In Florian Pelka’s painting, immediately clear, figurative elements merge with diffuse abstract parts. These elements veil space and perspective, regulate the modulation of light, construct
connections or even lop alleged contextual references that seem to communicate with each other. From these develop staggered, roaming, layered and sprawling areas representing steam, clouds, earth and water and that simultaneously and urgently connote a game with the fascinating coloristic opportunities that open during the painting process. Ornamental inserts in the form of arabesques, segments from circles and curves -which could take the form of a banister or barricade- occasionally intervene into the composition. These geometric, decorative forms creep into implied definitions of a clear space and add dynamism to the areas they run through – similar to what we know from Renaissance ornamentalism- then delineate boundaries and capture a complex system of surfaces. They also assign a position to the viewer, who is excluded by such barriers, and his expectations of meaning. Here, their exact arrangement and bright, even too bright colors stand in contrast to their primarily flowing structure. Bands of color portraying
inexplicable material properties – are they metallic or soft as silk? – play their game with virtual spatial composition and viewer illusion; tumescently flowing into the image’s fore- and background with enigmatic, mysterious clarity of purpose.
Similar to how one may like to construct references to applied art, architecture and product design via serially utilized ornaments, the analogy of the motifs Pelka imbeds in the painting – which confront us at every turn with the universe of signs, signals and icons – becomes obvious; all these pictograms that regulate every area of life. Stylized images are represented instead of lettered script. Beyond language barriers – because they depend on international understanding and save space – these images ease the orientation in street traffic as they do on the computer screen. As a contemporary hieroglyphic, they are concerned with the fantasy of poster designers or even packaging graphics whose specific signs symbolize much more than just “up,” “down,” “keep upright” or “keep dry,” as they stand for a continuing process of global communication. Recognizable logos from more than a billion registered trademarks in Germany alone promise quality upon purchase and strengthen consumer belief in acquiring their valuable goods and services. Memorable visuals and the continual use of symbols on packaging, in display windows or on business cards allow the difference between no-name products and have existed since the time of Augsburg traders Fugger and Welser, but especially since the 19th century, when what was important was “to tame anonymous masses of buyers”1, characteristic for the corporate identity of the corporations they represented.
Cubism, Dadaism and later Pop Art and Nouveau Realisme concerned themselves, in various ways, with advertising´s visual tactics of, as well as with the ubiquitous trivial information carriers in a sphere glutted with appealing messages. While they integrate their symbols as objet trouvé, Pelka confronts them in a painterly way, in that he sees them as a point of departure and places them within an environment that hardly represents its essence. Because their assorted components coalesce into each other and transform themselves into a completely new and different kind of statement, they lose their original functional meaning as part of a complex visual message. The allusions integrated into the painting may immediately speak to the viewer’s interest, since his memory re-recognizes what is familiar and may interpret it in the context organized by the artist. The symbolic character is lost – at least partially – and the symbolism concentrates on the total iconographic arrangement. Certain repeating and varying motifs that Pelka adds to the painting’s arrangement want to be understood as allegories anchored in the collective consciousness, the image’s construction determined by color and gesture. There is, for example, the rigidly smiling, masklike face of a pizza baker who offers us his product; the empty bench or canvas camping chair from which one could look into a dream landscape. Or one encounters variations thereof, which – deserted – exist in the foreground of a nocturnal garden scenario, which seems to report of an
interrupted party. The lanterns still move deceptively in the
wind, but the partygoers have already turned their backs on the
location and have left an oppressive situation behind. The
harmonious tends to decline into the eerie in a nonverbal way – a stylistic means employed by the Romantics and Surrealists is interpreted in the language of our time.
Quotidian subjects like supermarket shopping carts are a recurring theme; their patterns painted as filigree silhouettes over a shelf full of chocolate-covered round spongecakes, between the display of a store or, just as an abstract signal, centrally in the middle of a small-format work set in front of an abstract wall surface. A tent and pine trees that move with a warm wind, added palms on the Caribbean reefs like we know from travel brochures are deemed worthy by Pelka; as are auto scooters, whose representation automatically awakens not only dreams and nostalgic memories, but also connects to the image of fun fairs or amusement parks; places of pleasure, exuberance and consumption. All of these objects appear schematic, emblematically fixed, as if they were frozen. The illustration of details is ignored, human images appear simply incidentally, as if stenciled; or their presence is suggested through abandoned objects and the insertion of classical architectural elements. “In the anonymous blueprint of my motifs,” writes Pelka, “is also an ethereal atmosphere of the absent. The human image is only shown through its placeholder.” 2 Its ostensible real appearance as a clown is therefore made relative in that it presents itself with all its typical accessories. Its artificial gesture and pose on a pedestal, however, reveals it to be a toy figure. Model figures and illustrations serve as templates for the few human forms that Pelka utilizes in his painterly discourse. Knights and a melancholy rider – retrospective vestiges of the visual repertoire of the heroic epic and 19th-century painting – are immediately positioned next to a modern screen in which a horse’s head appears. These vestigial elements are thereby set into a surprising context. Memory, fiction and undisguised fabrication -specific characteristics of contemporary painting – condition these paintings as much as the ironic echoes of historical artistic styles. Composition and technique accentuating the material’s sensual components surpass the episode’s implied fragmentary elements. Abbreviations that sequentially flow into the image, and radically interrupted narrative threads that comment on a neosurrealist strategy are hallmarks of Pelka’s samplings.
Only the method of the painterly discourse transmits the illusion of oscillating movement that determines the essence of all of the works. From the vaguely defined and still texturally dense layers, these interference-ridden forcefields imply that they were placed in continual flux; the objects elevate themselves from Pelka’s storehouse of motifs without actively pushing themselves or their contextual weight into the foreground. The exceptions are represented, at best the clearly accentuated renderings of some specific animals that Pelka implants into his cosmos. Apes and swans, and recently horses, have been some of the most popular ritualistic and profane motifs. The iconographic interpretation of the primates – often appearing with manlike features, even beyond literary references, and still sharing a biological class with humans as late as the 18th century3- sees itself as representative of its libidinousness and cunning. But the latter, besides its equally erotic components, embodies light and purity in some myths and religions (although the middle ages demonized it). And in symbolic iconography the horse is often spoken of as a representation of vitality as well as a creature with magical powers. Although these atmospheric depictions invite the viewer to such interpretations, Pelka is especially fascinated by “the ?show talents’ of the swan … its downy, proud appearance, its magnificent illusion … its two faces of possessiveness”: essential characteristics that Pelka combines with the “demimonde of the beautiful illusion” of a carnival and the “abstraction of pictograms.”4 In his creations, the animals take the place of an additional, essential cipher that is also a “counterpoint of a medially represented world”5. The integration of animal motifs delivers visual material; they send an appeal for imagination to the viewer, as certain original rock formations and surreal growths simultaneously fulfill formal functions as building blocks of an individual pictorial grammar.
A puzzling vocabulary in an interplay with narrative elements held together by the maelstrom of color make these engineered paintings -in all their practical detail – into fictional stages of melancholy-romantic events whose atmosphere plumbs awareness and assumes the emotional readiness to add another something in a mute dialogue activated by the painting. “Images are not a world language, but a language in the world. As modest, independent linguistic elements they are more like poems, but connected in many societal and artistic contexts. With this, an image has neither the function of affirmation nor of negation. Rather, it represents, in its core, a relativity without end.”6