In his new series of five etchings, Matt Saunders conjures the aura of the silver screen, using organic gestural form and a dizzying array of mark-making. Ratlos Indomitable I–IV are of a piece with the artist’s ongoing investigations into the “relationship of painting to the moving image…situations where they seem to bleed into each other.”1 These investigations have played out in a variety of formats and techniques, including oil paintings on chiffon, animated films and unique photographs.
This is the third collaboration between the artist and Niels Borch Jensen and the second to address German cult film character Leni Peickert (as played by Hannelore Hoger), the protagonist in two New German Cinema films by Alexander Kluge: Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos / The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless (1968) and Die Unbezähmbare Leni Peickert / The Indomitable Leni Peikert (1970), whose titles are reflected in Saunders’s. Following on an earlier etched split portrait titled Leni Peikert (2015), these larger-than-life renderings of Hoger’s face—shown from two overlapping close-up angles within each image—dance and flow together, lending a cinematic, time-lapse feel to the series as whole. She displays a range of expressions: pensive, startled, defiant, dreamy.
Knowledge of Kluge’s films is peripheral to the appreciation of these images, which stand powerfully on their own as sensitive, monumental portraits of a self-possessed and thoughtful young woman. In a year of female empowerment—most notably in the film industry—they speak to our present cultural moment (though completed before the Weinstein scandal broke). This connection is not imaginary—the films originated from the first international wave of feminism and have been interpreted as explorations of the burgeoning feminist sensibility of that period. A primary signifier of the era is Hoger’s pixie haircut, and the etchings reflect the black-and-white, slow-frame-rate aesthetic of New Wave directors. The suite glories in the chiaroscuro possibilities of intaglio and, when installed in order, the prints skip across the viewer’s visual field like a stuttering vintage film. Offering the synesthetic suggestion of a postwar experimental film score, the surfaces sing with brush marks, drips, textures and forms in a profound range of tonalities.
During his second visit to Borch Editions in 2015, Saunders explained: “I am interested in a picture that reveals its means and its magic at the same time.”2 Both magic and means are in full evidence in Ratlos Indomitable I–IV: a cornucopia of marks that entrance the eye and mind, a bevy of etching techniques exploited with a mastery only rarely matched.3
- The Medium and the Message: Currents 114 at the Saint Louis Art Museum (HEC-TV: Saint Louis, 20 November, 2017). 3 min., 52 sec. http://www.hectv.org/watch/hec-tv-scope/the-medium-and-the-message-currents-114-at-the-saint-louis-art-museum/29597/.
- Steven Tannenberg, Matt Saunders at Niels Borch Jensen Gallery & Editions (Copenhagen and Berlin: Niels Borch Jensen Gallery & Editions, 2015). https://vimeo.com/135603995.
- See above video/interview for a full discussion of Saunders’s techniques and the concepts behind them.