To speak with Markus Saile is to look into the mind’s eye of a chemist, stonemason, rocket scientist, cinematographer, editor, wine maker, marksman, balloonist, engineer and chef all in one. A cull of “thinly painted” images is presented during exhibition at RECEPTION. Developed out from a complex search, fresh thin reservoirs of color-inhabited turpentine are shown. Saile’s “lean application” concept has been broadened over the last year, reaching new combinations that result in a community of images able to inhabit light, color and time.
Saile states “The paintings are between the picture as a ‘window’ in the classical sense of representation and the picture as a diagram with its pictorial problems.”
This space in-between (classical window and picture as diagram) is also a place of wanting, of hunger for an unknown solution.
Installation vantage points are expressed in the selection of works for each wall or other architectural component. The architecture provides the “full wrapper” Saile wishes to achieve. The arrangements guide the viewer into a “key” location, fostering the feeling of locking, holding, and balance something achieved in masonry key stoning. A keystone, last stone up, cements place.
Here Saile, toying with equal distribution of painted and action keeps it essential In other conditions of installation, he has summarized that pairings have been made in order to embrace and reflect time. In some cases, it is to enhance and direct the time duration (sustained motion in one work), in other parings it is to enhance the reflective illumination possibilities. Markus notes – “Paintings can be arranged and rearranged in different spatial constellations, communicating with each other”.
When they reach a kind of optical vertical plateau, a new kind of experience is seen. “When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience.
We feel our senses are awake and clear. We are alive.” (Jasper Johns, artist)
Saile remains indebted to architecture. It is part of an overall conviction that production can reflect world challenges such as ecology and sustainability. One quality of architecture is to play with light and with issue of translucency. In these works transluscence is essential, and already in the painting. Wheel sand paper at different depths carves out formations for light, and can lead to the rescue of translucence lost during the heavy pours of turpentine, scraping, and color impregnation. Where light gets absorbed like a black hole is a real challenge. For “natural” light, artificial light or “rescued or reflected light”… each painting poses new questions, new experimentations with technique.
Durational aesthetics engage the concept of how long it takes to get to another place through art. In Magere Zeiten, traveling backwards in time we can see back to the beginnings of the work, not unlike the Hubble telescope finds for us earlier light/time. Viewers can recognize duration in the short/small moments as well as the long/large, carrying painting back and forth through time. The markers of time have taken up res dence in the materials he uses, and, how they are deployed.
Geographies of duration are spaces created by the swiftness of the human gaze, its ability to cruise through the paint, to pronounce to find ebb and flow of materials, dissolving spaces and fields of multi-layered thickness with their own internal geographies. Saile seeks the internal renewal of painted spaces, moving the form into the visual future. He starts with an idea then lands somewhere later, somewhere in the light, bringing the viewer along. The painting process involves multi-crafting flooded areas with turpentine and ground color. The surfaces’ underlying character insistently moves up, floats along the edge, and like a balloonist, rises, releasing the full view of its form in space. The meniscus shapes, small canopies, small celluloid floaters, work to give an impression of light fields. Here, illusionary penetrating spaces are a desired result. The hard won repeated turpentine flood planes build a surface, but it’s chemical burn material. Consolidated strikes of color turpentine to the surface’s shadow glows across a surface. It’s a time based, visible push of color against hardness, then a complextask of exposing paint. This durational affinity reminds of gelatinous,celluloid, filmstrip, hand colored film cells of the 1960’s or 1970’s underground art scene, sequential images made under a hot projector beam. Yet here, the viewing is uninterrupted by the shutter of a film projector, stopping the flow. Here, in this “Magere Zeiten” zone the light bounces out back from the MDF and into the eye / of the viewer. The painting shows us where Saile was, and not a reproduction of that experience. It’s an affable artifact.
“The paintings are like a ‘window’ to confront a world you are already aware that you are not walking inside of. You still have the distance.” And what do we make of the distance in this world anyway? As soon as Saile recognizes his system, he moves away again … to let the painting know itself.
text by Julia Scher, September 2014
Painting’s States of Suspension
Markus Saile’s paintings in the Springhornhof
For hundreds of years, the starting situation has been the same for every painter standing before an empty, unstructured surface. Basically, he can react to the challenge in two ways. On the one hand, he might cover the surface with paint to confirm it, in other words establish a congruence of image and form; on the other, he can oppose the formal premises, transcend the picture format in painting, make it possible to forget it.
