Roman Grabner about “Time out from the brain”

Ronald Kodritsch – Time out from the brain - text by Roman Grabner

A person dressed up as a dog with a magenta-coloured wig marches through the streets of Vienna with a board labelled: Urlaub vom Hirn – “Time out from the brain”. Are these words formulating a demand or are they making a statement? Are they simply stating the absence of thinking or are they a call for imitation?

The solitary figure marching in support of his cause is not demanding a holiday for the brain: he is not asking for people to treat their grey matter to a genuine break, to enjoy silence and perhaps even to undertake a relaxing change of location. He is calling for a holiday from the brain, for time out from thinking, for a long-haul trip to a destination devoid of content. As a protest slogan the proclamation appears unusual if not inappropriate. After all, revolutionary theories have always demanded free und better (further) education. They have always called for independence of thought and critical reflection. But this bastard of man and creature is now asking us to stop thinking and follow him. So are we all supposed to think less and listen more to our instincts?

And who is he calling on to provide this leave of absence from thinking? Who can grant him this holiday entitlement? Or is this some sort of performative self-exposure? For you have to admit that anyone dressed up as a Dalmatian with a colourful wig isn’t exactly making much use of his cerebral capacities.

The ironic demand to put thinking finally to rest in Werner Faymann’s Austria appears to mirror the politics of recent years. Too many decision-makers have been away on flights of intellectual fancy rather than sorting out the future. And while criticism of politics and society isn’t exactly a dominant aspect of Ronald Kodritsch’s work, it’s true that he frequently articulates his position on current social issues. Perhaps we have to make do with interpreting the appeal as a motto for a catalogue which presents pictures and objects that do not require the viewer to have any prior knowledge of highfalutin theory or a PhD in order to understand them. Perhaps making sense of such works – and the creative process which brought them about – takes place at a more intuitive and instinctive level.

Ronald Kodritsch is a super name

The motto which Friedrich Nietzsche once inscribed on the title page of his “Gay Science” could easily be set above the entrance to Kodritsch’s workshop:

“Ich wohne in meinem eignen Haus,
Hab Niemandem nie nichts nachgemacht
Und – lachte noch jeden Meister aus,
Der nicht sich selber ausgelacht.”

“I stay to mine own house confined,
Nor graft my wits on alien stock :
And mock at every master mind
That never at itself could mock.”[1]

Nietzsche’s aphorisms are a parody of the seriousness behind major scientific and philosophical theories. The triple negation in the second line of the original text (“Hab Niemandem nie nichts nachgemacht”) indicates the strong likelihood that Nietzsche drew on the works or others for his own ideas. It says that it no longer possible to create anything that is original, unique or completely new in an autochthonous sense. And it says that each “master mind” – of whom there are more enough in the world of contemporary art – who asserts this without laughing at himself should himself be laughed at. Here speaks the self-aware and self-reflexive voice of irony, one which makes no concessions to the individual person or to the individual’s work.

The use of irony is an essential characteristic in Kodritsch’s work. He reflects on and criticises the opportunities which painting offers. At the same time he views the history of painting as a whole. In many cases his own art is a reflection on the potentiality of the medium. Here he has no illusions. Instead, he uses humour and irony to point to and overcome the inabilities and limitations of painting as a medium: it cannot always deliver what people expect of it. Particularly in his more recent works Koditsch has made highly intuitive use of his brush and emphasised the abstract quality of his painting. Yet he never leaves these gestural strokes, streaks and feral Zumalungen, or total over-paintings, to stand autonomously by themselves. Instead, they emerge from the abstract surface of the painting with various fragments of reality and the set pieces he provides from his visual vocabulary. Here he candidly uses the repertoire of images and forms that art and culture have produced throughout their history as well as popular and everyday culture. They are the source and inspiration behind many of his works. Instead of trying to disguise it, Kodritsch fully embraces the realisation that an element of the banal and trivial is present in each of his works. The result – a combination of intuitive brushstrokes and the irony and kitsch present in his visual content – has become his trademark style of painting. That is not to say his art exhausts itself in superficial visual jokes, for what appears obvious reveals a complex network of relationships; what appears ostensible opens our eyes to the unfathomable in our society; and what appears to defy meaning resists the supposedly meaningful. Here, irony and mockery oppose the conventions of the powerful.

