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 Andreas Nottebohm  (1944 - )

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Lived/Active: California / Germany      Known for: flat metal sculpture, aerospace, abstract

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Andreas Nottebohm
An example of work by Andreas Nottebohm
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:



The following article was submitted by the artist March 2006:

The Pure Metal Paintings of Andreas Nottebohm

The death of traditional painting gets perennially exaggerated. But as it has proved time and time again, painting has more lives than a shut-in's runaway litter of freeway darting felines.

Even as nowadays, many conceptually-oriented contemporary painters are becoming more apt to paint with pixels rather than with traditional oils or acrylics, there is that occasional eccentric who manages to put a new and unabashedly low-tech spin or two on this messy indestructible medium as we delve deeper into the Digital Age.  One such figure is German-born Bay Area-based Andreas Nottebohm whose recalcitrant, industrial-chic paintings on raw aluminum (and occasionally copper) hover evocatively halfway between painting and sculpture - resurrecting mid-60s fascination with "object-hood" even as they obliterate the minimalist's obsession with order by cultivating the potential profundity of randomness.  If these robust, shimmering, objects don't exactly bring to mind those new-fangled gimmicky designer canvases that churn colorfully inside glowing LED monitors today, they nonetheless eschew easy pigeonholing and blithe classification, preferring instead to exist in a state of baroque, genre-blurring flux, wryly morphing into something dazzlingly new in effects that depend on how light strikes their reflective metallic surfaces.  Here, we need to realize that Nottebohm's brush is, in fact, a power sander-grinder that operates in a similar manner to a sculptor's chisel. So it comes as little surprise that the resulting scraped, scratched, scumbled and pocked surfaces give rise to crater-like light traps. Fortunately, what emerges from this corrosive process usually rubs viewers the right way.

Whereas geocentric Renaissance painters, with their minds and feet planted firmly on the ground under Newton's apple tree, viewed their paintings as 'windows onto the world', Nottebohm refers to his paintings as 'windows into the Universe'. Unlike a 'timeless' Renaissance painting depicting, say, a Madonna and Child in which the figures remain frozen in time, bound together in the familiar pyramidal composition - that most stable of shapes -- Nottebohm's universe marks the passage of time as the viewer's shifting vantage point plays a pivotal role in bringing his paintings to life. Indeed, the constituent -elements - here remain paradoxically, in flux and while some of his paintings appear at first glance to ostensibly border on the non-objective anchored to nothing, on further perusal allusions --or illusions-- to art history and nature abound: Leonardo-esque sfumato (smoky mist), German Romanticist seascapes, Zen-flavored abstract expressionism offshoots, for a start.

Before the direct use of color began leeching out of his paintings a few years ago, Nottebohm's work was a phantasmagoric cornucopia whose colorful, light-soaked landscapes combined the terrestrial and the celestial - to boldly go where no painting has gone before, as it were: Luminous abstractions chock-full of black holes, worm holes, celestial orbs that doubled as an atom's nucleus, gravity, and myriad Electro-magnetic radiation. One might expect to behold ribboned Aurora Borealis-es shooting up from craggy, primordial rock formations stretching across the horizon. Their incessant, bilateral symmetry, meanwhile, bring to mind trippy, acid-soaked George O'Keefes. In rendering the invisible visible, the artist seems to be saying that 'reality' - that most slippery of terms -- is more magical and fantastic than we can possibly imagine. Perhaps this is why the artist considers himself a 'realist' painter rather than a simply an adroit creator of fantasyscapes or purveyor of psychedelic science fiction.

A recent piece like the large buff silvery gray painting [Nottebohm prefers to leave his paintings untitled, playful quasi-scientific designations - KN-1686 or OP30 - sound like outtakes from the Elemental Table - designation 0P30 -] would fare equally well inside a dilapidated bomb-shelter or corporate lobby. While it might not rock the boats of most corporate movers and shakers, it's smoke-ring sfumato, moody tenebrism, and broad circular swaths coalesce to suggest waves or some other natural tempest ala Turner's 1843 Morning after the Deluge, and contribute to a decidedly neo-romantic aura. The aluminum 'canvas' calligraphic abstract field of marks and scratches, in turn, also locates it within the abstract expressionist realm. Another recent large painting (48"x48") with its wriggling flurry of lines receding into the distance, is embedded with wiry rivers of molten light whose abstract rivulets of energy make it look as if the artist has laid bare an unending bio-electric circulatory system. This is a particularly good example of how the artist deftly conflates the subatomic, terrestrial and cosmic scales.

