Friends of Gaya
Gaya Ceramic

Colour Windows
Peter Dittmar
July 31st - August 30th, 2009
A solo exhibition by Peter Dittmar


When speaking of abstraction in art, what most often comes to mind is the idea of visual language reduced to its core aesthetic elements, of a focus on “form” for its own sake, without the encumbrance of a narrative located beyond the canvas. This is by large true. But the lack of a narrative does not necessarily mean the absence of a message. The great pioneers of abstraction of the early 20th century were enthralled by philosophical and mystical concerns. Theosophy, which sees creation as expanding geometrically from a single point, was a paramount reference to artists such as Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevitch. Kandinsky, in a little book he published in 1910, “The Spiritual in Art”,(“Das Geistige in der Kunst”) proclaimed the object of his art to be the spiritual. Malevitch and Mondrian saw their geometric abstraction as the expression of cosmic dualities. Abstraction, to those artists, was the visual formulation of a spiritual quest.

It is in this same vein that Peter Dittmar’s exhibition: “PETER DITTMAR –“COLOUR WINDOWS” at GAYA ART SPACE from 31. July March till 30. August 2009, should be apprehended. Although the core of his inspiration is not Theosophy proper, but Theosophy's principal source: Hindu-Buddhist cosmology, with which the artist came into contact in the 1970s. Dittmar went to India for spiritual quest, being part of the current of Eastern ideas then entering the minds of Western youth in revolt, to give a lasting oriental turn to their spiritual quests.

In Hindu- Buddhist cosmology, the world or macrocosm is in perpetual motion, and man, as a microcosmic component of this world, can achieve release only by adapting his ethics and deeds to its cosmic rhythm. Art is construed as one of the means to do so. Two paths have traditionally been followed in this regard. One is to adapt expression to the cosmos, understood as an “expanding Whole”; the other is to reduce it to “a synthetic oneness-cum-void”. The first path, that of India and Southeast Asia, involves the translation of cosmic experience into a multiplicity of gods and symbols, and the second, that of Japanese Zen Buddhism and other similar Chinese and Korean traditions, involves its translation in a minimalist manner.

Peter Dittmar’s spiritual leanings took him to practice ZEN Buddhism with its source in Japan, but it is in Bali – with its abundance of symbols – that he eventually settled, to pursue, in a Zen inspired way, his quest for Oneness-cum-Void.

Two main series of artworks mark two distinct stages, each in different visual language, of this same Zen-like quest. For sixteen years, Dittmar has produced calligraphic paintings, epitomized by a strong, swift thrust of the brush that withers into a tail. Capturing the abstract essence of the synthetic line that has long characterized Far Eastern calligraphy and painting, they aim to visualize cosmic motion in its expanding and shrinking phases.

Was it because he felt he had said all he had to say in this mode, or for some other reason? The fact is that Peter Dittmar’s new works look totally different from their calligraphic predecessors. In his most recent series, spontaneous expression has been replaced by regularity and control; scarcity of color by an exploration of tone. As if the artist had decided to explore an altogether different kind of abstraction. Yet, a closer look reveals continuity: the artist’s new works are part of the same general endeavor as his old ones, but they arrive at a different phase of the quest, corresponding to a slightly different philosophical purpose. He still aims to evoke concentration and synthesis, but now achieves this through the stillness of carefully tonal graduated colours, enclosed in regular geometric squares, instead of through the “thrust and stop” energy that characterized the calligraphic line in his previous works. This stylistic shift corresponds to a new philosophical accent. Whereas his previous calligraphic works symbolized the cosmic energetic process as it surges and then comes to rest, his current abstract geometric paintings symbolize the encounter of the beholder with the absolute stillness of the Void. In other words, the two successive styles can be construed in terms of the dichotomies of Motion and Stillness, Expansion and Shrinkage, Multiplicity and Oneness, Essence and Void at the root of Hindu-Buddhist thought.

Apart from Stillness and Void, the artist’s squares, which he calls “COLOUR WINDOWS” also consciously, evoke Hindu-Buddhist cosmological symbols. Hung individually, with their central points, or in groups of four, they conjure up the notion of the Mandala. As diptychs, they call to mind the idea of cosmic dualism and complementarity of opposites, and as triptychs, the same idea with its middle intermediary point included. In all these works, the viewer is led to the central focal point through a very cultured application of geometric proportions (Peter Dittmar says he following the “Golden Section”, also known as “Divine Proportions”) combined with a sophisticated play of tonal coloration that takes us ever deeper into the ultimate Stillness/Void. That is the whole point of these works – which can be best understood as vehicles for meditation.

The simplicity Peter Dittmar achieves here is more complex than it appears. It sums up – and hides – an encyclopedic accumulation of knowledge and spiritual endeavor that places the artist in league, as their student, with not only the great abstract painters mentioned above, but also Schopenhauer, the Bauhaus theoreticians, Zen Buddhist masters, Hindu-Buddhist cosmologists, and many others. His simplicity is an achieved form of learning and meditation.

Peter Dittmar, a respected artist in his country of origin, Germany, and in Australia as well as in Bali, where he spends half of his time since 1982, shows us that abstraction is indeed alive and well. Nourished by the sources of both Eastern cosmic philosophy and Western knowledge, he enables one to forget both form and colour as we behold, giving us the chance blending ourselves into the Void and Stillness of the cosmic OM.

Jean Couteau , Bali

Colour Window No IV DD L1 XXIV
Mixed media with acrylic on teak-board
203 x 203 cm
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