The ability to have a laugh at oneself and at one’s own art in the sense of Nietzsche’s call for self-irony is immediately evident in several of Kodritsch’s works. In his series of photographs entitled Maler und Modell (“Painter and Model”, 2002) he not only picks up on a traditional subject of art history but also plays with the image of the artist, of the celebrated star who pops up at one glossy international jet set event after the other with his photogenic girlfriend Kate Moss. Evidently, the intentionally ham-fisted collage of supposed snapshots depicting the dream duo is an ironic take on a cult which idolises the artist as a star and elevates him to pseudo-celebrity status. The Selbstporträt als geiler gelber Frosch (“Self-portrait as a randy yellow frog”, 2005) which requires no further explanation and the I’m getting old series (2009), in which the artist portrays himself as a restless mind with a long beard, offer further evidence of relaxed self-deprecation. He candidly admits to his failures – Schon wieder gescheitert beim Versuch, einen Regenbogen zu malen (“Another abortive attempt to paint a rainbow”, 2011) and seals crumpled up drawings which have not received his final approval in an untitled plexiglass cube 234. He puts his failures on public display. At the same time he transforms the primary geometric corpus of minimalist art trends in the last century into a receptacle for residual art.

The Taming of the Shrew
It was in the country of Shakespeare that Kodritsch abandoned the gestural-abstract style of painting in his early work and shifted from painting impasto-expressive landscapes to mischievous portrayals of nudes. In 1995, during a study visit to the Chelsea College of Art and Design, he created his Bikinimädchen (“Bikini girls”) series. His tutor there described them as the most terrible paintings he had ever seen. In fact Kodritsch does not refer as such to the nude, i.e. the classic motif of the undressed body, but to the popular versions of the pin-up girls which Mel Ramos had already used as templates for his work. In Kodritsch’s works, women are not only scantily dressed but their depiction is also reduced to the area of the female loins – meaning the body sub umbilico. In shining colours and in front of a monochrome background Kodritsch has not only portrayed manifold manifestations of female hips but also the diversity of bikini bottoms from which pubic hair protrudes in abundance. In view of a beauty cult which rejects all body hair and in which people casually talk about shaving their intimate zones as they do about getting a conventional haircut,

Kodritsch’s bikini girls appear like the manifestations of a nightmare experienced by a fashion designer. The taming of nature’s shrew through slim strips of fabric fails in impressive manner. The emergence of the bikini in the 1950s was accompanied by the trimming of pubic hair. Here pristine nature no longer follows the path of civilisation’s restrictions. Masters of pubic hair painting such as the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux would probably have criticised the sloppy execution and lack of accuracy but would have been delighted by the diversity of outward forms. The different combinations of figures, bikini bottoms and resplendent hair convey an individual touch and the character of a picture to each picture. The evident humour in these pictures is not an end in itself but a means of criticism and of unmasking ideals of beauty.

Right into the blue
A newspaper photo depicting Andreas Goldberger, high up in the sky and taken from a camera angle which appeared to show him flying away without any relation to the ground, formed the starting point for Kodritsch’s series of pictures with ski jumpers. They share the same strategy of portraying a broad open sky, somewhere in the firmament of which a little ski jumper appears. These are blue monochrome areas of colour which could pass muster as a colour field painting without a figurative attribute but Kodritsch has taken the dimension of the sublime from the auratic colour spaces of painters such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman or Yves Klein and degraded their spiritual spheres into vulgar depictions of the sky. Klein’s leap into the void is Kodritsch’s leap into the blue. The expression: “to do something out of the blue” not only conveys a certain ease and spontaneity. It also transports something of the risk, the danger, the state of hovering between life and death which accompanies almost 200-metres long jumps on two narrow wooden slats. In this regard, the leap into the unknown might convey an impression of the tininess of human existence, of the powerlessness felt at being dependent on the mercy of nature in certain situations, and of the human endeavour to face constantly new and ever more daunting and difficult challenges. Well, perhaps. But perhaps we should resist the temptation to overburden these pictures with existential meanings. After all, what delights us at first sight are the visual proportions of the endless sky and tiny ski jumper. And of course we shouldn’t forget the importance of Kodritsch’s background in pop culture in his works. From 1998 to 2000, the period in which series was created, the Austrian duo Christoph and Lollo released their two CDs with ski jumper songs which were played incessantly by Grissemann and Stermann on their radio programme “Salon Helga” very quickly attained a certain cult status. Lyrics such as Er ist sorgsam frisiert, er ist fromm und gepflegt / Er hat nie masturbiert oder Unmut erregt (“He’s carefully coiffed, he’s pious and neat / He’s never masturbated or caused a fuss in the street”) in their song about the Japanese ski jumper Kazuyoshi Funaki congenially enhance Kodritsch’s pictures.

