BURKHARD SCHITTNY, Fineart
Personal work. Published in July 2002.
c-prints / various sizes (for information check the images)
INTRDODUCTION // Island
Towards new surfaces
The red sports car races past over a track glistening in sunlight, purposeful and surrounded by the green shade of nature. The extreme wide format creates a cinemascope-width panorama and conveys uninhibited speed and freedom. But still, it’s just an apparitional blotch on a blue-white surface bordered by a green expanse.
To present the familiar in new packaging is a tactic of the fashion and advertising industries; to win a new appeal for the familiar is also the challenge of art. The elementary needs and emotions of people aren’t subject to any great change, therefore it’s a bigger challenge to set new goals. Burkhard Schittny juggles with emotions and packaging, with recognition and irritation and finds unfamiliar perspectives on an idiosyncratic path.
He uses the digital medium to conjure up synthetic surfaces. People become color patterns in the screen of their surroundings, architecture is reduced to its basic shapes, and events extract themselves into abstraction. The smooth artificiality of faces and landscapes made anonymous makes unmistakably clear that we are standing in Schittny’s universe, far beyond documentation. His choreographies - seemingly coincidental and pedestrian -- are only quotations of reality, such as when his studies and portraits in the manner of Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon quote art history. Through Schittny’s interpretation and digitalizing, Schiele’s expressive self portraits and Bacon’s despondency transmute into frosty, calculated lifestyle icons of a sterile fascination. It’s discomforting to see the “holiness” of the models profaned to fashion spreads in this manner. At the same time they inevitably raise the question, to what extent was the cult artists’ existential need to express themselves also simply attitude?
The Perfection of Chance
A fashion design student geared towards appearance and impact, Schittny took up photography in 1992: “I get quickly bored when I have the feeling that I’ve understood something. It was like that with fashion.” He retained his feel for fashion’s effect and it refined his photographic sense for firm colors and composition. The relationship of movement and fixed image, of chance and exact arrangement hold his pictures – which tend towards volatility – in a peculiar suspension. How artificial is this world? Is there something behind the surfaces or should we be satisfied with them and only rely on them when we have to consider deeper insights? There’s something transitory in the pictures of public places. They explicitly bring up the short standstill in the course of events, as if there’s a delay for a moment in the gears of time. Their fleetingness shows melancholy that is underlined by the seeming triviality, the motifs, as well as the people. Existence is - completely in the sense of a Max Beckmann (to bring another great artist into the mix) - an uninterrupted passing of one another. No glance, no gesture is captured by the next one. Instead, blunt indifference in the train stations, shopping malls and metro stations; the same artificial light shines worldwide on these globalized, de-personalized everyday locations. At first the synopsis of the various pictures from the series “Island” makes clear the depression and estrangement. Ostensibly the title refers to the location of the photograph, the island England. However, on second glance, Schittny also opens it up to associations of isolation and individuals’ island of being.
Schittny captured the movements of passers-by with a video camera, scanned the daily goings- on and afterwards chose single pictures from the material to work on. The contour areas running in stripes still suggest the origin of the pictures from the moving medium of video – just like the lines that illustrate speed in a comic.
Speeding towards the unknown
In photographs such as motorways the abstraction is driven so far that it can be turned around again in the mind of the viewer. In some turn of the brain, the motif takes on clear contours again and ties itself to familiar things. This provocation of our common way of seeing challenges the viewer. Schittny very deliberately and competently juggles with media and controls the game with conventional perception. Video is manipulated in the photography until it reminds one of painting. The borders of the media and the genre are fluid like the borders of the figures and objects in his pictures. Schittny is permanently on the search, continually pursuing the process of letting go of direct role models, and fighting for new ground, without avoiding a concrete argument with art history. As a curious scout he’s a border crosser plumbing the relationship of invention and imitations, of cause and effect, but trusts that even effects can cause something new.
Dr. Boris von Brauchitsch, 2004
Leaving photography / Burkhard Schittny's photographs appear so real because they are like painting
For the New York Times Magazine, Burkhard Schittny's big breakthrough came two years ago: a fashion section over several pages based on the paintings of Egon Schiele. Schittny used a computer to convert the men in their hip outfits into the fragile youths as portrayed by the painter of the Viennese Secession, the back-grounds in cardboard-coloured canvases, outlining the figures with a fine black line, blurring their contours and almost dissolving their forms. He showed that it is possible to use pixels in fashion photography in a much more imaginative way than just to produce digital cosmetic surgery.
The tension in the relationship between photography and painting is the subject that interests this photographer, who was born in Gütersloh/Germany in 1966. He takes young men and uses Photoshop to lock them in claustrophobic torture chambers à la Francis Bacon, blurs bodies and faces, changes pedestrians into throbbing areas of colour and sets fire to heads. Schittny studied fashion design for three years before switching to photography, and has since completed a MA Fine Art course at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.
His works are both highly polished and mysterious. In his latest project "Island" they have almost completely abandoned the level of photography - and sometimes there are vague recollections of the aesthetics of the photograph-like, realistic paintings of Gerhard Richter.
Schittny skilfully moves along the threshold between objective reality and abstraction and makes the photographs move. Blurred outlines hint at visually pulsating couples and passers-by, landscapes fly past, a woman in a black-and-white shirt changes into a zebra according to the title of the picture, a street scene with a hovering blue object turns into a fata morgana.
Even if the photographs based on Schiele and Bacon fall short of the originals in terms of content, Schittny's new works are original studies of everyday life. The realistic character of photography has been left behind, but in spite of being virtually dissolved they still seem very close to reality.
Sabine Danek, 2002