Peter Köhler: Crepuscular Tales

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Peter Köhler: Crepuscular Tales

Peter Köhler: Crepuscular Tales
to Sat 16 Dec 2017

Galleri Magnus Karlsson Peter Kohler 1

Galleri Magnus Karlsson Peter Kohler 2

Galleri Magnus Karlsson Peter Kohler 3

Galleri Magnus Karlsson Peter Kohler 4

Galleri Magnus Karlsson Peter Kohler 5

Galleri Magnus Karlsson Peter Kohler 6

Peter Köhler draws like a dream, and maybe he dreams like his drawings. His works on paper are triumphs of pictorial alchemy, amalgamations of three core elements that anchor their persistent yet never repetitive production. The first is a type of close observation that is somehow both tenacious and casual, taken and selected from—it seems—everything he happens to see. (And the work can make us believe that he sees every single thing, even though we know that is impossible.) Then there is a level of imagination that miraculously is as familiar as it is wild, an incongruity that rarely works in words, yet is more often than not the mark of transformative works of art, particularly in the case of drawings like these that contain both intimacy and vastness. Finally, there is an indefatigable quality of technique in terms of color, line and form that asserts control and even mastery without producing an alienating or limiting experience for us as viewers. Put another way, it is very difficult to tear oneself away from these drawings, because not only are there always more things to discover in them, but also the fusing together of their three core elements creates a gravitational pull that makes them mesmerizing yet still flexible. They are agile and muscular.

I was determined to worm that last word into this take on Köhler’s drawings because of his title for this exceptional set: Crepuscular Tales. Of course, “crepuscular” and “muscular” share no meaning whatsoever: to be the former is to be active at twilight, whether at dusk or dawn (I always think of fireflies, and I’ll return to them below) and without doubt these drawings reveal such occurrences. When I first learned of the title, “muscular” popped into my head because of the rhyme, an involuntary word association that disrupted my train of thought. Later, however, in the studio, while moving my eyes from drawing to drawing, what seemed to be an arbitrary connection asserted itself as yet another core element of the work.[1] These drawings are sinewy and circulatory, and they even seem to contract and expand, almost as if there are interconnected things moving under their skins.[2] They live!

This notion—if not wishful thinking—of an inanimate work of art having an active life is confirmed and complicated (how could it be any other way?) by the second word of Köhler’s title: “tales.” His drawings may be tales but they don’t become full-blown stories, even though they set up hallucinatory narrative structures with meticulously detailed and visually stimulating depictions of what frequently appear to be specific people, places and things. These picture-tales might even have a beginning and an end, as well as prodigious amounts of activity in between, but they resist narrative completion and temporal conformity by embedding the legibility of their representational flexibility into a compositional framework that enables the drawing to transcend any or all limitations of interpretation. (Nevertheless, it is not unimaginable to name the majority of characters, creatures or whatever else we’re looking at in them, no matter how bizarre any of these things may be.) These drawings almost prompt microscopic inspection, but such an investigative way of looking usually leads to assumptions being made about what something must mean, and I’m convinced that that is a dead end, or better yet a buzz kill of the surprising openness of these overflowing yet well-built drawings.

I am struck by Köhler’s use of patterns of parallel lines and even the grid in many of these drawings. In some cases these formal devices are interwoven with the depiction of a building with windows (each one providing a glimpse of a different incident), or a single room massive enough to hold a vista of multiple views and situations (a ceiling can also be a sky, a floor can also be a landscape, a sky can also be water with a whale, and even a furry animal head can also contain a pathway populated by humans), or a picture of a picture gallery, not to mention a wreath of two-dimensional devil heads floating on a pictorial space made perspectival when several lines converge instead to create a section of receding floor. Köhler morphs space right up to the point of being too much to take, sustaining what reads as obsessiveness without pushing it over the cliff to mania. His respect for and knowledge of so-called “outsider art” serves him well, and I think that his use and highlighting of the formal capabilities of line is another way to keep the work open strangely enough by keeping it in check.

None of the above is offered to prove or even suggest that Köhler’s tales reject the possibilities of narrative and/or meaning. To my mind, one of the things that makes us human is that we tell each other—and ourselves—stories constantly, and these drawings provide plenty of material (and materiality) to do that. As a voracious reader of novels, I am susceptible to a great story’s ability to take over but I also believe the reason that it can be so powerful is that it must be temporary and it must be open to change.

“The best things, he always used to say, are put together of a night and vanish with the morning.”[3] These are the words of Matsuji Ono, an elder artist in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel An Artist of the Floating World, repeating the words of a contemporary to convey an earlier world view to a younger artist who is against it due to the defeat of World War II. Ono is a fictional representative of Ukiyo-e, the “pictures of a floating world” from Edo-period Japan (1600–1867) that the novel presents as once beloved and now disgraced. Of course, in actuality these pictures remain popular to this day. While the subjects of the woodcuts of masters like Hiroshige and Hokusai were fleeting, the works themselves are not. Köhler’s Crepuscular Tales evoke Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, everyday scenes placed in a kind of suspended animation that heightens rather that diminishes their activity, giving them staying power. Köhler’s abundant accumulations of small moments coalesce in a manner not unlike Hiroshige’s Night View of Saruwaka-machi (1856) in which the exquisitely distinct light of a full moon is cast over a specific yet anonymous scene of crepuscular departure, likely too early for the nighttime pleasures to come.[4] Hiroshige’s interest in the commingling of natural and artificial light (fireworks) is representative of his time; Köhler melds that distinction in his drawings, even if his overall color sensibilities and saturations (they are vibrant and subdued all at once) reinforce a productive connection to such timeless works of the 19th century.

Like fireflies, Köhler’s illuminating drawings seem to come out at night and make you wonder if they will go dark in the morning. That could mean that all ends well.

All ends? Well …

— Terry R. Myers

[1] I see Köhler’s drawings taking similar advantage of what the artist Kay Rosen considers to be the unauthorized systems of language that are visual. It was these systems that contributed to her move from the study of linguistics to art. See Cornelia H. Butler and Terry R. Myers, Kay Rosen: lifeli[k]e (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art and Otis Gallery, 1998).

[2] “The term muscle is derived from the Latin musculus meaning ‘little mouse’ perhaps because of the shape of certain muscles or because contracting muscles look like mice moving under the skin.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle (accessed on October 6, 2017).

[3] Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986), p. 150

[4] This text has been informed by my viewing of the recent exhibition By the Light of the Moon: Nocturnal Japanese Prints at The Art Institute of Chicago. http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/light-moon-nocturnal-japanese-prints

Courtesy of the artist and Galleri Magnus Karlsson, Stockholm
 
 

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