Congratulations on your copulation
Kodritsch is also a busy lyricist and creative wordsmith. The titles of his pictures confirm his predilection for ironic, provocative and narrative sentences. Titles such as Entschuldigen Sie bitte, aber ich habe gerade meine Eier verloren (“Please excuse me but I’ve just lost my balls”) or Schon wieder gescheitert bei dem Versuch einen Regenbogen zu malen (“Another abortive attempt to paint a rainbow”) are literary gems which extend the content level and add an extremely concise story to the painting’s narrative. He immortalised his outpourings of poetry on canvas in 2002. In the Flowers series he combines the sort of “beautifully painted” pictures of flowers we know from the works of hobby painters with erotic pornographic poetry and deliberately plays with discrepancies between the visual and content level. A detailed view of a red rose with the words Sportwagen / Arschficken / Berühmt werden (“Sports car / arse fucking / becoming famous”) placed at the centre of the petals indicates that someone here doesn’t give a damn about conventions but deliberately directs his curiosity at the point where social prudery

merges into double standards and bigotry. The common male Austrian would probably find the depiction of flowers “beautiful” but pretend to be outraged by the text, even though he secretly agrees with it or might even aspire to it in his own life. In terms of their subjects and painting style the pictures are located somewhere between Georgia O’Keefe and flower painting courses at the local adult education centre; the texts make explicit what similar depictions in earlier times would tend to camouflage through the use of symbols. The calyx has a long tradition in art history of standing as a symbol of the vulva: one is reminded, for example, of the pictures by O’Keefe. What she did not dare to portray in outright terms was naturalised and over-romanticised.

Kodritsch has chosen to use a decorative font for his work, the kind of which is frequently used in greeting cards. Depictions of flowers are also perfectly suited to this genre. The two penises shaking hands (Cockhands, 2008) might refer to two men congratulating themselves on having had sexual intercourse. The scene is depicted both as a painting and a sculpture. The content of this striking symbol is as enigmatic and unfathomable as the portrait of two men on the same mental wavelength might be considered humorous: an understanding between men obsessed with power, domination and potency, men who mark out their spheres of influence in their male circles, clubs and associations, men whose common identity and shared membership is below the belt. The Cockhands painting also bears the subtitle War and refers to violent conflicts, primarily dominated by men, which can sometimes escalate into fully blown wars. Moreover, the link between penises, male forearms and above all fists points to the issue of sexual violence at a subliminal level. Erotic references are a recurring element which permeate Kodritsch’s world of images. We constantly encounter naked models, erect penises and both suggested as well as evident sexual intercourse. The romantic innocence of kitschy images of beaches such as the ones seen in tourism advertising brochures disappears at the sight of a couple copulating in doggy style. Kodritsch’s landscape painting is inconceivable without at least one red hut bearing the sign Puff (“brothel”). In Kodritsch’s case romantic landscapes of the soul become omniscient landscapes of sexual urges. Even the undead which inhabit his ghost pictures have breast and penis applications tied around them. As a perpetual driving force, it would appear that even the sex drive cannot be brought low by death.

Revenants of painting
About 200 years ago the evident circumstance that humour was seeping into art caused Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to advance his theory about “the end of art”. According to Hegel, art proceeds from the absolute Idea and is intended to be the sensuous presentation of the perfect spirit, by which he meant the absolute sense. With the entry of humour, art had abandoned its mission to provide orientation and meaning. “Man kann wohl hoffen, daß die Kunst immer mehr steigen und sich vollenden werde, aber ihre Form hat aufgehört, das höchste Bedürfnis des Geistes zu sein.”[2] - “One can perhaps hope that art will continue to become more elevated and reach perfection, but its form has ceased to be the most pressing need of the spirit.”

