A frenzy of color with a pop of buds: Shannon Finley's "Aftermathematics"
In the Mies-van-der-Rohe-Haus in Hohenschönhausen, the Canadian-born Berliner rubs shoulders with the Bauhaus aesthetics in brightly colored geometries and crystalline forms.
By Ingeborg Ruthe
It is as if a firework of colors had entered the previously mostly wet April gray, outside, into the slow greening of the garden on the Obersee, and inside, into the former living quarters of the Lemke house. The Bauhaus bungalow has been a municipal museum since 1990.
The painter Shannon Finley, who has been working in Berlin, in nearby Weißensee, since 2014, comes from Ontario. With an almost embarrassed smile, he stands in front of his brightly colored canvases. He feels the enthusiasm, the good mood that his painting creates in the people who have driven far to the north-eastern outskirts of the city, to the Mies van der Rohe house in Hohenschönhausen, to see the pictures and through the landscaped garden go where the buds are finally popping.
Finley called his sequence of images on the walls of the light brick building from 1933, the last private residence that the Bauhaus master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had created for the publisher couple Lemke before emigrating from Nazi Germany to the USA, “Aftermathematics”. And indeed: In the face of such sensually intoxicating additions and subtractions, many a math muffle could probably be converted.
One would like to call this sensual color energy geometrically abstract, as in Malevich or Mondrian, prismatic as in Feininger, crystalline as in the pictorial world of the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner. And sometimes it is Orphism, as in the paintings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. The constructivist avant-garde of the early 20th century comes to mind, as does the later op art of Imi Knoebel and Peter Halley. And immediately afterwards you think you can see the pixels of older computer games.
Shannon Finley's paintings do not fit into any style category
But all this is neither a systematic mix of “ism” nor a formal reference to geometric, minimalist Bauhaus architecture. Finley's paintings do not fit into any style category. In these images, the energetic tension is as technoid as it is emotional. We look at these panels for minutes – at the intense shapes, the almost metallic-looking acrylic paint surfaces – and realize that Finley is not interested in paying homage to great role models. Rather, it is his very own cosmos of seeing and feeling, of reflection, of ultimately handmade expression. For that, he says, he doesn't need AI.
When the schoolboy, who was born in a small town in the Canadian province of Ontario in 1974, began to paint, he said he was frankly unaware of all the avant-gardists just mentioned. That came much later, while studying at Cooper Union in New York and at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. For years he dealt with fantasy painting and web art. And then it was the basic elements of geometry that had fascinated all the greats of modernism and inspired them to experiment, which also interested him.
The rooms of the simple Mies-Bungalow with their window fronts facing the garden seem made for Finley's pictures. Like the Bauhaus stylists, he is not interested in exalted gestures or overwhelming visual impact. Rather the simple things that are so difficult to do. The exhibition house, which is famous among architectural historians, is not a Bauhaus fetish for him either. Rather, his colored circles, semicircles, cones, squares, triangles, rhombuses, rhombuses, spirals, splintered tips and relief-like lines can freely communicate with each other, dance, radiate, intertwine.
Finley is not looking for a painter's commentary on "pure doctrine". He boldly combines his internalized digital visual experiences with analogue forms. As if information were superimposed, erased ones translated instantly by new ones, but deep beneath, on the hard drive, stored forever. These are works of art that often take him months to complete. They are created in many layers, so that the transparency – the in-between – is a sub-theme, so to speak, in every picture. He leaves the content of his works open in order to leave them to the thoughts and feelings of the viewer.
Shannon Finley's works are visual events
His pictures fit perfectly into this year's exhibition series at the Mies van der Rohe House "Between Use and Contemplation". Finley's works are pictorial events because they set the whole range of imagination, thoughts and emotions of the viewer in motion, yes, they make them sound. They do it in a stirring manner or, if the colors are more broken, in a meditative manner. You don't need a brush. This reveals to the amazed audience at the vernissage of the Berlin art historian Sebastian Preuss. He studied Finley's work intensively and observed how the painter created these shimmering metallic forms.
The Canadian has developed a sophisticated masking technique for himself. Using a spatula, he draws the acrylic paint over the resulting geometric areas on the canvas. Again and again. In the forms one discovers air bubbles, the finest hairline cracks, crumbly, gritty structures, as if it were not quite perfect skin. Everything seems to live, to breathe, to move, to interlace: thought processes, emotional states as a continuous entanglement and abstraction. Never fixed, always flowing. Or in limbo.
The lively Finley cosmos does not want to be an appearance that is exhausted in the aesthetic, in the ornamental, does not seek the effect of visual power. The painter works masterfully with the light. It doesn't matter whether the sun falls on the pictures or the sky is gray or even darkened by thunderstorms - the abstraction games take place regardless. Without beginning. Without end. Finley's mathematical aesthetics of painting is that of the approximate, the indefinite. How appealing that there are still such unsolved mysteries in the supreme discipline that has so often been declared dead.
* translated from German