A DIRTY ATTITUDE
In more than one way the works of Christian Achenbach can be described as night visions, understood as depicting scenes that take place at night, in a club or in an artist’s studio where the night sky creates a colourful backdrop. His captivating and often mysterious motifs function as tales from a life led in the dark hours of the night, a life that starts when the sun goes down. This way of life is often connected with the lifestyle of musicians and artists, who, as the mythological owls and cats recurrent in Christian Achenbach’s paintings, are seen as nocturnal creatures. An animal such as the owl also literally have a night vision, a visual capacity that makes it able to see in the dark and detect the life that is secretly or unnoticeably lived in the obscure. Christian Achenbach also seems to possess such an ability to see the things that exists beyond the immediate appearances – an ability that enables him to depict a scene, not only as it is visually perceived, but also as it is felt and experienced. Hazes of colours and brushstrokes seem to give form to the formless and indescribable mood we often describe as the atmosphere or the ambiance of a given situation. Christian Achenbach’s creates a momentary materialisation, an ectoplasm, of the things and states of mind that normally aren’t possible to systematize and to give shape: that which can be determined as the irrational or extra-rational, the ephemeral and immaterial aspects of lived experience. It is the electrified atmosphere created by music, the painters late-night revelations in the studio, and the ambiance generated on the disco dance floor.
Humour is a reoccurring element in the works of Christian Achenbach. The surrealistic scenarios and the twist of the motifs often make one smile. But behind the initial humour seriousness is hidden and his works seems to function as comments on the culture of his own generation. Achenbach’s paintings contain a youthful vitality both in its expressions and in its motifs, and in many ways the works seem to function as a continuous release of energy, as the expressive colours and layers of paint present the viewer with head-banging musicians, dancing figures and musical instruments. But Christian Achenbach seems to generate paintings where every brushstroke creates structures and forms that go far beyond their purely depictive function. Achenbach is very much a painter and the canvas, the paint and the forms do not only serve the ends of description but also represent themselves as embodied with sensory qualities such as density, agitation and roughness. Sometimes he even totally abandons the brush to apply the paint directly from the tube onto the canvas giving the paintings a highly tactile quality.
In the works of Christian Achenbach the figures are often only depicted fragmentarily, so that we only see the feet dancing, not the whole body, only a couple of eyes starring at us, but not the entire face. In some areas of the paintings, Christian Achenbach seems to dispense with the figurative altogether, to produce dynamic, abstract compositions. But these areas of abstraction, or spots of non-figuration, always seems to emerge from the figurative, as part of the same space wherein the human figures, animals or objects are placed.
As a painter the stating point will often be traditional, in the sense that techniques are learnt, principals of composition understood and the use of colour is studied. In many ways, Christian Achenbach can be said to deliberately disuse this traditional starting point, to twist the painting and its motif in new directions and to explore the possibilities of the medium itself. Creating realism and beauty is not one of Christian Achenbach main concerns. “Beauty I find in nature, outside the studio. I do not aim at creating it in my paintings,” he says. For him, art is not about beauty, but should instead functions as a door to other perspectives, to other outlooks and understandings. Christian Achenbach describes his own works as expressing a dirty attitude, understood as the conscious avoidance of neatness and precision. This attitude is most obviously articulated in the painting Bei Hockney zu hause, where a hectic composition creates a deliberate and ironic comment to the meticulous and clean painting of the English artist David Hockney. By creating an ironic reference to Hockney, Achenbach distances himself from the type of formalistic painting that focuses on well-ordered composition and tidy brushstrokes and in contrast he practices a messy form of painting, where the paint is thick and visible, the lines are rhythmic and the colours energetic – an overall expression that is both dynamic and dirty.