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His Joy in the Grotesque knows no limits

Peter Kohl

IIT’S BROWN, WITH SHORT LEGS, AND PLUMP. THE PAINTING’S TITLE ANNOUNCES THIS WORK AS ‘BIG TIGER’, BUT IT RESEMBLES A BLIND MOLE OR A FAT CATERPILLAR. THE PAINTING BY THE ARTIST BORN IN 1971 IN KLAGENFURT LEADS US INTO A FRESH, ORIGINAL AND VITAL PICTORIAL WORLD HERE EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Kohl’s works are a pas­sio­na­te decla­ra­ti­on of belief in fan­ta­sy, the absurd, and the adven­ture that can be art. His uni­ver­se is ligh­tye­ars away from all that that could fall under the pos­si­ble remit of labels and con­ven­ti­ons. In his world, pigs are green, Hit­ler wears pink under­pants and Micky Mou­se is a rat. Attrac­tion or repul­si­on, beau­ty or fright – where’s the dif­fe­rence? If upon see­ing the­se bein­gs, the view­ers don’t step back in fear, well, they can surely laugh at them­sel­ves. This game of colours, shapes, short texts is an event that strikes at the heart of something.

Peter Kohl

Peter Kohl’s joy in the gro­tes­que knows no limits, and he uses said joy to turn the real and sur­re­al pla­nes on their heads. 

On his can­vas the visi­ble world beco­mes sur­re­al and the sur­re­al beco­mes rea­li­ty. He brings the dead to life and the living beco­me dead in his pain­tings. That means that the ghost has to pro­tect its ‘life’ with a gas mask (‘nature.ghost’, 2017), and the man with the black bun­ny rab­bit cap has angel wings and is rea­dy to ascend to hea­ven (‘mind.RACER’, 2017). Not­hing is sac­red for Kohl, and so drastic and macab­re pic­to­ri­al sto­ries, bizar­re and expres­si­ve shapes and nar­ra­ti­ve and pic­to­ri­al comments come about in his works which cross, with gus­to, the ‘bor­der of good taste’.

If you were to read Kohl’s poems, which are often clo­se­ly con­nec­ted with his pain­tings, then the way in which he uses his terms resem­bles his pic­to­ri­al approach: Kohl copies and cuts, assem­bles and makes col­la­ges, his pro­cess is that of employ­ing asso­cia­ted thoughts and beha­viours. Inst­ruc­tions to decode his writ­ten, pain­ted, drawn sto­ries isn’t pro­vi­ded by the artist, becau­se it doesn’t exist: his words, specks of colours and dood­les are loca­ted in a river that draws its beau­ty and depth from per­ma­nent transformation.

Peter Kohl has, in the time being, moved back to the for­mer fa rm of his par­ents in the Eben­thal, Carin­thia. He’s a per­son that needs space, he’s an indefa­tig­ab­le acti­ve man, who doesn’t find it dif­fi­cult to fill tho­se old barns, burs­t­ing with agri­cul­tu­ral tools, with life. Howe­ver, what does stand out is that the crea­tures which may have found ent­ry in his pic­to­ri­al world often lack hands and fin­gers, they’re the­re­fo­re near­ly unab­le to use them. This defen­cel­ess­ness is streng­t­he­ned by huge, hel­pless bre­asts to the side, stret­ching away, that now and again­re­place arms. Even if the Micky Mou­se rat from ‘mind.RACER’ is grin­ning in anti­ci­pa­ti­on, the rat won’t be able to pull the revolver’s trig­ger with its plump stumps. In Kohl there’s a deep scep­ti­cism towards what socie­ty aspi­res to and the basic values on offer. The figu­res on his pain­tings don’t hide their true face behind a mask, as the mask shows peop­le for what they real­ly are. When his clear line abrupt­ly breaks and the bor­ders crum­ble, then the dest­ruc­tion of the con­tours which gave the shape reflect the weak­ness of the world.

A work from 2013 is cal­led ‘Wan­der­weg in mei­ne Welt’, and a quo­te by the artist says, ‘To me, my work has to repre­sent a means to find the way wit­hin me’. This makes sen­se, as his pro­mi­nent name and the year in which the work was com­ple­ted affi­xed to the pain­ting is more than just a mere signa­tu­re and date. This is inte­gral part of the pain­ting and is a state­ment which screams out to the view­ers, ‘I exist’ and ‘I was here’. Kohl’s works are alle­go­ri­cal, pain­ted with wild ges­tu­res or drawn, writ­ten, scrat­ched or pain­ted, and open the floo­d­ga­tes to a wave of fan­ta­sy and ima­gi­na­ti­on. Now, one would guess that an artist, who pos­ses­ses an unpre­ce­den­ted skill to crea­te voca­bu­la­ry, must be sus­pi­cious of any type of per­fec­tio­n­ism. Yet by taking a clo­ser look we see the­re is no type of favou­ritism at play here.

Even if his com­po­si­ti­ons have a num­ber of equal acting cha­rac­ters, sym­bols, colour specks, and text frag­ments, you can still iden­ti­fy every detail for what it is and whe­re it should be. Rota­ting and over­lap­ping, the over­lay­ing of count­less colour­ful sur­faces and the over­sub­scrip­ti­on of image are well­t­hought and deli­ver the illu­si­on of a space behind which view­ers find no vanis­hing point or per­spec­ti­ve. The pic­to­ri­al ele­ments emer­ge from a base, stay the­re for a moment and could drop down on the view­er at any given moment. Kohl’s pain­tings ask the view­er whe­re it starts and ends, whe­re left and right, up and down are. Wit­hin this cha­os made of colour­ful specks, over­lap­ping ele­ments rus­hing to the fore­ground and back­ground resem­ble a mani­fold fold­ed paper boat which respects all the regu­lar tenets used to give a sen­se of per­spec­ti­ve. It anchors us in a world that we know, its beau­ti­ful plastic shape calms the eyes wan­de­ring about and over what could be a per­so­nal yard­stick. Are the soul and tiger not as big as this boat? A smid­gen of doubt remains, becau­se you never know with Peter Kohl. His small paper boat could be as big as huge oce­an vessels.

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studierte Kunstgeschichte, Kulturanthropologie und Europäische Ethnologie sowie Klassische Archäologie in Würzburg und Freiburg i.Br. Sie ist als Kuratorin, Kunstjournalistin und Dozentin in Freiburg i.Br. tätig.

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