Needless to say, Nottebohm's art hovers at the interface of art and science on a number of fronts: The ghostly vapor trails and Zen-like wisps that dance across the buff surface of becoming and vanishing bring to mind elusive subatomic particles inside Donald Glaser's bubble chamber. It's little wonder that his art has received raves from the likes of people such as legendary science/fiction author Ray Bradbury (noted physicist Stephen Hawking owns a piece) For the past two decades, Nottebohm has literally been NASA's poster child periodically called upon to document events. If some of the NASA poster commissions occasionally sputter operatically over the top, the best (i.e. more restrained) posters conjure up the sublime canvases of 19th century American landscape painter Frederick Edwin Church.

As compelling as Nottebohm's abstract energy fields can be when seen under natural (or artificial) illumination, the real magic takes place when the lights go down. Here, these monumental paintings' fundamentally flat surfaces assume an added dimension as they morph into 3-D hologram blues that seems to hover tantalizingly just beneath the surface (akin to those glittering vodka ads in one might find in, say, TIME Magazine). I've long felt the holographic paintings would be a next step in the evolution of traditional painting. Perhaps Nottebohm will be seen as a pioneer in a field that has just begun to be mined. (Not surprisingly, light is the critical element that brings holograms to life. Viewed in a dark room with changing lighting, where icy blues give way to smoldering reds, the metallic tabula rasa generate something akin to a trippy video installation. The effect can be quite mesmerizing.

As always, the hallmark any work of art is to successfully withstand the test of time. With its taut melding of visual ('retinal' in Duchamp's reductive terms) and conceptual components, there's a lot more here than first meets the eye. Indeed, Nottebohm's raw yet refined paintings on aluminum lend themselves to rich multi-layered metaphors seemingly capable of continual regeneration that give viewers something very complex to look at and think about over time. And in doing so, Nottebohm has made an admirable contribution to help painting elude the grim reaper yet again. - Harry Roche

Harry Roche is a Bay Area Based Art Critic and Curator at Large.



This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"The fantastic quality of the Universe and the absurdity of our existence fascinates me. My paintings are the expression of this fascination . . . an expression of my thoughts. They are my own windows into the Universe. Windows which I can call into existence, images that are entirely mine. When they develop before my very eyes, and later when signed and hanging on the wall, I am more surprised than anyone." -Andreas Nottebohm

The work of Andreas Nottebohm is difficult to classify. The artist has given up the use of pigment, and yet achieves a sense of color in his pure metal 'paintings'. His images are perceived when light plays upon the surface of the works, creating a shifting dancing impression. Working from a studio in Marin County, California, he creates what might be called sculptures on a flat plane. By removing microscopic layers from the metal surface, he transforms the material into patterns of shimmering light.

Born in Eisenach, Germany in 1944, Nottebohm studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich with surrealist Mac Zimmerman from 1965 to 1969. In 1968 he studied etching at J. Friedlander's workshop in Paris and lithography in Salzberg from 1971 to 1974. In the 1970s, the artist spent time with many scientists in Germany, where he was one of the co-founders of the Society for Art and Science in Munich.

In 1981 he moved to San Rafael, California, where he still resides. Around the time he relocated to the United States he was invited to participate in the NASA Art Program and visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when Voyager 2 sent back images from its closest encounter with Saturn in August, 1981. Nottebohm later witnessed four shuttle launches, which he calls ''the most fantastic things I've ever seen.".

NASA chose him to create a series of works representing the fusion of technology and human aspiration that was the ideal of the American space program. He was also asked to create a painting commemorating Haley's Comet, a work that was to be featured at the National Air and Space Museum, and a reproduction of that painting was included in the November 1985 issue of "Smithsonian Magazine". In 1987 the Kennedy Space Center celebrated its 25th anniversary, using a Nottebohm painting on the cover of the invitation, poster, and program.

The unusual shimmering quality of Nottebohm's work comes from the aluminum surfaces he scores using a variety of manual and machine tools. "Aluminum can create light and movement that you cannot create with anything else," he says. "You know how the sun reflects on the water, and the reflections of the sun on the water always go with you? That's kind of the same effect; the lights that reflect on the aluminum, they move in front of your eyes, so you see one painting from one side and another painting from another side."

Before the artist begins painting, he readies the aluminum surface by burnishing patterns into it with a disk sander. The sander makes a lot of noise, though, which the artist insulates himself from with a healthy dose of music, via earphones. "People send me all kinds of space music, of course," Nottebohm says, but the artist's tastes are eclectic. Maybe they have to be; he listens to music nearly 23 hours a day. "I listen to a lot of classical music, but it changes. You know, one day I like to get up in the studio and I want to hear some country and western music for a few hours. And then I listen to Pink Floyd for a few hours or Dire Straits, and then I go back to classical again or listen to the radio. Music is a big part of my life."

Nottebohm's work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., the NASA Art Collection, and numerous private collections around the world.


Credit for the above information, submitted May 2004, is given to Golden Gate Gallery, Larkspur, California; to the website of Weinstein Gallery; as well as to publications by the artist.


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