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Peter Dreher: Tag um Tag guter Tag – Portrait of a Life Project / A film by Ulrike Claeys & Uli Nocke

After a few words of explanation as to what is already visible on the surface of the canvas, a penciled skeleton composition of a glass on a table, the artist Peter Dreher settles into his chair and in silence, gets to work.  For the duration of over two hours, the film Peter Dreher: Tag um Tag guter Tag, offers an intimate glance of the artist’s daily ritual of painting a still life of the glass, a project he began in 1974. Today the series includes over 5,000, small object-sized paintings, divided into two series: one done in daylight, and the other of renditions done at night.

The film’s brilliance lies in how its formal aspects parallel and relay the singularity of the artist’s working method and project.  In a straightforward manner, the images unfold in real-time through the lens of two cameras.  As a result, the experience of time at first comes to a halt, absorbed into the silence that hovers over the studio as the artist begins to add to his schablone.  Gradually, however, time is experienced in tandem with the visual progression of the painted image.  The artist’s hands tend to their work and audible signs of that work punctuate the quietude of the room: the clink as a tool is put down, the faint sound of dabbing in paint as colors are mixed to a desired hue, the scrapping of a palette knife against the surface of the canvas, and intermittingly, we hear the artist’s breath, often a pronounced exhaling that marks the end of a stroke, or particular stage of the work.  The bustling activity, noise, and twenty-four hour time cycle that regulates life, labor and leisure outside the artist studio is replaced here by a long-take, a quiet duration that adheres to the production of a single painting.

Dreher pays no heed to the inconspicuous cameras and small crew in his studio. Rather, he remains focused, absorbed in the transmission of the object into image-form. The real-time capturing of this process by the two cameras gives the artist’s mental state a spatial dimension. One camera is positioned behind, looking over the artist’s shoulder. Wide-angle shots frame both the real-life composition of the glass on the table with what emerges on the canvas, capturing the artist’s continual back-and-forth between observation, retouching, painting, and looking again. In these shots the viewer’s look is also activated in a similar fashion as it observes and compares the progression of the work in relation to the glass on the table.

At other moments a second camera, focuses in on the doing, the skillful hands’ use of the brush, the careful application of the paint, pulled in long, steady strokes across the surface, or in short repetitive gestures, ascribing to the act of painting its own rhythm. These close-ups turn the painted surface into abstract fragments where texture and plasticity prevail. 

Intermittingly, the second camera, which is positioned behind the glass, provides the perspective of the object, looking back at its faithful companion, sitting in his chair, below the window, in front of the easel, engaged steadfastly with his subject matter, as if for the first time.

Tag um Tag guter Tag dialogues with the work of other artists who, at the time Dreher began his series, were responding to the expansion of consumer culture and mass media, and hence technological modes of reproduction; they did so by addressing and problematizing questions of autonomy, self-definition and the uniqueness of the art object.  And yet, Dreher’s project differs from these general tendencies in crucial ways.

A good case in point is On Kawara’s series Date Paintings (1966-  ).  Like Kawara, Dreher’s series of glasses consists of individual small works, produced each time anew and in paint, with the result that each edition is inevitably singularly different from those that have come before and those that will come after.  However, in Karawa’s series, the difference that transpires between each work relates to the geographic contexts and historical moments in which each work is created.[1]  In Dreher’s series, the discrepancy between each painted glass expresses the singularity of each unique encounter between the still life and artist.  Moreover, while Kawara’s work is conceptual in nature, taking on the form of numerical abstractions of the daily events in a given location, Dreher’s series is first and foremost a practice grounded in figurative painting and in his studio.

In the film, this space of the studio is opened-up for us as viewers, and presented as a place of encounter on several levels.  Although the glass on the table is empty, as the lines, colors, and shapes appear in the painting, we begin to see this glass as embodying a fullness.  On its surface are reflected forms and deflected light; it is an imaged surface, reproducing elements of the room in which it sits.  So too, through the slow and meticulous addition of painted lines, shadow and light, the empty canvas is gradually filled by the depiction of the glass and its imaged surface.  However, having watched the entire process, the end result is perceived less as an instance of figurative realism and more as a painted surface on which the unique characteristics of this edition are formally inscribed.

Dreher has an interest in Eastern philosophy and its emphasis on meditation.  This idea is certainly reflected in the manner in which the artist observes and paints for a duration of over two hours, completely absorbed in the task at hand. Just as the empty glass on the table is filled each day with distinct features, so too, the artist gives the impression of approaching his task with no pre-given assumptions, as if emptied of past experience, observing and painting the glass with a fresh objectivity. In this line of thought, the glass that progressively appears on the surface of the canvas emerges only after having been filtered through, and inscribed in, the artist’s mind’s eye and inner self.

Once the painting deemed complete, the artist flips his brush around and with the stem carves the number 2454 into the paint at the very top of the canvas.  He turns his head and leans forward toward the glass on the table, taking it in, one last time.  The silence is broken, the artist snaps out of his concentrated mode, puts down his painting tool, and exclaims, “so!” as a sort of point-final to the whole process.  He rises from his chair, picks up the finished work, walks over to the wall, and hangs it at the end of two rows of painted glasses.  “Weg is’ es!“ [“Now it’s gone!“], he exclaims, as if to mark that this particular edition has lost its singular exposure, henceforth it must fight for attention from within the multitude in which it now figures. Indeed, many more hooks can be seen already hammered into the wall.  For today, Dreher’s work is done.

Through its efficient cinematic means – the real-time montage, the alternating perspective from the two cameras, and the wide and close frames – Peter Dreher: Tag um Tag guter Tag adopts a means of expression that is faithful to what it depicts, creating in a quiet, powerful and engaging manner the portrait of a painter, his studio, and life project.

 

Written by

Anik Fournier
Academie voor Art & Design
Arnhem, Netherlands                        

 

Peter Dreher _ Tag um Tag guter Tag

A Film by Ulrike Claeys and Uli Nocke
Documentary, 136 min, 2012

treatment: Ulrike Claeys
producer: Uli Nocke
camera: Christian Zecha
cut: Petra Hölge

 

Produced by designconcepts GmbH, Furtwangen, Germany
and Galerie Claeys, Freiburg, Germany

www.designconcepts.de / www.galerie-claeys.de

© designconcepts GmbH

 


[1] On Karawa’s Date Painting series consists of the date on which each painting was executed in simple white lettering set against a solid background. The date is always documented in the language and grammatical conventions of the country in which the painting is executed (i.e., “26. ÁG. 1995,” from Reykjavik, Iceland, or “13 JUIN 2006,” from Monte Carlo).