This small array of nine works—all of them made with acrylic, ink and numerous other materials on mylar—is Ulrich Panzer’s first exhibition in Canada since his leaving Berlin ten years ago.

Made in the spirit of what Panzer calls “a self-entertaining experience,” each of his teeming sheets of mylar features a series of progressions of graphic incident (arranged rather like film strips) held in a wistful, mnemonically provocative suspension. Each sheet offers a row of sites which, if you let them, support entry into a totalizing, art-historical reverie.

By which I mean that everywhere you look in Panzer’s sets of graphic accumulations, you inevitably find shapes that are insistent, almost annoyingly persuasive evocations of some configuration you feel sure you’ve seen before somewhere: if you let down your guard for a minute (the guard that works against our human-all-too-human need to see recognizable shards of content everywhere we look), you can find, or fancy you can find, animals, human groups, disembodied torsos, pastoral landscapes, pieces of still-life fruit, mountain ranges, underwater shoals and such like.

There is a noble, Greek-derived word for the hallucinated image we are all too prone to project, Rorschach-like, onto otherwise empty and abstracted fields (such as Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous crumbling stucco walls, which, in reverie, he could populate with battle scenes): the self-generated image is called the eidolon.

The difficulty comes when you realize that playing ping-pong, in Panzer’s pictures, with the eidolon—however mindlessly enjoyable—is not at all what his works are about.

No matter what you think you see in his pictures (ranges of underwater mountains, the site of an axe-murder), it is almost certainly not there. Sometimes, it’s pretty difficult to transcend the easy, seductive associations: one of Panzer’s pictures, the only one that bears a title more descriptive than just a number, is called Marsyas [the red and black one reproduced here], and I think one might be forgiven for allowing images of the hubristic Greek satyr Marsyas’s being flayed alive (the best known representation of this horrid act being the painting of it by Titian) to enter one’s colour-assisted ruminations upon the work.

But Panzer’s pictures, in the end, are not about imagery. You may imagine you see, for example, a filmstrip of a Muybridge figure in sequential motion stretched across the bottom of one of them, but, believe me, you don’t. The cure for the tendency to see images in the picture, of course, is simply to move closer to them—whereupon they invariably dissolve into pure mark-making.

His pictures are not, therefore, about imagery, nor are they, by extension, about narrative—no matter how much they initially seem to be. As a substitute for narrative, Panxer’s parade of graphic incidents offers development.

And there is repetition and, inevitably, accumulation. There is linear (and spatial) rhythm. There is detail and delicacy. There is endless morphological fecundity, spontaneity, a felt immediacy of act and effect. However the pictures are made (by blotting? pressing? folding? smearing?), they offer themselves as theatres of abstraction—where the abstraction is given weight and ballast by the temptations of image, and, inversely, where the pending imagery is everywhere dissolved by the hectic, hurtling process of Panzer’s pause less inventiveness. In essence, his pictures are monoprints. And like all monoprints, they float. 

The State of Flux Gallery Modern Fuel 21 Queen St Kingston, ON Tel.: 613 548-4883
August 6 to Sept. 10, 2011