“It is the artist’s mission to penetrate as far as may be toward that secret ground where primal law feeds growth. Which artist would not wish to dwell at the central organ of all motion in space-time (be it the brain or the heart of creation) from which all functions derive their life? In the womb of nature, in the primal ground of creation, where the secret key to all things lies hidden? Our beating heart drives us down, far down to the primal ground.” (Paul Klee)
The world around us has become colorful, its information structures marked by vivid images. Whereas up until recently linear text was still used as our means of codification, nowadays surfaces are increasingly important (photos, TV screens, projection screens) for conveying information. As in an illiterate context, pictures are once again the official media. Pictures did not disappear with the invention of the printing press (they were only banished to the realm of illustration and representation), just as the written word will certainly not be replaced by images. Instead a dialectic approach to picture and text is called for: if one combines text with concepts, or pictures with imagination, the result is a more imaginative conception and a more conceptual imagination. Meanwhile electronic images are becoming instruments that penetrate the linear structure of texts and thus become texts themselves. One has the impression of simultaneousness and multi-layered stratification, as in a psychedelic experience. According to Marshall McLuhan “in the age of electronic media, one-after-the-other is replaced by all-at-once …” This refers not only to the much cited flood of images that often results in an information jam, but also to the fact that one now seems closer to surmounting time and space.
Obviously the field of art is also affected by these developments and absorbs them in its ideological models. For some time now, a virulent discourse of private and public language can be observed. In a kind of meta-language of image and text, a critical young generation of artists reflects about such instruments as literary quotations, advertising, comic strips or, as in the following case, about the long tradition of pictography.
Franz Konrad, who during extended sojourns in Mexico became acquainted with native American cultures which he combines with his own western capitalistic upbringing, advances along this previously mentioned path of simultaneousness. Characteristic is a formal interlacing of text and image to create an integrated whole. Usually shrill, his large-scale, multi-piece tableaux should be viewed as messages rather than as paintings in themselves. Although impossible to read as a simple story, the complex images are never non-committal. Spontaneous notes and sketches of ideas as forerunners of concrete large-scale projects (a hotel complex in Mexico or a studio for the production of artificial islands), merge into seemingly impenetrable parallel universes. His method calls initially for the construction of individual picture zones whose relationship to each another is only visible after completion of the entire work. Meanwhile this completion is always provisional, since the composition may be extended and, in case one piece is sold, also replaced. Each piece of the picture is just as important as any other, first to be seen as an autonomous unit and then in relationship to the whole system. Comic strips as the basis for a game of temporality and narration. Not because Franz Konrad has a affinity for kitsch in general, or because he appreciates the exoticness of comic books but simply as a natural form of storytelling. Comics present a rich source of imagery that reflect contemporary myths or popular cultural values in a manner that is easy to understand. Which leads us back to the form of Aztec picture books. These were not bound but consist of strips of paper several meters long. Here we are dealing less with writing than with groups of mythological figures presented in strong luminous colors – a fact that can also be attributed to the widespread use of psychoactive hallucinogens such as peyote in these cultures. Perspective was also unknown to the ancient Mexicans, just as it was to the ancient Egyptians or Chinese. They helped themselves by placing several groupings on top of each other instead of behind each other. The result in Konrad’s work is a dense pictorial surface, an “all over” narrative, without visible center.
Franz Konrad’s pictures deal with both concrete images (for example, urban structures or architectural concepts) as well as social issues. The economic conditions and demands of those living in South and Central America are a topic – likewise the decadence of the western capitalistic world. Although one can document catastrophes such as an oil spill in the Caribbean and thereby raise public awareness, one is still forced to live with the consequences and search for workable solutions. In his stance of solidarity with the underprivileged, Franz Konrad attempts to combine their cultural tradition and present social condition with his own personal development. His artistic work is an aid in grasping the problematic themes. Here he merges historical with present, and foreign with personal elements – transforming them into apocalyptic and at the same time paradisiacal “trips”. Thus the viewer is invited in this psychedelic cosmos of color and form, to search for points of crystallization – and perhaps even solutions.