The latter applies to the small and medium-format paintings of Markus Saile, whose suspended coloration stands in clear contrast to the painting’s hard-edge geometry and the stable physical presence of the support. Since the end of 2008/beginning of 2009, he has been using MDF boards as a painting ground; the paint does not bind with this surface as it does with canvas, which lends it a high degree of autonomy. (1) In a painting such as Untitled from 2008 (illustr. 31, p. 61), right before Saile switched to fiberboard, this ‘declaration of independence’ in the handling of paint already becomes palpable; for this reason it warrants a short description. The work is a long vertical piece, with a horizontal application of paint that only aligns itself with the strictures of the painting’s edges in the upper section. Brushstrokes follow one another neatly until Saile disrupts his system in the transition to the middle third of the painting, where the brush marks vigorously break away in a downward direction. From this point on, the paint takes on a liquid, transparent, almost atmospheric quality, giving rise to an independent processuality the artist can no longer fully control. At times condensed, and then suddenly opening onto limitless pictorial space, Saile’s painting seems to change into another state of matter. While it covers the surface in the upper part of the painting, in the lower region the paint seems dematerialized, lucid, and suspended.
This is characteristic of most of the recent works of the Cologne-based painter, who sometimes seems like a late heir to the English watercolorists of the 18th and 19th centuries that sought to capture the shifting blues in the sky and the ephemeral appearance of the clouds. His medium, however, is oil painting, which he strips of every materiality, substance, and consistency. He radically thins the paint with turpentine, which lends it a pronounced softness and transparency on the chalk ground. In this manner, paint disengages from its physical nature to become wholly appearance, equipped with a high measure of color’s powers of seduction. Saile is a painter of color who understands how to orchestrate hues and color temperatures in such a way that their effects reinforce each other. He calibrates the colors in long working periods; rarely, a single brushstroke creates a particular emphasis.
An example of this is Untitled (illustr. 14, p. 34), a painting with delicate beige and ocher tones whose pictorial space is dominated by two superimposed dark-green brushstrokes. Its almost ostentatious appearance exemplifies the painterly approach, which never breaks down into isolated gestures. This also becomes clear in the example cited, for Saile contextualizes the green color accent by ‘repeating’ it in the lower left-hand corner with a brush mark related in form and incorporating it into the composition through a delicate adjacent form. In this manner, the apparently autocratic placement transforms into a structural element that serves to activate the entire pictorial surface. And this is precisely what Saile is interested in: not the individual trace, but the living surface that expands again and again into imaginary spaces. For this reason, his paintings are characterized by bright pictorial spaces that frequently open up or acquire depth towards the center.
Several works bearing these compositional features were also on view in the exhibition at the Springhornhof. In a variation on the Baroque repoussoir motif, which serves to enhance the illusion of spatial depth, veils of color frame a luminous center that possesses an almost surreal power of radiance. (2) Thus, the viewer has good reason to be reminded of painting concepts from the Romantic period, particularly works by Caspar David Friedrich. In his Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (3), elaborately articulated framing motifs enclose the view of a center that is in itself empty: three figures, two men and a woman, reflect from their clearly precarious position, quite literally on the edge, the boundary that separates them from the absolute, the beyond. Even when it remains unattainable, these nature lovers at least catch a glimpse of it as proximity and distance enter into a dialogue with one another.
And doesn’t this also apply to Saile’s works? Clearly, they do not have the religious or spiritual direction of impact that Caspar David Friedrich’s works have, and yet the association is nonetheless relevant, because in Saile’s works a modestly sized painting surface can open up onto endless pictorial spaces. We do not lose ourselves in them because the brightness of these areas affects the paintings’ appearance and allows the colors to radiate in a special way. Thus, the works combine a concrete sensuality with the brilliant luminosity of something immaterial that resists formal determination. This is why one might well call Markus Saile a painter of transitions. The flowing and processual nature of his paintings gives rise to a perception that surrenders itself entirely to the adventure of seeing instead of the search for certainty.
