulich, Erinnerung, Schönheit, Vergänglichkeit. Aspekte des niederländischen Blumenstilllebens im 17.
Jahrhundert. [Memory, Beauty, Mortality. Aspects of Dutch Floral Still Life in the 17 th Century] In: Blumenstück -
Künstlers Glück. Vom Praradiesgärtlein zur Prilblume. [Floral Still Life – Artistic Fortune] Ed. Cat. Museum Morsbroich
Leverkusen. Leverkusen 2005, p. 13-17, 17.
Like every painting, floral pictures also reflect their respective historical and social origins. They function as
portraits of the epoch, of the client and, not least, of the artist, without overstretching the
anthropomorphic content of floral depictions such as those by Klimt or Schiele. Starting as homages to flora
and the history of painting, Kodritsch has also made new portraits and painted a new series of bastards,
which he has furnished with Baroque and Victorian hairstyles analogous to the time Dadd’s masterpiece
was made.
Since their conception around 2004, Bastards have become a secret trademark and arguably the artist's
greatest success. In incomparable fashion, Kodritsch transformed the everyday wisdom ‘like a dog like its
master’ into fitting images. The characters that stare back at us from these dog portraits are as striking as
they are nuanced and reveal more of the human soul than if he had portrayed people themselves. Here, of
course, Kodritsch also offers an insight into the source and abyss of the love relationship between a dog
and its owner. Bastards are not only character heads par excellence, whereby the dogs take on a substitute
function for humans, they are also painted in the style of classic portraits. The baroque head of hair, which
suggests a certain nobility and dignity, the classic iconography of the bust, which evokes a long art-
historical tradition, and the subject of the humanised dogs show not only a profound knowledge of art and
cultural history, but also the artist's biting mockery of elitist social conventions and rituals.
The bridge to the floral pictures can arguably be found in the person of Léonard-Alexis Autiés, Marie
Antoinette's hairdresser, who was famous for his extravagant wig designs. His fantastic creations included
wigs with bushes, flower beds and bird nests. As is well known, in the Baroque period not only women but
also men wore wigs. The artificial head of hair was an important symbol of rank and an integral part of
court culture. A state wig like the allonge wig was not only a status symbol, but also helped to hide physical
defects such as hair loss or small stature. Balding stood for age, illness and decay, and by the same token a
long and thick coiffure was a sign of vitality and constantly renewing lifeforce. The high wig also forced the
owners to walk calmly and upright, and thus the appearance of women and men at court and later also
among the middle classes in the 17 th and 18 th centuries was characterised by a high degree of artificiality.
The baroque bastards demonstrate self-representation, narcissism, concepts of beauty and artificiality of
all kinds and expose them to ridicule. They reveal the artist once again to be a meticulous observer of
society, a clever pasticheur of art history, an exciting painter at the height of his powers. We eagerly await
the continuation of ‘Being Ronald Klimtovich’.
Roman Grabner, 2020