The most pressing need of Kodritsch’s spirits appears to be very much of the earthly kind. It may be thoroughly sensuous, but neither serves a representation of the absolute ideal nor meaningful orientation of the senses. After all, his revenants do not hide everything under the sheets. Their “little friends” always appear to be on the go and present themselves in resurgent size even with a face to which a beard is attached. In Kodritsch’s work the spiritual appears to be derived from high-proof alcohol, for even the genie in the bottle is an apparition in bed sheet style. Humour is an essential criterion in his work, for his reflection on painting and its potentiality in a society dominated by images and the media, on his own work and the role of the artist in society relies on wit and irony, as Nietzsche indicates in the above quotation. Kodritsch practises an art which doesn’t appear to take itself seriously, even though he takes art very seriously. It is a form of art which rejects pomp and pathos, which does not make any metaphysical claims and which categorically undermines any form of monumental aesthetics. It is an art which unfurls the logic of parody without exhausting itself in such logic.

Pictures of ghosts with beards and colour palettes form a separate cycle within his series of apparitions which have appeared since 1999. They appear to be Kodritsch’s commentary on painting, a medium which has frequently been declared dead, and is perhaps even an allegory of “undead painting” through the attribute of the colour palette. The narrative of an end of painting became established in the 1980s as a fixed point for contemplations of the conditions and possibilities of post-modernist painting. For Kodritsch, the frequently invoked end of painting is a joke which is as old as the hills. Etymologically, the German word Witz is linked to the Latin term spiritus and French esprit, both of which mean “spirit”. Hence the death of painting is a joke.

A dog with a blonde wig first appeared in the picture Blondie (2004). But it took the subsequent works entitled Blondie II (2005) and Ahnenbild II (“Ancestral Portrait II”, 2006) for a fully-fledged ensemble of work to develop from this motif.

Of all Kodritsch’s pictures, those in the Bastards series are probably the most widely known. In his idiosyncratic way he has managed to portray the banal phrase “a dog is just like its owner” as a set of congenial images. The characters which gaze at us from these canine portraits are as striking as they are complex. They reveal more of the human soul than if Kodritsch had created portraits of people themselves. Naturally, we also obtain a clear insight into the basis and abyss of the love relationship between a dog and its master.

The bastards are not only “character heads” par excellence, in which the dogs assume a representative function for people. They are also painted in the style of classical portraits. These are not genre-specific portrayals of dogs which mirror the character of the sitter as in the cases of Titian, Hogarth or Picasso: these are real portraits in which the hybrid creatures are painted in half-length. The bastards are available as paintings, as collages and, since the series of pictures entitled Die Anwesenheit (“The Presence”, 2007) as figures undergoing a transformation into ghosts: Dressed in white, with a dog’s head and a blonde wig they are positioned in front of a Halloween pumpkin.

The line: “The beauty that will save the earth is the love that shares our pain” is featured in the picture of a bastard with a mop top. Kodritsch has borrowed the quotation from the recently deceased Cardinal Carlo Mara Marini who, when reflecting on Dostoevsky’s novel “The Idiot”, the actions of the prince and his view that the world will be redeemed by beauty, arrived at precisely the same answer. Kodritsch’s bastards will one day save the world.

The language of painting
(Empty) speech bubbles are a frequent set piece in Kodritsch’s work. As a means of adding textual statements to an image, speech bubbles can even be said to have their origins in the banners we know from medieval paintings. But the culture of comics has been decried and devalued by educationists for years, so speech bubbles are stuck with the connotation of having nothing of any significance to say. Speech bubbles inherently point to empty phrases and talk that are little more than hot air. The fact that they have become a firmly established part of pop culture despite being derided and perceived as trivial at an educational and intellectual level appears to make them interesting vehicles of content for Kodritsch, in addition to his painter’s predilection for round shapes and bubble-like structures.

