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Nosbaum Reding presents Thomas Arnolds – AUGMENTED BONSAI (Malerei)


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Nosbaum Reding presents Thomas Arnolds – AUGMENTED BONSAI (Malerei)

Exhibition: 19.09–09.11.2019

Strictly speaking, the wider area around the Rhenish lowlands - the so-called "Aachen-Jülicher Börde", where the Cologne-based artist Thomas Arnolds (born 1975 in Geilenkirchen) hails from - can hardly be called a landscape in the common understanding of the word. It is rather an area - if one felt the urge to make this somewhat pointless distinction, which underlines the desert-like character of this thoroughly cultivated landscape: every gram of nature seems to have been overturned at least once, it is a karstic terrain with wide perspectives onto steaming cooling towers of power plants, spoil tips and protruding excavator arms, whose steel bodies are busy mining a huge open coalpit, interspersed with meticulously delineated fields of beetroot, but also corn, and the occasional artificial grove or small tree.

As someone coming from a similar area located on the other side of the Rhine, where the cooling-water clouds and the edges of the Eifel form the horizon, I feel entitled to draw such comparisons, although I am aware of the still prevalent power of seduction of the biography - which, to be fair, has long been the subject of a legitimate renaissance, as all conceptions of modernist purism and media purity are passé: instead, up and down the western museum canon, artistic practices are pushing to the fore that testify to the primacy of the artists' individual lives over any kind of academically tinged programmes. And this applies to non-European spaces - the former peripheries of our outlook on art history - to the same extent as to the Bay of Cologne, which could equally be described as a periphery within the centre.

After completing his apprenticeship as a stonemason in the monastic Diocese for Church Restoration in Aachen, Arnolds studied painting with Walter Dahn in Braunschweig. In a series that holds the key to an understanding of his work, the artist combines the elementary colours red, yellow and blue - the painterly ground zero of modernism - with perspective views from his former home studio, in which his kitchen - the place where the individual ingredients come together, where the meal is prepared - is always visible. Arnolds always works with the parameters of painting - colour, figuration versus abstraction, surface versus matter, image versus space - from within the banality of the everyday, which enables him to integrate religiously tainted iconography, particularly the painting and sculpting techniques underpinning it, in the same affirmative-appreciative and pragmatic-doubting manner as other kinds of academicisms.

His new series, here presented for the first time, shows bonsai-like artefacts whose growth is guided by wires, embedded in largely monochrome, pastose to smooth surfaces delimited by column bases - a pictorial element used in previous paintings - as well as by other pictorial elements, both new and borrowed from earlier works. Beyond these interiors, Arnolds's imagery, which unfurls in spirals and continually falls back on its own pictorial findings, gives rise to a new genre reminiscent of landscape paintings, which also define his entire oeuvre as a landscape. The rugged elegance of these works points to the prevalent topos of a fully domesticated nature in the digital age and confronts this discursive melancholy with a captivating immediacy - an effectual aesthetic that is in fact inherent in all of his work.

Similarly, the use of the Bonsai motive, which confronts the natural will of proliferating matter with cultural control, in combination with the column base, which stands for pictorial architectures of every kind, is hardly a coincidence. For what medium, if not painting with its centennial tradition, forces the artist to accept an anarchic loss of control and simultaneously reflect on its history in order to guarantee something like innovation? When Arnolds, the trained sculptor, describes painting as a physical and mental place of confrontation, as an area where cultural categories are levelled out - a sludge of subjective resistance - we can safely assume that he has stepped out of the door and is once again looking in on his home.

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Photo: Exhibition view, Thomas Arnolds – AUGMENTED BONSAI (Malerei). Courtesy Nosbaum Reding and Thomas Arnolds