Remix, Riddles and Roastbeef


Rarely does Wolfgang Neumann make it as simple as he does in his painting „Vogelhaus“. There, in large scale, a crunchy
roast chicken is squeezed into a tiny snow-covered, hand-made birdhouse. Thus the grotesque and humorous motif becomes
evident at first sight. Other works, however, are disturbing at first and seem to ask too much of the viewer who
is required to start a process of perception in which cognition and interpretation mutually influence one another. Here
Neumann consolidates different motifs and image planes into absurd compositions in a collage-like manner, in which
parallel worlds may collide, merge or communicate with each other or alternately may abruptly become distinct from one
another. Often embedded with an abundance of details, well-known and easily identifiable motifs mix with disturbing
elements. Constructed in such a complex and multi-layered manner, some pictures – as the artists puts it – trigger off a
kind of „optical digesting procedure“ in the viewer´s mind.
Wolfgang Neumann´s works are shaped by our time and the surrounding media which themselves are strongly affected
by digital production and manufacturing processes and the possibilities for imaginative creation they allow. Digitizing has
enabled completely new visual compositions and image spaces. Just think of the popular computer program Photoshop
which allows us to compose most improbable motifs in a deceptively genuine manner. Or consider „The Matrix“, a Hollywood-
movie which takes up the ancient topic of Plato´s Parable of the Cave, but, owing to digital picture creation, does
so in a sort of visualization never known or seen before. These new possibilities for composing pictures, and even more,
their pervasive appearance in the media, deeply influence contemporary artists. This also applies to Wolfgang Neumann,
who as a member of this „generation.jpg“, is, in a way, a „picture mixer“. However, he does not work with bytes and
pixels, but – and that is where it gets exciting – he does so with traditional means of painting.
In Neumann´s work the only remaining analogy to the process of digital picture creation is the delimitation on four
corners. But these are not the four corners of the screen, but those of the canvas and the drawing paper. Neumann considers
the area within these corners as „arena of total liberty“ in which he creates with abundant fantasy wild collages

and (re)mixes of scenes, motifs and colors. Thereby he consciously uses two antagonistic strategies: First, the effect of
recognition, and second, its opposite, the deviation from the expected. He employs recognition by purposely using photographic
material taken from the internet or magazines. Their selection is determined subjectively. Thus, he takes up the
portrait of Fidel Castro as well as a dancing Britney Spears, the collection of dead animal bodies by anti-epidemic squads,
or the well-known torture scene with the hooded prisoner in Abu Ghraib. Occasionally déja-vu experiences are elicited
through the use of references and similarities. For example, Neumann co-opts the clearing in Edouard Manets „Breakfast
in the Open Air“ as scenery in his own paintings.
These effects of recognition are thwarted by consciously implemented breaks. Thereby the most important stylistic device
is of compositorial nature: Neumann creates discontinuities by putting together what does not fit together. Sometimes
these are simple, humorous compositions (like the roast chicken in the birdhouse), sometimes these are complex and
absurd constellations (the Pope being nailed to a Viennese Schnitzel with doner kebap spits) which often become surrealistic,
visionary and even phantasmagoric. Additionally, details are brought up which are embarrasing and seem to be
completely out of place. Those are banal, or as Neumann calls them, „trash“. Obviously he symbolizes simple food of daily
life as trash: Thus his pictures are full of small sausages, bacon disks, kebap spits, burgers and French (Freedom!) Fries.
Apart from contents and compositions breaks are also realized by purely pictorial means – for example by applying color
streaks and loops with de Kooning-like stroke of brush or by dissolving figurative motifs into abstract formations.
In this manner the image space is flooded with energetic, highly enriched collages. Therein the strategy of consciously
applied discontinuities always remains predominant. Neumann maintains a visible distrust of the alleged clarity of
perception and information. The results are paintings and drawings full of crankinesses, allusions, contradictions and
misdirections – often underscored by wordplay and ironic picture titles.
Ambiguities are gladly accepted. Just take as an example the painting „Breakfast in the Open Air“, in which a troop of
masked men is placed in the clearing of a wood and every interpretation – Terrorists? The rescue squad? Sado-masochists

on an outdoor trip? - seems likewise plausible. On the other hand some motifs want to remain mysteries. And others can
even be looked at from a metaphysical or sub-conscious point of view, especially some of the large-sized paintings in
which Neumann’s absurd compositions appear as mental discharges induced by incessant media stimulus satiation. Such
pictures resemble disturbing dreams, well known by everyone, in which real occurrences are merging uncontrollably and
rampantly with grotesque scenes.
As a painter, Neumann manufactures these discharges with breath-taking intensity. Proceeding with the strategy of
consciously applied discontinuities he uses dissonant, sometimes biting colors which are applied to the canvas with strong
brush strokes. Often only a few lines are enough to obtain expressive motifs which bear witness to his keen power of
observation and high level of technical virtuosity. Thus the existence of photos sink into oblivion, the reason why they
originally came into being becomes completely insignificant.
The influence of today’s mass media on the representation and perception of reality is almost constantly present in
Neumann’s pictures, even though not always recognizable at first sight. Thereby the artist reveals a part of his personal
philosophy of life. Following Paul Watzlawicks communication theorem („It is not possible, to not communicate“) in times
of satellite-tv, internet and digitization it is also impossible for Neumann to not be concerned with media. Thus, even
renouncing the artistic process must be the result of a conscious and deliberate decision. On this level his work extends
far into Existentialism. Many links with epistemology can easily be found. These range from Plato´s Parable of the Cave
to Berger/Luckman´s construction of social reality. Wolfgang Neumann is likewise concerned with the question of what is
real and what is fake, what is archetypal and what is newly created. By bringing together construction and deconstruction
simultaneously on the canvas and on paper Neumann places the viewer in front of a mental game of hide and seek and
thereby confronts him with his own mechanisms of information processing and internalized schemes of perception and
interpretation. Therefore Neumann´s paintings and drawings become effective far beyond the immediate impressions
they create.


Stefan Schuler, 2006