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Liane Thau

Claus Knobel was born in Friedrichshafen in 1953, where he also grew up. At the age of 10 he began with Lake Constance motifs and portraits in watercolor and oil. Art was what really interested him in school. After an apprenticeship as a decorator and poster painter, he studied painting and anatomy at the Werkkunstschule in Cologne.

What he learned while studying the great masters in museums is just as important to him - the spectrum ranges from Poussin to Degas, from Cezanne to Horst Jantzen.

From 1993-95 he was visiting professor at the Catholic University of America School of Architecture on Stromboli and Capri.

He was able to make a name for himself in the art scene through numerous national and international exhibitions.

Claus Knobel lives and works as a freelance artist in Cologne.

"Silent Sounds - Loud Wise" is the title of this exhibition, ladies and gentlemen - let me briefly outline the artist's intentions for this opposing couple:

The inner eye as a painterly strategy contrasts with landscapes that reveal their interior to the outside.

Deep sensations and reflections are partly implemented with a wire brush and a grinding machine.

Real life turns into still life and vice versa.

Selected material competes with random elements.

The portraits breathe psychological intimacy, but also show the melancholy of the ephemeral.

Whether old Europe or distant continents, the painter Claus Knobel is drawn out into the world, he is interested in nature, the landscape and the people who live in it. On his mostly three-month motorcycle carriage trips, he immerses his whole being, body and soul in the countries he visits and thus in a multi-layered process.

Alone or with his wife, he often crosses landscapes very close to nature, on paths with little traffic and in remote areas. Feeling the cold and heat, enduring dust and potholes, spending the night in a tent and preparing your meal over an open fire is just as common as encountering the wildlife of the respective country. But he looks around in big cities as well as in remote valleys, on mountains and in deserts.

For each creative phase that deals with a country or a topic, Claus Knobel develops his own style of design, which he considers appropriate in terms of content and message. That doesn't happen overnight - step by step he develops painting strategies that will surprise even a long-serving art historian.

And “complexity” is always the leitmotif of his creative will - both in terms of content and form.

The pictures of his 3 trips to Australia, which he undertook between 2003 and 9 and during which he traveled the continent for a total of 32 weeks, these paintings have been the focus of his work ever since.

It begins with impressions of the landscape that are largely abstracted. Landscape motifs such as mountains, deserts or bodies of water with wide atmospheric color spaces, geometrical elements with very realistic details to multi-layered memories of great landscape experiences.

Claus Knobel is concerned with the composition on the picture surface, the tension between above and below, heaven and earth, between floating and burdening, light and shadow. He explores the weight of the color values ​​and so these landscapes are also autonomous color spaces that are independent of the motif.

The fact that a passionate experimenter like Claus Knobel always allows creative chance to act as a designer can be seen in the use of a wide variety of materials, in the risk that he takes if he lets chemicals and colors react with one another, if he is not stingy with color and a wasteful impasto Matter in honor.

The canvases, which the artist also draws up and primed himself, were transformed into material collages before painting with fabric, leather and seams, paper and pastes, which would represent landscape compositions even without paint.

In these paintings, for the first time, Claus Knobel partially used a technique that determined his pictures after what was, for the time being, his last trip to Australia.

What only appears as a sprinkling in the abstract works is the consistent design there.

Claus Knobel's silk paintings are created in an extremely complicated and time-consuming process that has nothing to do with conventional silk painting and takes around 2 months for larger paintings.

The basis is again a canvas that has been primed and sanded several times. On this, the artist develops border-like ornaments with pencil or ballpoint pen, which arise spontaneously from the stomach and contain vegetable or anatomical elements but can also be very abstract. Almost as with the automatic drawing of the surrealists, he lets hand and pen have their own way while his thoughts circle around the subject. Text blocks that quote your own reflections or scientific texts on the topic complement these drawings.

In the creation process, he includes digital photography and digital 3D programs as an inspiring work supplement. He edits his own photos of his travels on the PC, changing them, for example by drawing on the PC or modifying proportions or scenes in order to express his interpretations - design is always a comment on the reality experienced.

The elaborated design is transferred in sections onto about 20 cm wide, fine silk ribbons that have been treated with an acrylic resin solution. This gives them a certain strength and an almost perfect transparency. The silk is applied to the canvas with acrylic resin. As with fresco painting, which allows one day's work to be done, Claus Knobel is then bound to a period of 24 hours. During this time, the paint must be applied very thinly to the silk, after which the substances can no longer combine. With airbrush, brushes, pens, sponges and rags, the design is condensed more and more until finally 4 to 6 layers of painted silk merge into one picture by overlaying them.

In this way he designed portraits of the Aborigines, pictures of their living spaces and city scenes.