In his latest series entitled Blababels he juxtaposes and places different kinds of speech bubbles on top of each other in an abstract-gestural colour space. The jumble of speech bubbles bears the association of trivial small talk (“blah-blah-blah”) and Babylonian language confusion in its title. Here, the language field is an opportunity to add a further level of textual content to the image or to explain or comment on what is depicted in the image. And as if to add insult to injury, an empty speech bubble seems only to convey meaninglessness and refer to the open message of the image. Kodritsch also wrote Bla Bla Blasen (“blah blah bubbles”) as a kind of commentary on a picture he had created shortly before.

Ultimately we can’t criticise an artist for having empty speech bubbles in his pictures. After all, they only appear empty to us at first sight because we expect to see some form of textual content. Kodritsch’s speech bubbles, on the other hand, are filled with his painting, and his painting is both the commentary and message of the picture. And his painting is never empty.

Super hero and pussycats
Kodritsch plays his ironic game with allusions and references to art history, to popular culture, to a mediatised reality and to the world of comics. In addition to speech bubbles he has also adopted many other elements from their cosmos. The pussy cats run over by a Puch Cobra clearly exhibit the tyre mark from the moped and refer to the countless maltreated cartoon figures who have murdered each other in almost every conceivable way in a mutual love-hate relationship only to stand up immediately afterwards and proceed as if nothing had happened. Kodritsch’s cats, on the other hand, stay dead on the ground but are preserved for all time in clay, polyester and bronze. As of course is the tyre print of the Puch Cobra, too!

A similar fate has also overtaken the roof which an ink roller has squashed for the newly executed zebra crossing (“Zebra”, 2002). There is nothing recognisable left from the white strip in his drawing of animal hide. In analogy to Kazimir Malevich’s iconic work “White on White” we might ironically put it this way: a white strip on a white background.

Batman has also been a recurring figure in the world of comics. Originally created in 1939, he was a response to the world at that time and its socio-political conditions just like Superman, who was invented a year earlier. Thanks to countless adaptations for the screen, Batman has not only become a pop icon but was also one of the first motifs to be painted by Andy Warhol und Mel Ramos on their way to pop art. We have to be able to appreciate the essential significance of this comic hero in pop culture and art history in order to understand the way in which Kodritsch uses and incorporates the figure in his work.

The self-portrait as Batman dates back to 1995. It shows the masked artist on a platform with his hands stretched upwards to the black drooping breasts. The similar shape which the undulating canopy shares with a bosom has led to a shift in meaning and a supposed insight into the psyche of the artist. In Herr und Frau Batman (“Mr and Mrs Batman”, 1999) we gain a glimpse behind the scenes into the real life of the secret superhero. Kodritsch reveals the pictures that are missing in the comic series. He presents, as it were, the uncensored version, the artist’s cut, the unabridged text. The two figures shortened in the drawing can either be taken to mean that the all too perfect and self-opinionated superhero should let off steam for once or that a couple is in the middle of acting out erotic role plays. Either way, the myth of the superhero has burst – through the act of satisfying all too human needs.

The sculpture: In the mood I (2001) depicts Batman in a further compromising situation. His little Robin is in the process of being orally satisfied by an elephant. The embarrassing reports and stories in the media and from hospitals of men whose pride and joy is stuck in the hoses of vacuum cleaners may have been a template for this variation of sucking with an elephant’s trunk. It is worth considering that both pictures are not merely about the masked superhero: They also deal with the iconic image which the media and art world has created from that figure. Batman and Robin’s admirable morality, virtuousness and chastity are deconstructed through the depiction of sexual acts.

In 2009 Kodritsch began to create pictures showing an abstract form of Batman with the letters OT (“OT” = Ohne Titel = untitled) in his face and a long erect penis flaunting a woman’s head at its tip. The image is vaguely reminiscent of René Magritte’s painting Le Viol (“The Rape”) in which a woman’s face consists of breasts and the vagina. Magritte’s half-length portrait describes the rape of the woman through the eyes of a man. Female sexuality is staged in accordance with male desire and the male desire for control. The same male gaze also permeates Kodritsch’s untitled Batman works. The speech bubble remains empty. Hopefully, the Dürer rabbit which has been added to the foreground is not supposed to attest to fertility.

