Chris Ashley
Richard Schur's Paintings: Stacked, Packed, and Whacked



Wobbly colored blocks; bleeding edges; overlapping sheets of brilliant acrylic; barely aligned grids; out-of-square rectangles divided and abutted to create a mosaic of spaces: German artist Richard Schur's recent paintings are intense abstractions packed with quirky tensions and odd pleasures, a range of associations, and honest nods to history.

The stretcher's edges are practically the only right angles in these paintings. Although Schur uses tape to draw rectangular areas in each painting there are no straight and crisp lines; he tapes by eye, free-hand, and the paint bleeds and fuzzes out beneath the taped edges. Schur uses a normally precise tool to craft handmade objects, which gives the paintings a human scale and texture, and a kind of softness one finds, say, when comparing an adobe building to one of factory-made bricks.

The painting's awkward, misaligned rectangles join and separate into different spaces, places, or bodies: an old sagging building; a wacky carnival, a fractal that has forgotten its inherited pattern, a cancer rapidly running amuck, fluttering prayer flags, or an object that appears alternately distant and close. The densest grids in the most recent paintings form jerky, warped, and pulsing fields. Trace your eyes over these grids: What is pushing on the painting from behind? What unseen force pushes in on the front of the painting? What surrounds the painting, putting pressure on all the shapes inside it, bending or compressing them?

Looking at these paintings I think right away of walls, children's blocks, quilts, and maps. These densely packed rectangles make me think of cut stones tightly stacked in the Great Wall, Machu Picchu, and the Wailing Wall. I think of high stacks of children's colored wood blocks just before collapsing and scattering across the floor. I am reminded of the quilts by the African-American women of Gee's Bend, Alabama, and of Japanese Buddhist Kesa robes which are made from discarded fabric into the brick-like pattern of rice fields as a devotional act. Aerial maps are an easy association, but in my version I am looking down on vast farmlands where the harvest consists of jelly beans, gummi bears, and chocolate bars.

Schur's paintings make me wonder how Piet Mondrian might paint after a drunken afternoon with Shitao. I think of how Concrete artist Richard Lohse might shift his forms and color after a week of doodling in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua surrounded by Giotto's frescoes. Just for fun, I imagine Sol Lewitt borrowing color and space from Indian miniatures, and just to be ridiculous, I think of Barnett Newman's and Andy Warhol's love child attending a Montessori School with Paul Klee reproductions hanging in the cafeteria. Silly, maybe, but the colors, forms, and spaces evoked in these scenarios perhaps get a bit at the wonderful things that Richard Schur's paintings can do.

Chris Ashley
Oakland, California
2004
www.chrisashley.net