There is a cold, hard edge to Dieter Mammel's watercolor and ink wash paintings in his Blue, Green, Magenta Series. Reminiscent of Gerhard Richter's "unpaintings" with a nod to Morris Louis and Degas, Dieter Mammel's work is both semi-photographic and painterly, with a strangely removed indifference to his subjects that is somehow and simultaneously touchingly familiar, stressed by the monochrome cold color schemes.
Most of Mr. Mammel's work shows a child in some situation or other. In Diver, Dieter shows us a boy with a snorkel and goggles that looks as if he's asleep, yet underwater due to the greenish hue of the painting. You don't know whether he's asleep, drowned, or whether just a flash of a camera made him narrow his eyes. The viewer is not quite sure what to interpret. Sleep can feel like a nitrogen narcosis, what deep-sea divers refer to as a "rapture of the deep". Beach Boy has a boy (the same boy?) playing in the sand on the beach. In Ava, it's not clear what this little girl is doing or where she is. Her right hand is near her mouth. The left hand is an amorphous blob at the bottom of the painting. If she's holding something in her left hand or grabbing at something, you don't know what it is.
Several paintings depict adults in situations with similar absence of context. In Blue Note 2 a man is drawing on a surface (a chalk-board?). If he's writing something, you don't know what it is he's writing, and so, don't know what the man is trying to communicate. You know only what Mr. Mammel decides to show you. There's a man (skiing?) in Helvetia but the artist has chosen to put a large "+" sign over the man's behind -- the significance of which is completely lost without more information.
Mammel's technique borrows somewhat visually from Gerhard Richter's "unpaintings" where cold, removed, snapshot-like paintings are "destroyed" by smearing the paint while it's still wet, except Mammel instead uses heavily watered-down pigment to stain the painting surface. Conceptually, the effect is much like trying to paint a detailed scene with only a wet-on-wet watercolor process, but the lack of detail is created mostly by the technique and effect of staining. There's an inference here of detail, therefore, similar to Asian ink-drawings. The artist shows a keen sense of which wet-on-wet process will produce what kind of surface effect. It's this process that helps him decide what to show and what to hide -- or isolate. Richter's purpose was to "destroy" the image, but Mammel is only building it up, choosing not to show everything by stopping with the underpainting.
Mammel's composition relies strongly on a snapshot quality that, together with the cold-color choices with little real whites, stressed by the unprimed canvas that they are painted on, strongly suggest The Smiths' album covers designed by Morrisey and subsequent videos filmed by the late filmmaker Derek Jarman, in which people and situations are emotionally framed. The result is a window into personal introspection and isolation even while in the midst of a group. This is a "magnifying glass into the soul" approach to the figure in contemporary settings: A bath, at a chalkboard, asleep, on the beach, where we don't and can't really know the context, but can infer through our own experience. We either have been there, or we haven't. If we have, we think we know what is going through the mind of the figure in the painting -- but we don't, really, made painfully obvious by the lack of further clues than what the artist has chosen to give us.
Executive Producer of ArtScope Magazine Chicago