“I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all”
(Joni Mitchell, Both Sides, Now, 1967)
One sees a lot at the instant of perception – the flash of a colorful shadow, the soft hover of a form or the nearly inaudible dissolution of a visual space. The possibility of compositional abundance in painting only seems to have faded, because what we designate as painting has shifted. It has gotten subtler, quieter and nearly invisible. In Christoph Schellberg’s paintings, it is deposited transparently in layer upon layer applied to the unprimed, Belgian linen canvas, on whose smooth, almost raw surface floats the calm color gradient as if at the center of a cloud. Its pictorial material condenses again, and so its center becomes the birthplace of a further motif, whose mysterious mood, like a portrait, renders it the bearer of various sensations and feelings.
‘Big Trouble’ – one of the clouds – does not honor this thematic promise, boldly and warmly asserting itself in the center of the portrait format paintings of Schellberg’s work. Like in the process of caricaturing a longstanding subject matter, which extends from the threatening, atmospheric paintings of the sky of John Constable in the 19th century to the Surrealist René Magritte’s dream-like, illusory backdrops of clouds, it gauges, rather, the limits of our perception of the motif. Schellberg, then, frankly and subtly breaks the accumulated, metaphorical content of his paintings’ subjects and reveals them as forms of optical illusion. Like abstract figures, the clouds become a portrait of their own painted reality.
Schellberg slowly and subtly reverses the process of image composition and, through the dissolution of form, questions not only the eye’s reception, but, just as much, the process of image formation. The basic forms of his painted compositions blend hazily with their shadows, thereby freeing the space for a subtle investigation of the painterly process of abstraction. What remains, however, is its effect: a pleasantly warm impression of colorful traces, which extends the visual field of perception and expands the visual space by a colorful composition. As with the process of painting, which shifts to the border of perceptibility, the function of that, which bears emotional sensations, has also shifted.
Held by the countless, thin layers of colorful frames, the surface of Schellberg’s paintings actually become bodies of images and sublimely adapt to the sentiment of the composition. Their tension consists in what binds the pure material with the border of the canvas. Gently, like the color of a sunset, it presents itself as a mist over the surface of the canvas, and, as the exhibition title “time to leave” suggests, abstraction appears not as a rejection of the motif, but rather as an opportunity—constantly in search of the beauty of a pure painterly medium.
Philipp Fernandes do Brito
Christoph Schellberg (*1973) lives and works in Düsseldorf. Since 2002 numerous institutional Solo- and Groupexhibitions (a.o. Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, Germany, MARTa, Herford, Germany, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany, Sammlung Falkenberg, Hamburg, Germany, Oldenburger Kunstverein, Oldenburg, Germany, German Federal Bank, Frankfurt a. Main, Germany, Kunsthalle CCA Andratx, Mallorca, Spain, Wilkinson Gallery, London, Great Britain, Stellan Holm, New York), in fall 2017 Schellberg will have his first solo show opening in Los Angeles, CA.