“My Contour...”
by Tilman Osterwold

Wolfgang Neumann’s song lyrics are observant, self-reflexive, and combinative; they
provide a possible key for trying to appreciate and understand the rich visual oeuvre
of this artist who inspires us in such a complex fashion.

“My contour” sounds double-tracked: self-referential – who how where what am I? –
and at the same time it aims at a conceptual strategy, thus an identification with
Neumann’s own autonomous artistic self-conception which his paintings articulate.
Contouring as a process of language(s) of form and content – as a reflection of
personal experience. But let’s continue to read-listen-see: “My contour is blurry … My
contour will be a cloud … my contour is limitless.” These three of a total of forty-six
lines of his song lyrics Ein Verlust (A Loss) lend the conception of this poetic block of
verse rhythm. These lyrics, like all his authentic texts, circle the possibility of
perceiving the somehow, self and others, life and things, in all their contradictory
complexity, and of visualizing it. It links the anonymous with the individual. “My
contour is blurry” – the pictures are unclear, and the view of them is blurred by
various mechanisms; clouds, which move at different heights and at various speeds,
and which have produced images of visions and dreams since childhood, would be a
metaphorical opportunity to give the confusion a natural form (which is concretized in
many of his pictures). And being “limitless”: the artist overcomes limits, removes
them, and seeks out open space (in the sense of creating closeness as well as

The blurry cloudy limitless contour has consequences for form and colour, for the
painterly and graphical flow, for the linear structure and the formation of space – for
the conception and composition of the painting or drawing. Everything reels and
seeks out the centre. Wolfgang Neumann’s pictorial constructions locate the sides of
the pictures like compass points, the movements – flowing or halting – tend in all
directions, the rhythm of the movement within the paintings’ structure seems
unpredictable; we associate filmic flickering, short editing sequences, and unusual,
artificial perspectives. These perspectives tend to be broad, the directional structure
stumbles over the constrictions, crossings, and lack of space. The pictures –
especially the large formats – often contain a plethora of actions and moments,
animate and inanimate vehicles. A great deal happens in a small space. Time,
speed, events, and confrontations are all compressed. Amusement is countered by
the uncanny, an “all or nothing” of emotional states, reflected and fed by playful or
energetic contouring that tries to structure those isolated and accumulated pictorial
elements whose forms often lack substantial stability – they are anchored in a vague,
unstable and as it were provisional way in the overall picture, they blur and disappear
– an impossible-to-grasp, unsecured reality (or apparent reality) reflected in strange
inconsistent colours. The sources of these pictorial elements seem to be children’s
books, comics, illustrations, various print and digital media, flat screens and
computer games: overall more a factual-realistic maniera than an expressively
impressive peinture. It does not really fit together well; that also applies
synchronically to the blurred aesthetics and the metaphorical messages of the
pictures, whose stories behave either explosively or in an introverted manner, and
which are either disposed towards excess or moderation – confusing, mad, insecure,
obscured, alienated, estranged… the patterns of our heterogeneous, contradictory
experiences of images are visualised as if in a distorting mirror of a flood of contrary
form-content processes and structures: the composition of form creates the
understanding of the picture, the artist’s “philosophy” concentrates on, and is
mediated through, the elementary substances of cognitive factors in the reception of
forms, colour constellations, and spaces.

