Bastian Muhr | Form Cowboy


Bastian Muhr’s Form Cowboy at unttld contemporary, Vienna
Described by Franz Hempel

To begin, an informal rule of three: Muhr pursues a formal approach. He explores Form malen (painting form). His artistic practice can be summarised as Formalerei (form-painting).

Engaging in this pursuit, Bastian Muhr primarily works systematically. Vivid testimony to this is a series of untitled sheets under the workgroup description of “System Drawings” (2013-2016), which with respect to the artist’s oeuvre were systematically expanded over the course of the creative process. In the context of the exhibition Form Cowboy, three older work complexes with exemplary works will be presented: “Point Works” (since 2011), “Black Drawings” (2017-2018) and “Colour Drawings” (2017). In addition, new works, both on paper and canvas, are on show for which a categorisation has yet to be found. The collective titles of the untitled single works serve to facilitate the ascription and identification of those works whose titles are all “untitled”. And so, en passant, here we can – in a shortened way – think work and exhibition location together: unttld.

One possible perspective is to read Muhr’s works as the expression of a Handschrift (handwritten signature). A standard German reference work offers the following secondary meaning:

Handschrift = 2. Characteristic quality that someone lends their [artistic] products, their actions due to their personal uniqueness; example: the work bears the signature of the artist.

As is obvious, for Muhr the handwritten pertains to his drawing works in particular. His handwriting, for each individual per definition in any case unique, additionally differs from other artistic positions because it is oriented on change and expressed in different media: between painting and drawing, canvas and paper. An example allows us to understand the change taking place within the techniques and picture carrier as well as the connection produced between the works often hung together: both the “black” and “colour drawings” are based on rejected sketches for paintings, whereby the remaining blank spaces were filled with crosshatches. Rejects also form the background in the current works. The artist gave a new ground and painted over works he found unsatisfactory. A movement takes place from the monochrome to the motivic: an associative painting of form as a signing, without though ever concretely signifying a signified.

Signing refers here to the concrete action, the physical handling of the media, the artistic practice of painting by hand. In this reading, signing means in Muhr’s work not to say something by naming or to say of something (for example a form) that it is something specific in particular. Rather, the autonomy of the form and its formal-aesthetic quality stands at the forefront for the artist. In his signings, i.e. which are also a setting of signs, a repertoire of forms comprising recurring elements and geometric figures emerges, spanning his whole work. Thus, connecting lines and contact points exist between the different work groups. The latter are indeed spelt out literally in the “point works”. These works (since 2011) reveal themselves to be ongoing in several respects. The processuality of their creation becomes visible, point for point. A serial working approach proves to be a characteristic quality for Muhr – both in the production as well as the presentation of his works. Series and rows of points, as lines, are thus not only contact points but also per se starting points for all form-painting. And considered formally, it is not far from form to farm:

♪ I’m a form-some Cowboy … ♪