Absurd representatives
A painting displaying a small black kangaroo staring at a giant courgette against a yellow background exists from the year 1996. A plaster sculpture dating back to the same year depicts a snowman in front of a monumental banana with the title: Der Beginn einer wunderbaren Freundschaft (“The start of a beautiful friendship”). Banal things are monumentalised, which leads to an ironic game based on the confusion of sizes as a function of significance. One might well ask whether this is a question of a subjective perspective of meaning which makes the size of the people in the picture dependent on their significance for the artist, or whether it is a calculated evocation of absurd situations. As we have already seen in the painting Vogel und Büste (“Bird and busts”, 2011), the kangaroo and snowman act as representative figures for the recipient.

The object Du, wiedergeboren als Brett (“You, reborn as a plank”) adopts an entirely different form of representation. An MDF panel on which a wood grain has been painted is intended to symbolise the reincarnation of a friend or the viewer. In other words: Reborn as a piece of medium-density fibreboard, as a compressed natural product which has the look of genuine wood. These are not exactly what you might call ideal conditions for the next life when the block in front of the head becomes the block in place of the head. The ironic allusion to the planks of John McCracken, the minimal artist from California, who painted MDF boards in pure colours and leaned them against a wall, is evident.

Kodritsch from A to Z: from birds to vegetables
In order to gain a better grasp of Kodritsch’s pictures or at least obtain an in-depth understanding of them we would do well to consider publishing a manual of the visual symbols he uses in his vocabulary of painting. Over the years the artist has gradually developed a subjectively determined vocabulary of motifs, symbols and signs which he deliberately selects, varies and combines with each other. According to his own personal opinion on this people should incorporate each motif “like a language”.[3] The following brief list of the most important elements is intended to provide an insight into his intrinsic framework of art references and his imagery.

Balls and eggs
Just like rum truffles, eggs are a frequently recurring formal element in Kodritsch’s work. They ensure recognisability in their reference to the actual object and metaphor in everyday reality: for an English gentleman’s balls are an Austrian gentleman’s eggs. However, their symbolism and significance for the overall image tends to remain erratic. In any case, balls and eggs add a touch of nonsense and parody to Kodritsch’s works.

The series I’m getting old (2009) shows supposed self-portraits of the artists as a ghost with a long black beard. In Kodritsch’s visual worlds, facial hair doesn’t just frequently appear as a sign of aging, of elapsed time or the practise of disguise. It also appears to illustrate his fondness of body hair (cf. Bikinimädchen, Bastards, Schnurrbart und Blase [“Moustache and bubble”, etc.).

Birds first appear to have flocked to Kodritsch’s arsenal of motifs in 2006. Bordering on the genius, his series Monkeybusiness in der Vogelwelt (“Monkey business in the bird world”, 2006-2009) displays them hanging forlornly from trees. The suicide of a bird by hanging is certainly one of the most outstanding and paradoxical visual creations of the artist and continues to elude our understanding despite the reference to underhand dealings in the title.

In the painting Vogel und Büste (“Bird and Busts”, 2011), he confronts a little black bird with a large black sculpture of modernist origin. Although the bird may be acting here as a proxy for the viewer of modern art, its surprise at the erratic contrast must at times seem as strange as the constellation in this painting.

Cheshire Cat
Like other elements in his visual vocabulary, the wide grin of the Cheshire cat appears to refer to the artist himself. The characteristic feature of the “grinning cat” is that the cat can disappear while its grin remains visible in the air. Kodritsch also disappears behind his pictures but the teeth that still gleam in the dark represent his impish grin when viewers perhaps shake their heads in confusion at the sight of congenial pictures and titles such as Mann Anfang 40 greift ins Geschehen ein (“Man in his early 40s intervenes in the proceedings”) or Dieses Bild hat einen seltsamen Titel (“This picture has a bizarre title”).

Colour palette
The colour palette is an essential attribute of the painter. It is deployed by Kodritsch as a symbol of painting and a reflection on the painting process. In his series The making of he depicts a nude executed in white against a colourful, abstract-expressive background and adds a palette on which we can see the dashes of colour used in the picture. The analogy of form to the speech bubbles and other curvaceous shapes reflect the formal motives of their use.

