The paintings of Norbert Schwontkowski (*1949 Bremen, † 2013 ibid) are visual phenomena. They make the viewers believe that they recognize the subject and know what is being negotiated here. This effect is reinforced by the painting style, presented neither with pathos nor with heaviness, which playfully translates each of Schwontkowski’s ideas into a pictorial existence with lightness and almost cheerful irony. But in fact, a strong irritation of one's own perception occurs in the very next moment, and what was thought to be seen with certainty turns into a skepticism that becomes overpowering at the latest when reading the title. The titles are a very important component of his visual language, since they always refer to something outside the motif and imply further levels of meaning.
The works tell stories of everyday observations and situations that the artist collected in sketchbooks and examined over a long period of time to see if they were suitable for his pictures. He captures the endearing, often humorous mundanities of life. In doing so, he changes the perspective in the hierarchy of motifs with his visual language, which – together with the opposing titles – reveals the comical aspects of his art. The pictorial inventions are the results of a process that Schwontkowski himself compares to a darkroom, in which the thoughts develop while looking at the sketchbooks and reflecting on them. In this way, a repertoire of visual ideas and word creations emerges, with the possibilities of which he plays back and forth until – as a counterpart to decay – the condensation of word and image is achieved. Beauty emerges from this condensation, and the symbolism can be ambiguous or unambiguous.
The analogy to photography, which for Schwontkowski exists not only as a form of memory, also manifests itself in his painterly treatment of the work. The painting grounds have a life of their own due to their composition of various colors and chemicals. They react on and with each other, so that the entire painting process is subject to change. "Phenomena of an indeterminable kind" – this is how Schwontkowski describes paintings. He lets figures or scenes appear out of multi-layered color applications that cannot be located because the picture space has no specifications or perspective requirements. It is memories, moments, or spontaneous inspirations that Schwontkowski captures in his paintings. He coveys his perception of reality and offers the viewer the possibility to participate in the knowledge that arises from the understanding of the subjects. "That is my big topic: as an artist, I don't have a real construction site, I don't deal with anything concrete. I have only this one, most human topic, life and death – but broken down to the essentials. That is history enough for me."
The focus of the current exhibition at Galerie Jahn und Jahn, Munich, is on drawings, which in Schwontkowski's oeuvre stand on an equal footing with the paintings also shown here. He explores the creation of one’s one existence, nothing more and nothing less, and treats the unpathetic portrayal of man in his world with great seriousness. His painting is emotionally profound, reflective, and alludes, again more or less covertly, to various artistic traditions, but especially to the poetry and linguistic wit of the Surrealists.