In his painting of the past few years, Thomas Hartmann (*1950, Zetel, Germany) proves himself to be a particularly active inhabitant of the Gutenberg galaxy: books, magazines, printed works of every variety are, in addition to containers and packages, the central content of his pictures. A world of letters and objects is evoked, in which people have almost disappeared, or which are realised in the chiaroscuro of the play of colour and forms. Sometimes an actual situation is reflected in the painting, as for example when two library bookshelves pointedly approach each other like a ship's bow. And then again, the books and magazines, piled up like towers, squashed together like fans, or tied up into bundles, appear like indices of a sensory form which conducts its own individual game of formal fraying and of colouristic fine nuancing beyond the contours of what is perceptible. Thomas Hartmann is a 'homme de lettre', yet not one who does not lose himself in the semantic pluriverse, but instead as an artist who hypostasizes the linguistic sign and the printed work in its real manifestation.
In his pictures, the book is no fetishistic individual object that offers a content for decodification, but instead it is always mass merchandise – sometimes carefully arranged as ornament of the textual diversity, then again transformed into downright malicious forms of dilapidation. Sometimes the artist daubs over the surface of the pictures, so that the works have the impact of scurfy, rubbed off or rubbed out rejects – he's definitely not interested in creating an aura of preciousness: if the work threatens to become too smooth and too pleasing, it is roughened up by means of paradoxical interventions in order to resist the contemplative gaze. One might discern from these paintings the comforting or dismal message – according to one's perspective – that the externalised wealth of ideas of mankind has survived it in books. That paper is there, where once was life.
In contemporary painting Hartmann possesses a unique position: with a highly developed sensibility for forms, colours and pictorial composition he navigates between drawing and painting, between objectivity and abstraction. He creates energy fields which threaten to burst open from internal tension, yet in the spatial organisation of his compartmentalised modules he awakens at the same time the impression of an almost transcendental harmony.
Out of the formless configurations of the painting background, Thomas Hartmann reads out something figurative, and he transforms concrete objects into the serial diversification in abstract signs. In his celebration of the printed word he creates a monument to the human creative spirit and, at the same time, he evokes a post-Baroque feeling of vanitas. When one sees his Kafka-esque, overstuffed walls of books and bookshelves, the objects jumbled together in the junk shop or in the postal sorting location in its exalted futility, it is difficult not to think of an image that Michel Foucault conceptualised in "The Order of Things": mankind would disappear "like a face in the sand at the seashore."