Dalí’s moustache
The moustache which achieved worldwide renown thanks to its famous wearer was not merely the trademark of the eccentric surrealist. Dalí ascribed special powers to the tips of his whiskers: Since he believed that they were able to receive divine messages; and he even called them his “antennae”. For Kodritsch, this element merely marks a hint of formality, an eccentric touch and at the same time an ironic break with Dalís sophisticated style of painting and his cult of genius.

Since 2009/2010 frame compositions have increasingly found their way into Kodritsch’s paintings. As outlines of the pictorial rectangle, window, comic panel or picture frame they convey insights, outlooks or a narration and frame the painting within the portrait. A picture such as Skulptur mit Weitblick (“Sculpture with vision”) (2011) can stand as a paradigm for this geometric style. The same period saw the creation of constructions which span a box-like space in which the motif is flattened and appears like pictorial wallpaper on the back wall. Examples of this can be found in almost each one of his most recent series: My girl is my home (2012), Blababels (2012) and in individual works such as Die Jahre sind nicht spurlos an uns vorübergegangen (“The years did not pass us by without a trace”) (2012), O.T. (White Rabbit) [Untitled (White Rabbit), 2011] or Skulptur mit Weitblick II (“Sculpture with vision II, 2012.

Hare: rabbit
Evidently, the schematically painted, printed and sprayed rabbit in Kodritsch’s pictures is always a reference to the “Young Hare” painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1502. It is considered the epitome of mimesis endeavours during the Renaissance period because of the skilful brilliance of its drawing and painting. For an artist such as Kodritsch who describes himself as a “sloppy realist”, Dürer’s frequently cited masterpiece is naturally an optimum point of reference. In 1996 he already used 22 bunnies as a contrast to his Bikinimädchen; the point being that in colloquial Austrian German, the term Hase or bunny is often used to describe a sexually desirable female. In 1998 he even had one of his bunnies peep out of a female slip and gave the picture the erratic title Billige Ausrede (“A cheap excuse”). But of course Kodritsch is not alone in his appropriation of the bunny; obviously, he is also referring to such artists as Joseph Beuys the creator of How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). For Beuys, the bunny is no longer an exclusive symbol of fertility and sensual pleasure but a vital sign of rebirth and resurrection. When, in 1968, Sigmar Polke painted Dürer’s hare on a textile ceiling or when a year later in 1969 Dieter Roth fashioned a rabbit out of rabbit droppings, these were intended as already ironic allusions to Beuys’ performance. In Kodritsch’s case, the hare is a polyvalent symbol which he incorporates as an icon for his deliberate imperfectionism.

The hat is a further visual element which the “girls” in My girl is my home wear on their heads due to its round appearance and analogy to other shapes such as a house roof. It is also frequently used due to its reference in pop culture. The painting Hoss Cartwright has left the studio (2012) finds a parallel in the picture UFO (2006), in which the hat of the hero from “Bonanza” hovers as an outsized flying object above the landscape. Once again, it is the round shape of the hat (an analogy to other objects) and the reference to pop culture which makes its use interesting for Kodritsch.

The monkey motif probably goes back to Kodritsch’s frequent journeys to Southeast Asia. On the one hand, its appeal resides both in the motif itself and in the way animals and people get along in such countries; on the other, it can be explained by the behaviour practised among the members of monkey colonies in which copulation serves as a release for social tensions and conflicts.

The nude is almost always female while the staging is erotic and tends to be borrowed from pin-up depictions in (dirty) magazines. Quite deliberately, the few male nudes such as Amor (2003) do not match our expectations of composition and beauty, shaped as these already are by social conventions and art history. In his frequent use of the nude Kodritsch may in fact be referring to Max Ernst, who when asked about his opinion of Immanuel Kant replied: Die Nacktheit der Frau ist weiser als die Lehre des Philosophen (“The nakedness of woman is more instructive than the teachings of a philosopher.”). [1]

A recurrent formal element is the pointy brush style which Kodritsch uses in pictures such as Ahnenbild I (“Ancestral Portrait I”, 2006), My girl is my home (2010) or Sisters (2010). What may appear pointillist, however, does not hide a composition or additive mixture of colours. Instead, it is merely a painting device used to convey formal structure.

