If indeed a now thoroughly functionalized society has dissolved all that was once perceived as being sacred into its perpetually recycled and ubiquitous alibi present, the notion that the whole array of oversized owls, giant fish, egg-shaped stones, lascivious nymphs, and angels and demons which once peopled the Garden of Earthly Delights had been unleashed in the process and sent reeling through the floodgates, thenceforth set free to wander past Bruegel’s Tower of Babel and into the everyday—hand in hand with the descendants of Pinocchio, sadomasochistic rabbit-faced Füssli-freaks, frothing black Cheshire cats and cute but watchful pit bulls—would be difficult to deny. Often finding refuge upon the dimly lit stages of our minds, these creatures are welcome and celebrated players within the pictorial worlds that are painted into existence by Stefanie Gutheil.
Just as the plasticity achieved by the astounding masses of paint that the artist employs often outweighs the actual materiality of the mass-produced fabric and aluminum foil applied by Gutheil with pointed accuracy to the canvas (no longer simply introduced as elements of montage that capture the immediacy of the present but now arduously implemented as an integrated part of her palette), the figures, creatures and motifal passages that are granted admittance into her largely though not entirely autonomous pictorial domains assume the guise of equality. Paint becomes material and material becomes paint. A Nachtmahr is made equal to an advertisement taken from a gay magazine before the willfully broken painterly laws. The roles are shifting, you don't know who you're with.
In her large-format diptych painting Kopftheater II (Theater of the Mind II), a blazing satellite-eyed paint-demon crowned with a devilish libertine tiara emerges from a lace-draped concrete structure (one of its walls is adorned with a meekly finger-painted graffiti fish) in order to spew its fiery and destructive pigment onto an unwary crowd of puppets and skulls. Beneath the violently raging inferno beast, a streetwise black cat, long immune to the toxic green sludge it consumes, issues forth from its freeway-pillar cave to survey the impending doom, partly excited by the coming change. To the left of the format, an old fauvist goat and an all-seeing stuffed Willy-Whale observe the course of events with helpless but terrified resign. A Boschy demon-lizard laps up the luke warm ochre remains of a left-behind soup, in certainty that the theft will remain unnoticed. The skewed perspective created by the steel and concrete props and labyrinth backdrop, dominated by two jutting towers, discloses the arrant precariousness of the situation. The entire scene begins to tremble under the weight of a passing city train or a series of well-placed explosions and threatens to collapse altogether—a foundering mental pageantry; a crumbling series of catastrophe-film mind games. A theater of the mind. Or is it? According to Gutheil, “We all seem to have similar spaces lurking somewhere in the back of our minds, somehow occupying our consciousness.”
In Wassermann I (Aquarius I), an aluminum legged crusader has mounted a sharp-toothed giant tank-like fish in order to shoot down a pink Chinese-tongued and silver-finned flying manga with bullets from his Darth Vader glove-hand. In the foreground, a reeling Bruegel-frog painfully spreads its caesarean lips to finally expel the throbbing mass of innards that have mutated into paint daubs within its queasy belly, releasing them into the eager and waiting mouth of a lust-drunken sea snake. The walls can no longer withstand the relentless weight of the rising water and begin to drip and seethe with the first forebodings of the inevitable flood. Everything begins to float. The space is immersed in water—a sunken city, a lost civilization.
In one picture that has proven particularly pivotal for Gutheil’s most recent cycle of works, pyramids built of bodies, the remnants of uniforms and the remains of familial aridity have all been massed together in a destructive painterly orgy and hurled onto a foetid and feculent heap, finally resulting in the accretion of a centiroach-covered phallic Babylonian (Mountain) Berg. The landscape reeks of masculine secretion, egoism, cannibalism and death; the horror of the whole expedition culminates in a pair of screaming Pinocchio torture masks that have been carved into the side of the monumental mountain and are forever frozen to gape in oral compulsion at the passing of birdlike shadows. An agglomeration of filth rises up from among a once peaceful but now tainted accumulation of drums and ovaries toward a foul and acidic heaven. Whether illuminated by the hazy drone of carbon monoxide, the inexorable glare of a spotlight, the dusky gray of a modern metropolis, the fervent glow of a monastery, or the wafting luminescence of the still sun-drenched floodwaters, the sempiternally evolving pictorial worlds of Stefanie Gutheil—despite all of their monsters, demons, ostriches and bunny-masks—are not in fact very distant at all from the one which contemporary humankind has created. As is our world, her worlds are ones in which Hell has been unleashed, but in which children are still free to play.
gallery link: www.mikeweissgallery.com