"Frozen Heat", 2007
Oil and smoke on canvas
27.56 x 39.37 in / framed 33.46 x 45.28 in
Signed, dated and titled verso
" "Frozen Heat" 2007 Piene"
- with handmade craftsman's frame -
Über das Werk
During his most recent visit to Germany, Otto Piene remarked that he felt as deep an affinity towards his adopted American homeland as he did to his Westphalian roots. Born in Bad Laasphe in 1928, and raised in the small Westphalian town of Lübbecke, the artist emigrated to the USA in 1967, after assuming the post of visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. Otto Piene died in July 2014 in Berlin. The experiences gained during the NS regime and WWII, which he survived as a young anti-aircraft auxiliary, were to form the foundations for Piene's utterly unique approach to art. Rejecting the NS art propaganda of the previous decades, he attended university, initially in Munich from 1949 bis 1953, then later at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, before graduating in philosophy from the University of Cologne. In the ensuing years, he distanced himself from the nascent Informel movement in Germany by launching the artists' group ZERO in 1958, together with Heinz Mack. Otto Piene perceives his creative output as an exploration of the natural elements fire, air and light, the latter abounding in multilayered symbolism. Inspiring his artistic pre-occupation with light were, among other things, his quite individual experiences during WWII, which, for example, included the imposition of a blackout on private dwellings at night-time in order to avoid presenting enemy air attacks with a visible target. At the same time, the destructive force of artillery fire and the fire balls generated by the exploding bombs were among his horrific daily experiences. Thus from this perspective, the fire images could also be read as studies in survival. Despite this, the natural elements of fire, air and light also facilitate human existence. And as destructive as the sun's energy is, it is also the source of life on our planet. By exposing his canvases to fire and bringing his "paintings to boiling point", as Piene himself describes this process, the artist is placing himself and his work totally at the arbitrary mercy of this all-consuming element - and consequently, losing complete control and direct influence on what materialises on the canvas. In the work "Frozen Heat" the yellow paint at the centre of the canvas is virtually obliterated by the scorch marks. Yellow as the colour of the sun, of heat and also of the human spirit is replaced and even reinforced by real fire and real heat. The black smoke symbolising this statement, forms a stark contrast to the white ground.