Kodritsch began painting socks in 2009. No-one knows why. Once again he believes that a banal everyday object without interpretative determination but with a long cultural history is worthy of inclusion in his cosmos of images. His original mythical picture: The making of socks – people watching it (2009) is followed by further paintings in which the sock plays a more than insignificant role: Entschuldigen Sie bitte, aber ich habe gerade meine Eier verloren (“Please excuse me but I’ve just lost my balls”) (2011), Für Fortgeschrittene (“For advanced learners”, 2011), or, in a more advanced form, the Schnabelschuh mit Linolschnitt (“Poulaine with linocut”) (2012). Whether as pars pro toto for the entire body, as a pictorial version of being “knocked out of your socks”, as a symbol of a subjective mythology or visually, as an inherently interesting form, the sock remains an enigmatic feature of Kodritsch’s work.

Speech bubbles
The explanations in the speech bubbles which have been borrowed from the culture of comics are restricted to the size of the panel. Given the lack of space Kodritsch avoids abbreviated descriptions or phrases which would probably do no justice to his art. Instead, his speech bubbles remain devoid of words – for Kodritsch is a painter and his language is painting.

As motifs, courgettes and carrots already appear very early on in Kodritsch’s oeuvre. In 1995 he set about hoisting the flag of “courgette piracy” in which the pumpkin-like growth is dramatically crossed by two bones. A year later, he crosses a kangaroo with a monumental courgette (Das Zucchini-Känguru-Bild – “The courgette & kangaroo picture”) and creates the 140 cm high Karottenrakete (“carrot rocket”). In the picture, a banal everyday object without symbolic ballast or iconographic added value is monumentalised and placed in an absurd context.

The inclusion of letters, of writing in art has become a matter of course since the beginning of modernity. Yet it was not until the conceptual art movement of the 1960s that it emancipated itself from being a decorative accessory to becoming actual content. Pictures such as Ronald Kodritsch ist ein super Name (“Ronald Kodritsch is a super name”, 2011) or Julia Roberts says not working (2012) may be in the minority but writing has been a pivotal element in his artistic work ever since his Flowers series. Above all the picture label O.T. (meaning “Ohne Titel”, i.e. “untitled”) which ever since the 1960s has proved to be a popular device among self-respecting avant-garde artists for naming their works is a recurrent sequence of characters full of ironic esprit. Whether as an inscribed title in the later Batman pictures, as a formal element such as in the picture Porträt (“Portrait”) in which the letters, set below each other, form the genealogical symbol of “female” even though a Dalí moustache has been painted into the O, or all over, in which the sequence of characters becomes a form of visual poetry – the subtext of a picture labelled O[hne] T[itel] is TOT (or “DEAD”).

In conclusion.
Pictures such as Schaßvampir (“Shite vampire”, 2008-09), Forestscene mit Palettenkopf (“Forest scene with palette head”, 2008) and Die Jahre sind


nicht spurlos an uns vorübergegangen (“The years did not pass us by without a trace”, 2012) or the many others which do not appear in this catalogue, vary, combine and link the different elements from this repertoire of forms. The result isn’t always a panopticum with a compelling logic or even a narration. Instead, it consists of constellations and confrontations that do not exhaust themselves at the superficial level of a joke in words and images but which require a second view that open up new levels of surprise or even trigger disapproval – for they can lead to unusual insights. Francis Picabia has described his pictures as being “absolutely beautiful and moronic paintings”.[2] Perhaps the same thing can also be said about Kodritsch’s painting when you know how closely genius and nonsense can lie together at times.

[1] Max Ernst, 1970, p. 2.
[2] Francis Picabia, Schneckenbisse der Unvernunft (“Snailbites of irrationality”). Hamburg 1997, p. 26.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. Leipzig 1990, p. 5.
English translation: “The Joyful Wisdom (“La Gaya Scienza”)”, MacMillan, New York, 1924, title page.

[2] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik I. Werke 13. Frankfurt/Main 1986, p. 142.

[3] Ansichten eines schlampigen Realisten. Ein Gespräch mit Ronald Kodritsch (Interview von Claus Philipp). Katalog Menschenspiel, 2006, p. 003. [“Views of a sloppy realist”. A conversation with Ronald Kodritsch (interview with Claus Philipp). “Human Game” catalogue, 2006, p. 003.]

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