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Ars Phantastica

Hellmuth Neukirch

Fantastic painting has a long tradition behind it, which dates back to Hieronymus Bosch and to the times preceding him. Even today, it signifies a form of painting which - beyond the forms of Bosch's late Gothic artistry, mannerism, symbolism, fantastic realism and ars phantastica - strongly emphasizes content. The followers of styles which strive to keep art "clean," adhering, therefore, to a form of depiction which in terms of content exhausts itself in the formalities, often make this charge against it.

Can a mode of painting which in essence is still connected to our forefather Bosch be current in times when emphasis is on science and rationality? Is it not anachronistic to paint and portray in the 20th and 21st centuries, as well, demons, spirits, witches and ghosts - which in earlier times were often more than mere figments of the imagination? But looking at a human race which has accumulated an entire arsenal of annihilating weapons with apparent determination and by overkill can destroy many times over all of humanity and, naturally, the animal and vegetable kingdoms, as well, the situation is more demoniacal than ever.

On our planet, unprincipled greed, the exploitation of nature, environmental catastrophes, climate changes and the damage to the ozone layer have ruined the ecological balance. This causes a significant loss of faith in progress in the scientific-rational field. This gloomy situation can hardly be answered by the coolly decorative calculations in the horizontal-vertical straight lines of the still-active inferior imitators of Mondrian or Malewitsch. It is often said that stylistic development can hardly be discovered in fantastic art, so the temporal connections also disappear.

But the fact is that throughout the centuries there has been a stylistic change connected to time. This stylistic change can be experienced through artists like Grünewald, Goya, Bresdin, Moreau, Redon, Max Ernst, Oelze and Giger. In the present, the ambivalent fantastical connections often are formed more fluidly than in the times of Hieronymus Bosch, who would - by way of a rather surrealistic procedure - "remount" the already known parts of a being, while in Oelzes' anthropomorphic scenes, the transitions take place without traces. Here we can establish a kind of approximation toward art without objects. Wol's later work can be considered a typical example of this. From these allusions we can see that in the important painters of today's Ars phantastica the traditions are not stylistic but rather, the tradition is expressed in the essence. Our ancient fears have remained and compel us to expressive shaping. After the style explosion of the 20th century, the painting of the Ars phantastica was also expressed in diverse ways. The road often strays from the classical concept of surrealism, in which much of the strength of the fantastic was concentrated in the first half of the last century. 

Hellmut Neukirch's painting belongs to the Ars Phantastica. If one observes these pictures in detail, two themes stand out. One is the reaction to the ever more furious violence and destruction sweeping our planet, or the aimed criticism of time and environment in the fantastic style. The other comprises the expressly fairy-tale like, mythological-fantastical pictures, which draw on the painter's innermost world. These pictures are the result of a working process stretching across many, long months. The resin and glazing techniques employed most often imply having to apply sometimes up to as much as fifteen thin layers on the canvas. This technique gives the picture translucency and luminosity. The artist strives for a sparkling effect and innumerable shades. The magical effect is increased by translucency, an important stylistic tool which makes the pictures seem like layers of veils. For scholarly painting, such effects do not exist.

The structural arrangement is also very important, as the topical tool of today's fantastic painting. The pictures have a rather strong interior dynamic, the movements are just as important in them as in music, which is also a preferred impulse for Neukirch's painting. 

The works range from the concrete to the difficult to grasp, from the pronounced comprehensiveness to dissolution bordering on lack of art without objects. The pictures are particularly rich in their details, similarly to the many variations in nature. With its innumerable unique forms, Indian high relief is one of the painter's models. No Spartan simplicity, no abstract naiveté.

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