Sunday, 7 June 2009

Norbert Schwontkowski

Das grüne Leuchten, 2005
Oil on Canvas 55 x 70cm

Not Seen
Private Collection

Unfortunately I have only seen this painting in photographic reproduction, which isn’t ideal for such a subtly painted work. However, I have seen a number of similar pieces from the same time at art fairs, which gives me an understanding of his process and how the finished paintings look.

He adds metallic oxides to his ground which lead to unforeseeable changes of colour in his paintings as the chemical compositions change through oxidation. He will start a canvas, leave it to mature for a couple of weeks and then return to it and modify the altered state.

Like most of his work, the image comes from his imagination rather than an appropriated source. It shows a tiny incident all too familiar from my childhood holidays - our car was always breaking down too! Innocent in itself but the gaseous lime green glow hovering on the horizon fills the image with a sense of dread. The family watch from a safe distance whilst the father, head under the bonnet tinkers with the engine. It is almost as if the family are hovering on the horizon between mundane reality and the surreal happenings beyond.

The painting has a gentle naive quality, but as with all his work the title and image are inextricably linked, and translating this title as The Green Light we see he has a sense of irony too; green for stop rather than go! I associate the green light in this painting with the dreary tones of winter skies that warn of an immanent snowfall, but it could also be read as a green ray. These are rare optical phenomena that occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, when a green spot is visible for a short period of time above the sun, or a green ray shoots up from the sunset point. It is usually observed from a low altitude where there is an unobstructed view of the horizon, such as on the ocean.

Although it is the image itself that fills me with a sense of loss, the process is a key component of the melancholic feel of his paintings. It is like a slow version of the development process associated with wet photography and results in the luminous glow of pastel colour that haunts his work.

©blackdog 2009


  1. A sensitive and precise description, written in a careful-elegant style, and analysis of this modern painting! I get know contemporary fine artists I heard never before about. What a shame for me! Your blog is very important also in this sense to inform and to awake understanding about new developments in modern art!
    I have to admit: There is a facination this painting is radiating- particularly because of the colours, the shades of grey, the small stripes of a brighter lighting and a diffusing- fluorescent- gentle green! There is an atmosphere of being in the middle of nowhere- a rather banal holiday-family-car-situation as you described, but there is a feeling that the situation could possibly become uncomfortable and difficult and we ask: Is there any help, any inhabitants/village in the near? On the one side we have a rather distant view of the people and their situation (they look -even as the American (?) car- a bit like children drawings, more silhouettes than real individuals; some reminding of a road movie in the American desert)-on the other side only we seem to have a kind of panoaramatic overview, and the grey frames signalize threat, danger, and loneliness- a melancholic feel indeed! I associate the green with apocalyptic colours I know from expressionistic art. although it is a very soft, actually beautiful green, but no green that signalizes life, rather a fading, pale green that could signalize going bad- caused by a general feel in that dimension!

  2. The shape of the car is interesting as it is identical to that painted by Baselitz in a painting I saw recently. I actually felt it looked like an old style Mercedes ;o) Also interesting is your point about anxiety about the family being stranded without help. The telephone wires (symbol of communication) run overhead but are of no use to them.