He succeeded in what most visitors to Australia do not - he got into conversation with the Aborigines in a very respectful and quiet way. He was particularly impressed by the visit to a home for the frail elderly. He depicted these old, often blind, natives in the portraits - using the silk technique I have just described.

On the one hand, the design in gray tones is reminiscent of the Grissailles painting, as it was first used by Giotto at the beginning of the 14th century to depict saints. On the other hand, one naturally thinks of a black and white photograph. Both of these have gone into these gray-toned paintings - the grisaille conveys a special distance and dignity, the nostalgic black-and-white photography reminds us of transience, but also gives these people a touch of timelessness.

Claus Knobel, whose philosophy is to be more of a mediator than a critic, rather to show the positive than the destructive and to leave everything as dignified as possible, had another reason: by hiding the dark skin color of the Aborigines with the gray , he enhances the extreme signs of age that these people showed, lets a trace of better days light up and moves them closer to the white population, from whom a deep rift still divides in reality. Here, too, Claus Knobel seeks what connects, not what separates.

The light, mother-of-pearl-like blurring that results from the silk layer technique gives these portraits a special aesthetic.

This design also makes the cityscapes realistic and unreal, vivid and poetic at the same time.

Claus Knobel recorded a wide variety of scenarios: there is the figure from the back of a banker, who hurries through a bank building with a cell phone to his ear, which looks as majestic as a church. The artist has exaggerated this sacred aspiration with the pillars as a sign of dignity in order to make it visible. In a similar way he places "Three Bankers" in a room of pharaonic dimensions, the luster of which reflects the three men like water.

The artist lets us take a look at bars like the "Pink Bar", where he stages a typical barman guest situation.

We look through a window into a roadhouse kitchen where an Aboriginal woman works.

We see an aborigine playing pool, while the skyline of Sydney is reflected in the window and forms the background for the man in two ways.

We accompany a woman to the jeweler - almost like an apparition she floats into the picture and only touches the floor with one leg. "Angel of jewelery in Melbourne" is then also the appropriate title.

Claus Knobel also makes details worthy of pictures and exciting. B. the cockpit of an old airplane of the "Flying Doctors". It gives it an aesthetic aura that quietly celebrates this beneficial facility.

The big picture here in the middle with the title "Aborigines in Arnhem Land" shows a typical Australian scene. An Aborigine family has settled in front of a roadhouse to eat. They often only enter the restaurant for shopping and then sit outside. Claus Knobel turned it into a complex scene. We see through a virtual window into the shadowy blue interior of the restaurant. The people outside have very different levels of reality, the children on the right realistic, also the people on the floor and in the chair, while the two people on the left appear like silhouettes against the light. The wall dissolves, the interior and exterior become blurred. This again marks the position of the indigenous people in society - they are often still outside the door, but integration into society will progress - with whatever consequences!

After completion, Claus Knobel covers the paintings with a glossy varnish based on acrylic resin. He deliberately opts for this glossy surface and thus connects the painted light with the reflecting real light and the painted scenery with the viewers reflected in it.

In all of these paintings, the ambiguous drawings that the artist first places on the canvas shimmer through the layers of silk. In their enigmatic appearance they are reminiscent of a palimpsest, an ancient manuscript that has been overwritten several times. But they also refer to the complex rock painting of the Aborigines. So there are structures under the surface again that point to the past, the unconscious and the repressed.

Here Claus Knobel points to a fundamental difference between the western world, which is so fixated on the surface and on the beautiful appearance, and the Aborigines, who rest in themselves and their faith, who know where they come from and where they will go - at least those who still live traditionally and are neither ailing from Western influence nor destroyed by alcohol - also a Danaer gift from the white man that has shattered so many indigenous peoples. Since we are not an ethnological seminar here, I would like to leave it with these splintered thoughts. The artist has transferred much more far-reaching considerations and experiences into his complex visual vocabulary.

I would also like to mention the small formats. They are made with the same elaborate technique as the large ones on heavy hand-made paper! There really is one cabinet piece after the other.

Claus Knobel designs compositions that oscillate between the land of the Aborigines and the Terra Australis of the whites, which tell of the living conditions there, but do not deny the European perspective.

They do not lay claim to objectivity or completeness, but rather emphasize the artist's subjective point of view and his sympathy for the indigenous people of this continent, who for us Europeans may always remain a little strange.

In this way, soul landscapes have arisen in a double sense, soul landscapes in which the state of mind of the country traveled was included as well as the sensations of the traveler.

Every brushstroke that Claus Knobel applies, and every shape that emerges from it, is a snapshot and a spontaneous decision that is supplemented by the next one moment or one day later.

For him it is about harmony, about visible beauty but also about the structure and the history below the surface.

What drives him is what Confucianism describes as Zhong Yung: the path that lies in the middle between impracticable extremes. For Claus Knobel, the journey is really the goal.


Liane Thau MA
Art historian

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