Painting, Painting is the latest exhibition at Peep-Hole in Milan and it is the first solo show in Italy of artist Ull Hohn, with an intervention by Tom Burr. The show retrospectively collects some of Hohn’s works completed between the second-half of the eighties to the first half of the nineties, until he prematurely died at the age of 35. Hohn attended the prestigious Düsseldorf Academy of Art with Gerhard Richter and then left Germany to move to New York, where he attended the “Whitney Independent Study Program.” Here he was “thrown” into a quite different context where artists were experimenting with multiple media and post-modern practices, and where a second wave of institutional critique was developing.
The exhibition shows a range of works of the artist with no chronological order, but perhaps with the intent of studying the work in its whole. Demonstrated by his extreme and long-lasting faithfulness to painting, Hohn’s oeuvre attempts to revitalise this medium. It is striking to see how different in their technique, methodology and subjects these works are and at the same time it is also interesting to acknowledge how painting was being interpreted by Hohn, almost as an excise moulded in some cases into figurative precision, some other times into experimentation and abstraction.
Infant (1988) is one of the works which better recalls the relation with Gerhard Richter in the style and in the photographic source. It is part of sequence of paintings which reproduces the image of an infant in slightly different positions. A complete series shown in the exhibition is Untitle (Nine Landscapes), which is completed with nine small paintings on wooden boxes, that the artist realised for the final exhibition at the Whitney Independent Study Program in 1988. Here, again a reference to his master at school, but also a re-elaboration in a multilayered and contemporary language of pieces of XIX century landscape paintings borrowed from the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan.
A completely different style in painting is the series titled Joy of Painting: some almost decorative images of woods and small cottages, that could be easily found on the walls of modest peripheral homes or be the average result of an evening craft-class. This series was realised following the homonymous TV programme by American painter Bob Ross, who became well-known for teaching his viewers how to paint. And at the same time it is also sign of the conceptual influence that the New York period has had on the artist’s practice, in fact, the irony of “learning how to paint” decorative images on TV is balanced with the extreme meticulousness of his approach to this series. It becomes then also a sophisticated implicit critique to what painting had become in the nineties, discarded perhaps from other “more influential” media privileged in those years.
Another trace of the influence of the US period is found in the series Pattern paintings (1986-1987) where Hohn, effected by the political and social activism of the city, begins to express his homosexuality representing phallic figures. Untitled (Off the Wall) elaborates a more intimate relation with the male body, where the series of paintings finds its source in photographs taken to artist’s partner and the opacity created by the use of multiple stratification of color on the images increases the intimacy of this relation.
The central room in the space is instead dedicated to Revisions a series of works started and worked on between 1993 and 1995, until Hohn prematurely died due to AIDS related causes. It is not sure how consciously in this part of his life he was preparing for his departure; however, this series represents his retrospective eye on his past work, a kind of process of self-awareness and an autobiographical attempt, as if he wanted to close his cycle of painting. In this period, in fact, he began to reproduce some subjects that he had completed in his early years, which stands for a proof of the time passed in painting and painting again. It is then a self-reflection on his formal research, which is considered almost as an exercise to be completed and to rehearse, perhaps even a cure. The heterogeneity of Hohn’s practice is a sign of how he has receipted the great changes occurred in the art world at the end of the last century, and of how it also affected his personal practice.
The exhibition Painting, Painting is completed by the some installations by Tom Burr who used to share a studio with Hohn. The conception of these installations starts from Burr’s memory of having a thin wall separating his part and Hohn’s part of the studio. These installations play with the space in creating fractures that obstruct and hide the sight of some of the hanged works and, as a metaphor, walls are an articulation of limits. As an agent of both distance and intimacy, they suggest a private relation with the exhibited works, which is important to observe and consider Hohn’s practice not merely as a stylistic exercise.