This year sees the hundredth anniversary of the death of Egon Schiele. In Vormstein’s youth, it was Schiele’s morbid and at the same time utterly explicit portrayals that first intensified his interest in art. When subsequently, in his student years, he sought a direct access to contemporary painting, it was only logical to have recourse to Schiele’s iconography and emotional visualization. Vormstein’s form-generating human figures adapted from Schiele function for him in the final analysis as metaphorical bearers of his critical inquiry into the theme of transience and mortality.
Initially present only as silhouettes, these forms have assumed over the years ever more volume and intensity of colour – always in contrast to newsprint, an alternative substrate, which, as an ephemeral, day-to-day material with a fully manifest ageing process, plays a no less considerable and ambivalent role in Vormstein’s pictures. This working material – occurring also in sculptural form as papier mâché and enriched with organic fragments and remnants of waste – can be found constantly in Gabriel Vormstein’s oeuvre. It is not only the physical, textural possibilities of newsprint, ranging from the extremely fragile to the highly stable, and its especial senescence that are of interest to the artist here, but also the concomitant direct linguistic subtext as well as the indirect question as to the durability of art.
In the current exhibition, Gabriel Vormstein goes one step further: the actual motif is increasingly dissolved and the focus shifts more to the haptic material. The theme of the body or the surface as a bearer of colour and information comes progressively more and more to the fore, the works now focussing directly on the conceptual inquiry into transcendence and ephemerality with the adaptation of Schiele remaining merely as a reminiscence. Only the new animal portraits on display take up directly Vormstein’s figurative painting, although here too the pictorial motif – enlarged to maximum size – is abstracted. At the same time, the black-and-white (non-)colour quality recalls rather the less permanent medium of drawing, and the choice of a polar bear as well as a leopard – all of them species threatened with extinction – point with as much melancholy as subtlety to the central idea of transience. Alongside expressive Viennese Modernism, Gabriel Vormstein has continually taken his bearings also from the multiplicity of forms prevalent in other stylistic directions of the twentieth century such as Geometric Abstraction, Minimalism and Arte Povera – even if their respective content could not be more conflicting. But precisely this analogue breadth of range underscores his self-contained and consistent stance of finding his personal path to modern art via his own analytical dialogue with it. Vormstein’s sculptural tree-branch works – which owe a debt to the principles of Arte Povera – function here just like his painting: with their own biological processes of decomposition they symbolize par excellence the motif of finitude. Initially abstract and geometrical, the organic objects have in recent years become increasingly figurative and more specific, so that for Vormstein it was, in contrast to his pictures, not the physical form that became an option for the next step, but undeniably the material in itself: parallel to the further development of the newsprint works into papier mâché on canvas, the natural and transient branch sculpture now gives rise to a cold, artificial version made of durable epoxy resin. The transformation of the material takes place not only in a physical and tangible but also in a poetic sense – turning the theme of evanescence into its reverse. And as before with his manifest references to art history, so here too Gabriel Vormstein uses his own original as a point of reference, thus giving his critical inquiry into enduring existence another valency.