Arnulf Rainer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 3, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Vienna
    Klewan Gallery, Vienna (acquired from the above in 1967)
    Prelinger Collection, Munich (acquired from the above in 1974)
    Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
    Acquired from the above by the late owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    As the founder of Art Informel in Austria, Arnulf Rainer’s paintings were powerful and gestural. He drew and painted over self-portraits, paintings and photographs by other contemporary artists. In 1978, Rainer represented Austria at the Venice Biennale, and in the same year, he was awarded the Great Austrian National Prize. In 2009, the Arnulf Rainer Museum opened in his hometown, Baden, Austria.

    By constantly re-working his own compositions and overpainting works by other artists, Rainer challenges the notion of completion in his work, making art that is destructive yet creative at the same time: ‘Even today I am still correcting these pictures, time and time again, to achieve a total darkening, although I forgot long ago what used to be underneath. I prefer to work on a paint-over of a paint-over. It was never my intention to destroy, only to make complete’ (Arnulf Rainer, quoted in Arnulf Rainer: Early Work, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 2017, p. 171). Using a variety of mediums and unconventional methods, Rainer’s artistic practice has been informed by Surrealism, dreams, primal forces, and mythology. He uses passport photobooths for self-portraits, paints blindfolded with his feet or sometimes even with his entire body. Fuelled by obsession, his explosive compositions are infused with palpable energy.

    Rainer’s ‘overpaintings’, developed in the 1950s, eventually led him to experiment with blind drawing that brought him into contact with Viennese Actionism — the movement famous for its emphasis on raw, physical energy that engages the viewer with an intense sensational experience. Although not a member of the Viennese Actionism group, Rainer is often linked to artists within that group such as Hermann Nitsch due to his expressive, performative approach, and the violent imagery of his work.

    The following selection of works, executed throughout the earlier days of Rainer’s career, offer an insight to the development in his artistic practice from the monochrome paintings to his overpainted photographs. The late 1950s to early 1960s marked a transitional phase in Rainer’s career where he started to create paintings with thick layers of paint that covered almost the entire canvas, often in black: ‘When in the early sixties I did not know how to go on with my improvements, I created coloured rest corners, thus jettisoning my own principles. Afterwards, it has become more dear to me, and to my mind this ‘reactionary’ phase actually opened the way to overpainting (Arnulf Rainer, quoted in Arnulf Rainer: Early Work, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 2017, p. 171).

    Rainer’s ‘rest corner’ paintings such as Übermalung mit Ecke (Overpainting with corner) are usually painted and re-worked over the course of many years: ‘Today, being preoccupied with other artistic problems, I continue working on these pieces — at least the ones I still own — with an average of one brush stroke a month. Until my demise they will continue to change considerably, i.e. they will grow denser and denser, until only small patches of white remain, edges or corners, perhaps not even these’ (Arnulf Rainer, quoted in Arnulf Rainer: Early Work, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 2017, p. 171). Upon close observation, hints of blue, green and red peek through from behind the black at the top right corner, hinting at the once existing colourful underpainting that Rainer gradually covered. The intentional blank corners of these paintings leave the composition open and unfinished, which suggest an artistic practice that is an ‘inchoate process that defies completion’ (Arnulf Rainer: Retrospektive, exh. cat., MMKK – Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten, Cologne, 2008, p. 20).

    The presence of authorship is embedded everywhere in Rainer’s work. In examples such as Ohne Titel, 1961 and Ohne Titel, 1967, the gritty texture of oilstick further accentuates the unevenness of the surface and the artist’s gestural movements across the canvas, leaving it empty but filled at the same time.

    The colour black is scribbled on with extreme intensity, highlighting the artist’s touch. This aggressive, tactile approach ‘reaches a climax in the finger smearing at the beginning of the 1980s' (Arnulf Rainer, quoted in Arnulf Rainer: Early Work, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 2017, p. 171), with FITZEN, 19 Knäuel (19 tangles or balls). Rainer introduced the medium of photography into his work in the late 1960s with the Face Farces and Body Poses series, and in 1977, he started a series of reworked photographs, including the Death Mask series. In FITZEN, 19 Knäuel, 1983, Rainer plays the game of hide and seek with the identity of the subject, as he does in all his reworked photographs. The slashes of black seem to cover important details of the image underneath, but at the same time appears to be intentionally added to mimic long hair. The smeared colours of red, yellow, and green across an existing photograph, deliberately hides the subject but also exaggerating his expression that is violently furrowed and disfigured.

    Through the manipulation of form, composition, and texture, Rainer aims to capture extreme emotions and push past the figurative limits of an image, releasing hidden energies. His works are distinctively abstract whilst remaining figurative: ‘I reject the idea of abandoning the image in favour of an object of monochrome coating as too conclusive. For me it is a matter of ‘almost’. This ‘almostness’ is only achieved step by step; the work keeps expanding, becoming more and more opaque, maybe indefinitely; room enough in any case, for a century of art history’ (Arnulf Rainer: Early Work, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 2017, p. 171).


Übermalung mit Ecke (Overpainting with corner)

signed 'A. Rainer' lower left; further signed, titled, numbered and dated 'Übermalung mit Ecke, 1959-62, Rainer II' on the reverse
acrylic, oil, wax crayon and graphite on canvas
70.5 x 50.5 cm (27 3/4 x 19 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1959-1962.

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £100,000

Contact Specialist
Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 4 October 2018