Günther Holler-Schuster
Boxing, bebsop,whiskey
and plain cigarettes
 

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Is it permissible to ask a "What if...." question and in doing so hope to approach the content of a work of art? Only to a certain extent – one would probably say all kinds of nonsense, though one wouldn't be all that wrong. Nevertheless: what would have happened if pop art had never existed? How would we see a Coca-Cola bottle today, would "today's home" still be "so different, so appealing" – and Uncle Rudi? Would the daily routine still be the daily routine, which is to say stiflingly dull, or at the most a conglomeration of inconveniences interwoven with stress and pressures? In the meantime, everything has turned into pop, and people put on a cool and youthful attitude in all areas of life. Once upon a time, pop art – in the beginning – was implemented as a tool of criticism against a consumer fetishism of western capitalism that was seen as over-dominant. At the same time, however, it was also an act of homage to the aesthetic achievements of advertising, the increasingly multifarious culture of everyday, and the equation "art is life – life is art". Of course, it was also a declaration of youth, which prior to this had never been able to play a major role on the scene. Before the rock 'n' roll movement of the fifties, the world was adult and male. Jazz musicians frequently died of heroin or alcohol, which was not regarded as cool, like later, in the sixties. The invasive row of bebop gate-crashed into the 1940s dance halls and its swing music, killing ballroom dancing. People of that time heard what appeared to them characteristic of the tonal movement of bebop, wild, nervous phrases, mere rags of melodies. Every unnecessary note was left out. This stress seizing the public could be interpreted not only as a reaction to the world war, but was also a subcultural impulse of a younger generation. In the jargon of young American roughs, bebop signified a brawl or knife fight. Existentialism in attitude to life and the harsh, black-and-white contrast – not only aesthetically conspicuous but also exerting a pervasive influence on the mood of the times – created a dark harbinger of the glamorous and ecstatically colourful pop art. Since television and the media were still only rudimentary in development and not widely disseminated, people had other attractions. Besides the cinema (Hollywood's film noir) and jazz (Bird, Monk, Gillespie), sporting events were enormously popular (above all in stadiums and indoor sport arenas). Betting at races of all kinds, the act of being hot in pursuit of sensation were things people could find in the overfilled stadiums, in the racecourses and above all around the boxing ring. Fighters like Sonny Liston were not idols of the masses. If they were, then it was not for the degree to which they were likeable. The wonderment inspired by this kind of brutality and lack of compromise, which after all enabled such characters to escape from the slums, was crucial for their status in the eyes of the public. Though Liston's criminal career was not as remarkable as his sporting success, it ran parallel throughout his life – he died of a heroin overdose at the age of thirty-eight. Larry Holmes: "It's tough being black. Were you ever black? I was once – when I was poor". Boxing as the sole chance of escaping poverty, misery and crime, or at least of transforming it into another kind of misery or another kind of crime, was fascinating not only for the protagonist. After all, it had not been so long ago (around 15 years) since this sport – if one can call it that – was prohibited, for instance in New York. Yet there were more fights then than now. Each district had its own club, which was not devoted exclusively to sport. When fights ended in death, the body was thrown without identification somewhere into the water. In later times, people could at least read in the daily newspapers: "Boxer killed in ring" or "Death in the ring", etc. "Why are you a boxer?" the Irish featherweight champion Barry McGuigan was asked. He replied: "Because I'm not a writer. I can't tell stories...". Every boxing match is a story – a unique drama without words, compressed plots of the utmost intensity. Enough of boxing.
Andreas Leikauf's pictures are not about boxing, nor about jazz. Yet his paintings are still densely composed works; despite the use of text in the pictures, you are more aware of an atmosphere than of narrative content.
They have this special expression of "pre-pop". For instance, you can feel the power of the now forgotten artists of "pulp art" (cover illustrations of the 1930s and 1940s in America). Dynamic, enigmatic scenes combined with texts. The cover picture is meant to represent the whole story – above all its climax, the release. The advice "never judge a book by its cover" was thus turned upside down. Besides: "Pulp art is hard whiskey: men's art fueled on testosterone." (Robert Lesser)
Leikauf is therefore not a "retro-artist", who opts for what has been tried or established before, and tags onto it. It is about classics of theoretical perception, which are structured with the suggestive power of images, texts, general information. He presents his themes, such as violence, politics, sexual relationships, etc. as they are in the media, using existing pictorial material (from newspapers, magazines, etc.). Few, mainly intense colours combined with black are pivotal in creating the dramatic quality. Although the protagonists are of the present time, they appear timeless and don't give a damn for fashion and zeitgeist. Leikauf's pictures have the quality of woodcuts in the best sense. They reflect on what we think is beautiful, and question ideals, fantasies and dreams not least through the juxtaposition of image and text. Using the structure of the comic, he finds in addition already developed options of representation. This model seems to help the artist in his striving to apply a general style in contrast to a personal one. Moreover, the viewer immediately has the impression of standing in front of existing visual codes. The dramatic suspense achieved through gestures, light directions and colour intensification elicits a sense of general validity. Besides, the texts he uses are very evocative, we often think we know them – "Don't fly me to the moon". Advertising texts and quotes, slogans and sayings have a long tradition. It affects us all when we think of the confrontation with the Old Testament, or Chinese, Indian, Persian philosophy, where the knowledge of the material is frequently restricted to a few proverbs (as Lao Tse already said...). All these great edifices of thought stand today like ruins and are dwelt in by esoteric gurus. Language has become sloganised, resulting in a certain dilution, especially in advertising, so we get the impression that the only things that remain of the works of world literature are anyway quotations. Connections within a text-image structure that could be contradictory do not crop up by chance in Andreas Leikauf's paintings. They are endowed with the appearance of necessity. Thus semantic autonomy is the result of a meticulous construction, which we are nevertheless not necessarily aware of. Like an author of comics, Leikauf seems to have access to and use of an inventory of images, which is surely traced back to the anonymous pictorial style. The idea of trash is certainly no problem for the artist. Trash replicates all major genres of advanced civilization and parodies it, too. The potency of popular culture – which of course also existed before pop art – lies in its directness and supposed inarticulacy. His image-word combinations seem to be part of a collective subconscious. Naturally, it has to do with the stereotypes of media visual perception. Trash does not claim to fathom the great questions of existence with a view to eternity, but exists for the present and the everyday. Are boxers trashy, or jazz musicians? No, but the information that comes to us transfigured by temporal and locational distance is an admirable base. James Ellroy's "White Jazz" plays in this sort of milieu. Here the focus is on jazz musicians, Art Pepper, like Charlie Parker addicted to heroin, appears as a character in this picture of post-war life and customs. As a painter, Leikauf does what a photo-reporter does in the classic sense: he photographs into every shadow of society. The abundance of his results is as astounding as the ingenious mise-en-scène of his pictures. Fast working methods and great topicality, also excellent distribution are the secrets of a good photographic reporter. Leikauf has all of this, drinks his whiskey on the rocks and smokes plain cigarettes, no filter.
The famous sports reporter John Schulian once said: "It's hard to say whether this job will make me into a humanist, or a voyeur."



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