12 July - 28 July 2006
Alfonso Hüppi [Switzerland]
The realities of Alfonso Hüppi
Alfonso Hüppi as an artist is well known in Europe. He has exhibited in major museums and festivals including Kassel and the Venice Biennale. He has had a long and respected career as a lecturer, teacher of painting at the Kustakadamie Düsseldorf for 25 years and now in establishing an art school/ museum in Namibia to support emerging young artists. He has exhibited widely throughout the world including Korea from where this exhibition has travelled prior to visiting Australia… I could continue with this biographical introduction which in some ways authorizes an artist through his past and Hüppi's reputation can accommodate this approach easily, but I want to talk about the nature of his work IN THE PRESENT.
What are we asked to negotiate when we see this exhibition by Hüppi?
The following springs to mind:
• The physical reality of the work, matter and language style.
• The content of the work amid cultural and historical contexts.
• Complexity and longevity.
LESSONS IN OUTER AND INNER REALITIES
Hüppi has been interested in the nature of reality throughout his working life.
He has explored the reality of the material properties of his artworks as well as the reality of its visual languages and the conceptual issues surrounding them. Hüppi his early work has had connections to the material actuality of concrete traditions that developed in the Twentieth century in Europe, primarily those of Germany and Switzerland. His recent works have dealt with metaphor and representation in ways that explore psychic realities, the inner realities of the imagination, of feeling, of intuition.
All his works are located amid the changing realities of ideas and an expanding sense of history…his work traverses time and continents. It reminds one how art can be a force for connecting and linking ideas people and places. Hüppi's trajectory of practice acts as a personal Silk Road, traversing the cultures of the West to the East from the North to the South, through Germany, Switzerland, Armenia, Iran, Korea, Africa and now Australia.
In doing so Hüppi reminds us of what we share as human beings, the tragedy of history and the joy of loving, of how art can connect us across time and across cultures.
This exhibition as a case in point, contains a body of drawings, which celebrate the works of Hafiz the Persian poet of the 14th century. Hafiz has long affected European sensibilities. Goethe translated his Divan into German in1819. Hüppi exhibits a Zen like calligraphic pictorialism that engages us directly with the spirit of the work.
Hüppi's relaxed lightness of touch is also exhibited in the 'rouleau' works which whilst referencing the rolled scrolls (Kakemonos) of China, Korea and Japan equally reference the mundane everyday world.
Over these roller blinds a deeply felt imagery is realised. The word 'blind' here has a particular range of readings when associated with painting and vision.
When a blind is drawn, in the reality of the everyday world it usually covers a window preventing a view out onto the world or if you are outside a view into the interior. By painting on these structures Hüppi has created complex associations through apparently simple works. These are works which employ metaphor to focus upon interiority and exteriority. By closing ones eyes on the visible we can see the invisible. Hüppi has continued this investigation of the inner reality meeting an external reality throughout his long practice. This has been explored metaphorically in many other ways including his ongoing series of photographs of doorways, of thresholds that he has observed around the globe. Sensation and sentiment are not ignored.
LESSONS IN LONGEVITY: A GOOD AGE: AGE SHALL NOT WEARY THEM.
Hüppi was born in Freiburg in 1935. In other places and times he is regarded as an old master but here in Australia we rarely recognize that category, feeling it too romantic a notion. If you will forgive my generalisations… we crave, yet are suspicious about longevity. We seem subsumed by the dominant current mindset of Kalifornia-Kulture which privileges Youth or rather fear, fear of aging. This mindset perceives that the older people get, the weaker they become, their bodies minds, spirits become feeble their knowledge becomes irrelevant, outdated. It assumes that knowledge, sensibility and wisdom are the equivalent of athleticism and therefore that age does weary them. We tend to think, if one looks at the exhibitions presented in University art school galleries in this country as evidence, that innovative or interesting art or ideas are the sole province of the young and the occasional mid career artist, if they have continued to practice and not succumbed to cynicism and stopped practicing altogether. It is rare to see the work of artists in their 70's treated seriously.
This situation of course is blatantly absurd; experience plus knowledge, articulation of language do not require speed or youth. They require understanding. We should understand and value not dismiss or patronize the work of elder artists… fashion should not weary them. This exhibition by Alfonso Hüppi demonstrates the value of being a conscious practitioner in the world over a long time. Hüppi through his work offers us an example of a practice that over time leads not to habit, but to expertise, not to a retreat into the safety zone of previously learnt knowledge and practice but to a manifestation of works that reveal an independence of approach, a liberation from authorised conventions of content and demonstrates an urge to see and present important things anew. His work presents us with an understanding of complexity and the need for us to understand and celebrate it. Age can enable new experiences worthy of contemplation and consideration to be manifest. WE should not confuse the dictatorship of the new with originality.
This exhibition as well as celebrating the content of the work of Alfonso Hüppi opens these issues up for consideration and will hopefully be the first of many exhibitions that will look at the practices of artists of this generation.
This exhibition fits with RMIT School of Art's philosophy of bringing diverse exhibitions of rare quality to the communities of RMIT and Melbourne.
I sincerely thank the artist, the Swiss Embassy particularly the ambassador Christian Mühlethaler and the Consul General in Melbourne Peter Casaulta, Conny Deitzschold Sydney, the staff and students of RMIT School of Art for enabling this exhibition to develop from an idea to an actuality.
Dr. David Thomas, Melbourne. May 2006