Art Live Review No. 7, 1985

Glasgow Print Studio Gallery

Malte Sartorius

The work of Malte Sartorius (b. 1933), who is Professor at the College of Arts, Braunschweig, Germany, distinguishes itself by a total commitment to realism, and this realism he projects with delicacy and detailed accuracy. He is currently exhibitor at the Glasgow Print Studio Gallery, courtesy of the Goethe Institute.

His show, a collection of drawings and etching, remind one sharply of the degree of transformation possible when everyday objects, such as kitchen utensils and garden tools, are illustrated with superb artistry and expertise, mathematical draughtsmanship, and the resultant combination of object and medium transcribed on paper, within a rectangular shape, with dedicated, painstaking effort. Linger, for a moment if you will, - in Garden in La Lloma - a superb drawing in which spade and spirit level alike positively shimmer in the hot, heady sun. No mean feat, as one of Sartorius's ambitions is to achieve and convey the appropriate atmosphere within a monochrome vehicle!

In a straighforward and unpretentious manner the artist records his life-style, sketches and etches a diary for our perusal. Page after page of minutely recorded scenes we can view or 'turn over' at our leisure. Three landscapes, namely San Vincente I, San Vincente II and Behind Alicante, show signs of urbanisation. Telegraph poles, garages with up-and-over doors, skyscraper blocks, and motor car, these phenomena are blended succinctly and successfully with dried, baked vegetation and quiet, mid-day shadows to bring a clear, accurate and precise up-to-date image of Southern Spain, an image without raucous or obvious signs of Twentieth Century intrusion.

Etchings of tangled, tortuous vegetation, compositions of weeds in wasteground, as in Slope I and II, I personally found uninteresting, much preferring the intricate, spidery effect related in Chairs - wherein one can see the effect of the linking of light, shadow, and shade. The cane reeds of which the chairs are composed appear almost part of the natural terrain, so accurately are they depicted. Every reed is there, accounted for, straight, slim as stalks of dried glasses, clutching the cool shadow thrown graciously by the stone wall of the pavement cafe. But two chairs, unfortunately out of the calm shade afforded the others, are twisted into magic imagery by sharp strokes of searing sunlight. Compensation, perhaps, for being thus sun-burned?

Cool and concise is the etched Still Life Javea I - the story of three containers, clear, glass, Nescafe-like, made human and happy by a camouflage of silver foil and an implant of flowers and ferns, and arranged horizontally in an alcove within a bare, sun-drenched crumbling plaster wall. A compliment is paid by Still Life Javea II wherein the floral arrangement is formal, the container cut crystal, and the top half of the etching in sombre shadow. Bouncing, bright light beams, bland mellow tones, studies of another (or perhaps the same) old bare plaster wall with a jug of flowers in a niche - for all this, together, beautifully, see Still Life Altea.

Fruit, now, frozen into memorable images, highlighted and made warm by electric shafts of light, chiselled into exact shapes and sizes, and caressed by tones - grey tones, grey shadows, black backgrounds, dark, sombre shades - all displayed on cool, dark surfaces, a group summarised by Paprika and Aubergine, hot, spicy peppers on cold, grey mysterious slabs. But for light, lovely lemon tones, view Still Life with Quinces, my favourite etching which contains the only touch of colour within the collection. A superb realist portrayal of a simple subject! Continuing this theme are the geometric angles, uncompromising shapes and stark outlines of Sunflowers I and II - in these studies the flowers, dappled by the sunshine, wear rather unreal, enlarged proportions bravely, shadowed and sheltered all the while by the rocky, rugged background. Table with Pomegranates - stark, clean shapes once more, reminding one of Picasso's Still Life - Water Melon.

Horizontal arrangements of humble kitchen utensils - such objects as cup and saucer, mug, knives and forks, plates, cunningly-shaped containers, glasses and wine-bottles - are sometimes treated to stroke upon stroke of sunlight against darkened ground, and sometimes brushed by the same bristles of light which pierce the rectangular compositions. Within Still Life - Kitchen, I, II, and III, these items, portrayed after use, become rather more than mere cupboard clutter: they are a precise record of a part of a lifestyle, depicted with crystal clarity and perfect precision.

Study Studio LIV, Studio L III and Studio M II - congested corners containing the artist's brushes, wood blocks, bowls, bottles, oil cloths, dishes, matches, scissors, pen, pencil, paper, magnifying glass - and see the objects, when objectively observed by Sartorius's all-seeing eye, become uniquely transformed into utensils of unforgettable usefulness. Occasionally, Sartorius's etchings reflect rigid Nineteenth Century cross-hatching techniques. Nevertheless, he has shown, especially within this group, what is possible when things which normally receive scant attention in this century are subjected to the artist's searching stare and the vision uncritically recorded. Those things become transformed, and open one up to a sense of awareness of the world as it really is. Wonderful.

Anne Grant