A crucial criterion for Wolfgang Neumann’s pictorial physiognomies is the element of
staging: the direction, a dramaturgy that leads into the picture. Levels shift, pictorial
elements come and go. The events in the picture, captured in the four corners of a
provisional, artificial pictorial space, is full of surprises, the result of mixtures,
collages, crossings, penetrations, confrontations; wide perspective spaces, the
pictorial levels open into a plane; distance as proximity – proximity as distance. There
are scenarios – especially when the subject is the art world: collection, studio, gallery
opening, exhibition, performance, opening speech – where every directorial effect
seems especially stimulating. The real, the event turns into something comical,
absurd, satirical, sceptical, abnormal. At the same time, it evokes magical, mystical,
fairytale-like, metaphorical moments. The mosaic, the kaleidoscope of a pictorial
structure seems open for many different associations and interpretations: an artificial
montage of concrete living objectness that clearly eludes stereotypical patterns. It
drifts into the abyss, the shoreless, borderless, scenes are “heated up”. We may
think here of satirical motifs in the history of caricature, where a painter paints a
painter who is observed, and this scene in turn is observed, and further imagined…
until the painter and his painting disappear. We might associate such a “caricature” of
artistic (self-)perception in the context of Wolfgang Neumann’s “Pollockatwork”
variants. Especially in this satirising interpretation of art, which should be taken very
seriously, art and the art world are being “degraded” to the sphere of everyday
The visit to Wolfgang Neumann’s studio made the ambivalence in the temperatures
of his paintings especially clear. At first sight, the climate of his works seems harsh,
but at the same time, a sensitive warmth pervades them. The sensitive nuances hide
in the blunt temperaments of a pictorial world that can be weak or aggressive, closemeshed
or expansive, whose “empty abundance” seeks and looses itself in terms of
composition and media: a kind of chaotic new ordering whose interplay “sounds”
simultaneously hot and cold, light and shadowy, hard and soft, heavy and light.
Within the small-scale world of his studio, Wolfgang Neumann showed large formats
that had recently come in through online mail order: larger-than-life PVC tarpaulins
with digital prints, based on graphic scratchings (drypoint) on small-format
transparent Plexiglas panes that are digitalised by means of a high-resolution scan; a
reductive, successive flow, a hand-made process leads through the mechanics of a
“cheap” mail-order company technology to a kind of large canvas: hard in the close
print, mainly in contrasting black-and-white, energetic lines that articulate a strained
theme, a seemingly spooky expression of the political, of public events, based on
small-format visual reminiscences, usually transported through the mass media,
reduced and combined in new ways. Here, Wolfgang Neumann develops a dissonant
creative energy that stands up to the contradictory and uncanny essences of the
political everyday life and its dangers. The artist thinks politically and is motivated
politically. He counters the hidden side chambers and frightening social psychologies
with a unique concise expressive power. Dimension – delusion of grandeur,
familiarisation – the familiar, the present – that which is present, are all confronted
with one another in a macabre way, and transferred within the pictorial panoramas
into a stressed density. Seen close up, from the spatial compression, this is a
confusing experience which upsets the usual balances of the way we deal with
pictures and values. Because the artist, too, masks himself as an artiste, as a
tightrope walker (without a safety net?) in the circus, in the arena of the world, an
existential metaphor – just as the uncanny, idyllic romanticised fairytale forest means
in the work of Wolfgang Neumann an allegorical reflection of socio-political
The titles of his paintings and drawings are characterised by the complexity of their
meanings, they accentuate a symbiosis of linguistic and visual puns and humour: an
exercise in contrasts that plays with abstruse, anarchic, absurd, abnormal and
ambiguous visual ideas. This reflects his conceptual strategy, which examines from
an artistic point of view the mass media’s consciousness industry and its inflationary
use of superficialised images, returned to the traditional medium of painting and
drawing, with an awareness of contemporary history as well as art history and
cultural history.

The innovative speaks from the unmistakable heterogeneity of the iconographic and
energetic force fields that his works exude: mysterious, ghostly, paradox, a hopeless
jumble of experiences in need of therapy, a conceptual strategy in which the artistic
corresponds with the everyday. The artist: is he an “animal tamer”, “juggler”,
“acrobat” in the enigmatic and inscrutable combinatorics of ages and spaces? In the
spirit of a sequence of texts from Peter O. Chotjewitz’s literary excursus about
Wolfgang Neumann’s drawings (Verbrecher-Verlag, Berlin, 2009): “It takes time to
write a very short sentence about a very fast thing.” Applied to the artist Wolfgang
Neumann, one could modify this statement…: it takes “time” to effectively and
lastingly enchant an extremely complex thing, the capture of a moment in an
accentuated painting or drawing.

Translation: Wilhelm v. Werthern, www.zweisprachkunst.de