1 Markus Saile values the resistance of the material in painting. In addition, the MDF boards allow the paint to be washed off when the composition calls for a different color combination.
2 Cf. i.e.: Markus Saile, Untitled, 2011, oil on MDF / fiberboard, 31 x 27 cm, (illustr. 6, p. 17) or Markus Saile, Untitled, 2012, oil on MDF / fiberboard, 26 x 27 cm, Kaufmann Collection, Berlin.
3 Caspar David Friedrich: Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, ca. 1818, oil on canvas, 90.5 x 71 cm, Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur.
Cliffhanger. On Markus Saile’s Works
The images are simple on first sight. Layer upon layer, transparent and opaque
shapes and forms in tinted tones overlap and stratify next to and upon each
other. Greenish floating cushions or hooks; jagged and pointed, or lightflooded
browns and yellows and other colours enter into dialogue with each other,
loaded with all their historic imprints. It is unclear if the shapes are abstract
forms, or take on impressions of landscapes, spaces, blots or organisms: it
depends on which angle you choose and which qualities you wish to notice.
The paintings develop their complexity through an aspect of time, captured
between their layering and strata. This aspect of time is not only crucial in
terms of what we see on the canvas, but is also important before the brush is
even taken up, in the time spent mixing and preparing the paint.
This smell that drives painters into the studio each day, its as if the solvents
can directly release images from the artist’s head and make them flow directly
into the paint. In the case of Markus Sailes’s paintings, the first decisions
are not made in front of the canvas, but are also made on the table whilst
mixing the paint. The canvas is not an empty neutral surface, that can be used
in order to execute a formerly made decision. The canvas responds to another
logic of time. What kind of logic is his?
In his book on Francis Bacon Gilles Deleuze writes, that every image is preceded
by preparatory work. In the course of this work the painter’s mind is
already in close connection with the canvas and its conditions.(1) This thought
could be continued: Inscribed into the canvas is its historic nature and its
anachronistic nature within the field of contemporary art. During the preparatory
work you are already entering the act of painting. The latter consists of
agonising with the more or less figurative conditions and how to work with
them, to make them irreconcilable, to wrench, clean or cover them. Further
the preparatory work is quite time-consuming. In Markus Saile’s case, during
this process detailed observations overlap with vague impressions, created
by a certain atmosphere in an everyday situation or by filmic images. Often
a certain atmospheric colour settles on the canvas, like a musical note, from
which the process of painting can be further developed. Then follows the
dispersion of further paint; insignificant, rebellious brush strokes, resulting
from a certain movement of the hand that negatively define a space, or
crossing the edges of the painting – a pictorial topography filled with tactile
Each application of colour realigns the references within the painting. Sometimes
landscapes of spatial situations function as vectors for a direction into
which the process of painting is driven. But mostly this is a result from
leaving a chosen trail, when new possibilities; a new gap, a passage or a tunnel
appear within the painting. During this process the painting should not
be seen as a state of deficiency on its way to completion, instead each layer
that is applied should be seen as an entity, an ongoing process that makes
visible the possibilities of the process.
The process of painting is not organised by abstract codes neither is it strictly
structured, but rather each of Saile’s paintings is singular and self-contained.
The way in which the paint is washed off or painted over again, the layers
of paint added or taken away, the representative and the non-significant, the
marked and the empty parts – they all build up to untamed frictions: Alternating
and shifting between the classical image-as-window (in the realm of
representation) and the diagrammatic image (in the realm of pictorial problems),
in order to take into account another Baconian concept.(2) This is a
matter of a diagram of time. They can be understood as a certain state within
an open process that does not follow a linear course, but constantly causes
The time inbeded in the structure of the paintings gives the applied colours
access to spread, blend and trickle away. The colours do not stop to make
appearances, no matter how long one looks at them. Accordingly the
diagram is not a prefabricated visual scheme, but instead is a map of the balance
of forces that emerge during the process of painting, to be experienced
when reading the painting. In some of the paintings these forces allude to a
center in which they meet, in other cases they jump over the borders of the
painting and take over the wall or other nearby paintings; like non-serial
Cliffhangers, painting with an open end.
1 Vgl. Gilles Deleuze: Francis Bacon – Logik der Sensation, München 1995, S. 62.
2 ibid, p. 63