The break-up of Yugoslavia was followed by a series of brutal wars causing thousands of killed, millions of refugees, destroyed regions. The war was perceived as a shock in the Western Europe. Nobody really expected that a war of such magnitude could happen again in the middle of Europe. Cologne-based artist Hanno Otten was also quite shocked faced with the consequences of this war, and Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s changed his worldview fundamentally. Since the 1990s, he began to explore the subject of war on artistic level. And he began to wonder: What is war? How does war come about? What is war about? Exploring the subject in intense detail, Otten developed a new cycle of works, part of which will be exhibited for the first time in public at Priska Pasquer Gallery in Cologne. Be sure not to miss Hanno Otten exhibition !
Hanno Otten is renowned above all for his work with color. For some years, however, the Cologne-based artist has become increasingly interested in war as a theme. His work is derived from plumbing the depths of his theme for years on end. He has explored color for many years, taking an almost scientifically systematic approach. Another important theme in his art is war. The first photo-text piece was completed back in 1993, followed by the video Beirut five years later. However, it was to take some further years until Otten found what he felt to be an adequate form for presenting his subject: the battle pictures measuring 2.30 x 7 meters in landscape format. Trying to understand war, Otten revisited the scenes of the First and Second World Wars. He delved into artistic works on the subject such as historical paintings, war novels, operas and war films, but also into specialist literature on military history and research into violence. And then he began to approach the subject with his own artistic means. The photo-text piece Die Schlacht was created in 1993, based on an article by German newspaper correspondent Monika Borgmann. Filmed in 1998, the Beirut video alludes to the ritual and stigmatizing cutting of hair, a widespread practice in times of war (of course, themes related to war has inspired a number of contemporary artists. We recently wrote about Banksy’s interventions in Calais and Ai Weiwei’s intervention in regard with the refugee crisis).
Several years later, Hanno Otten finally knew how he would approach the subject: It must simply be painted. There has to be a physical conflict. We have certain thought structures that we always repeat, even when examining war. But I want to get away from the representational documentary depiction and move towards a non-conceptual, physical approach. Hanno Otten developed the various picture structures for the battle pictures, opting for a wide landscape format in homage to the classic genre. However, the size of the pictures ended up presenting a particular challenge for him: they should be large and powerful – but without overwhelming the audience. He experimented until he found a suitable format “at eye level” – 2.30 × 7 meters. He completed the first battle pictures in 2006. The three battle pictures in the exhibition were created in 2007, 2014 and 2015. The works themselves could not be more different: one is in bright colors with cross-running stripes, another sober and unreserved with a pattern on colorless ground canvas, the third entirely in black and white with gentle, deliquescent structures. All pictures have several levels. They can be observed from a distance, but also right up close – you can walk past them or head straight towards them and out again. They are battle pictures of the 21st century.
Hanno Otten has developed truly unique artistic approach towards war as an art subject matter. His pictures challenge their audience. They tell them no story, provide them with no explanation, but open their eyes instead. As Otten said: I don’t declare war and I don’t say how it should be seen either. So, it’s up to viewer to contemplate and enjoy these beautiful artworks. The exhibition of Hanno Otten Die Schlacht will be on view from April 15 until June 18, 2016 at Priska Pasquer Gallery in Cologne, Germany. The vernissage is scheduled for April 14.
Featured Imagee: Hanno Otten – Schlacht 1, 2006, 230 x 700 cm, oil, gesso, spray on canvas. All Images courtesy of Priska Pasquer Gallery