The madrigal is an unaccompanied polyphonic vocal composition. The genre originated in the early Cinquecento as a secular counterpart to the sacred motet, which was sung in Latin. Liberated from sacred content, composers found more freedom of emotional expression, which was conveyed by vocal tone painting (madrigalism). Rooted in the poetry of the Italian Renaissance, the madrigal set a higher form of secular verse to music, such as the poetry of Petrarch, its main topics being love and the perception of nature. The name madrigal stems from the Latin “Cantus matricalis” – song in the mother tongue.
Perhaps this could be seen as a first link between the distinct artistic voices of Corsin Fontana and Stefan à Wengen, who are featured together in the first exhibition held in Tony Wuethrich Galerie after its renovation break. Even though à Wengen chose Germany as his adopted country almost thirty ye- ars ago, Swiss is the “mother tongue” he shares with Corsin Fontana. The exhibition’s other common denominators are the format – both artists showing series of small-scale paintings – and the reduction of the visual palette to black and white.
Corsin Fontana develops his studies further with grid and stripe structures applied directly onto canvas with oil crayon. The unusual format of 48 x 48 cm is the result of an artist’s residency Fontana recently held at the Charité in Paris, where the size of his studio accounted for the canvases’ small dimension. Horizontal and vertical streaks condense to form a sculpted, relief-like mesh, through which the white primed canvas occasionally shimmers, providing rhythmic structure. In other works, the “black square” has already suppressed the white grounding completely. The repetitive, physical act of applying the pigment with the crayon, modeling the surface with straight strokes, is almost meditative in character, similar to basket weaving or Zen painting, offering endless variations on a theme.
In his ongoing body of work entitled “Detected Dictionary”, begun in 2014, Stefan à Wengen also chose a small format of 30 x 25 cm. The dictionary follows a personal iconography, investigating images from the collective cultural memory. We often encounter iconic animal figures – such as “Bambi” or the “King of the Animals” – as well as motifs from childhood or from the fields of art and science. However, the chosen images have an aura of the uncanny, with the figures hovering in isolation in front of a mostly dark space. Again and again, the artist points to the vanitas, the fugacity of all earthly matter: his cabinet of curiosities of the subconscious is inhabited by skeletons of birds and skulls along with dilapidated cuddly toys, poisonous mushrooms, and moths.
While Corsin Fontana’s practice remains rooted in minimalist abstraction, à Wengen achieves an alienating effect in his realist acrylic painting by reducing the palette to black and white and shades of grey. The two voices meet in their contemplative attitude; their harmony invokes the melody of the madrigal and its song of nature on earth.