In the 1970s, Ferdinand Penker began building up an oeuvre influenced by Constructivist and Concrete Art, American Color Field painting, and Minimal art. In 1971, Penker met Josef Albers visiting him at his home in Orange, Connecticut, whose book „Interaction of Color“ had been published in German the year before and whose ideas had a decisive impact on Penker’s career. Penker’s work holds a unique position in Austrian painting - combining different trends of American and European art movements, it is characterized by a distinctively analytic quality and consistency.
In the 1970s, Penker developed a committed vocabulary and methodology, which he continued to vary and intensify. At this time, inspired by his fascination with space and architecture, Penker’s artistic endeavors began to concentrate more on the line as a theme. He used the serial repetition of lines to produce two-dimensional structures – abstract compositions that are the formal results of a specific method of applying paint that focuses on the execution of the line. In the 1990s, his often minimalistic, monochrome, and radically decelerated painting acquired a sense of spatiality, thus allowing the autonomous unit of the picture to dissolve, while expanding the thematic range.
Our exhibition focuses on Penker's multifaceted works on paper, which were produced over a period of three decades and exemplify Penker’s theoretical approach and the conceptual progression of his work. An early work from the 1980s, in which stroke upon stroke of tempera is applied with utmost precision on a large sheet of primed craft paper in a sober, repetitive arrangement bears witness to an almost ritualistic, quasi meditative exercise. The structure and detail of the work appear intertwined, having become inseparable from each other. At first glance it looks like an all-over composition but with a closer look, reveals the precise placement of thousands of small brushstrokes, which altogether create a perfect simulacrum. Penker’s paintings are inherently about painting itself while reflecting on the process of making as well as the different modes of its perception.
A multi-part woodcut work based on the series „65 Ansichten eines Rechtecks“ (65 Views of a Rectangle, 2008) shows 24 single sheets all individually framed in Penker's typical metal box frames. A slightly varied rectangle can be seen more or less precisely placed in the lower center of each sheet. Differing from the analytical and serial approaches of American minimalism, Penker seems to have found the minimal deviation of each rectagle intuitively without following a pre-conceived plan or pattern. It becomes obvious that the series is not about following a system but rather to provide an experience of a personal variation on a theme. Resemblant of a musical score which comes to life when the viewer passes by the row of individual sheets in the exhibition space, this work reveals what is true for all of Penker's works: despite the formal restraint and the austerity of its pictorial vocabulary, they exude an unusual sensuality of their own.