Dirk Skreber (1961 –

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Dirk Skreber is an artist enamoured with catastrophe. One whose eye is mostly for the chaos caused by a faceless omnipotence; the aftermath of a car crash for example, or, as in ‘Untitled’ (below), a flooded suburb. The German’s style is dense yet intimate, populated with moments of tragedy & wonder. His images often providing kindling to personal rumination on our odd relationship with nature.

‘Untitled’ – 2001 


The punishing length of this piece (300 x 170cm) sludges us in with it from the start. Skreber forces us to count the cost as our eye scours the thick slosh. Noting every wonderfully realised vehicle, every life now ruined as a result of this anonymous spill.

Through its paint fused with tight, subtle layers of tape, a unique thickness and depth is achieved for the grim torrent. Whilst at times small air bubbles creep up off the stratified canvas giving a slightly sickly effect to the brown, the surface is mostly smooth, almost akin to floor tiling in its patterned panelling. By achieving a keen serenity through this repetitive design, Skreber allows the viewer to become quickly acquainted with the true reality of the situation rather than merely wallowing in its shock.

Viewed from above in a voyeuristic, surveillance perspective, the artist presents the cars as microscopic. The row on the left seeming to carve inward like a bacterial strand. They have owners of course, but now they are comically reduced nothings, small shapes that don’t really fit to anything recognisable bar small, contracted versions of themselves. Indeed, the only thing fully familiar is the RV on the back of the white trailer at the left. Its amenities fully flaunted amongst the wet misery – a subtle joke perhaps at its supposed capability to provide a home anywhere.

It is the negative space however that conveys the greatest sense of abstraction. So much of ‘Untitled’ is Skreber’s browned tape that cars come almost as a surprise after a while of staring, their bonnets leering out suggestiveof an unclear time prior.

‘Untitled’ – 1990 


Though it is a consistent trope of his work, it perhaps makes most sense here, with this very painting, that Skreber left it untitled. As, how would you really describe it? This obscure, rapturous apartment building of various painting styles that exists incoherent on some sea floor. Or, perhaps that’s an entirely wrong analysis of this design and that it’s of something entirely different. Part of the delight in the work seems to be in giving it some logic that it will precariously wriggle out of when viewed again.

There is structure in the tower though, the storied design inviting the viewer to explore each section. From the top which seem to represent cave paintings succumbing to the inner moisture of their rockface canvas, to others more simplistic, such as the middle panels that are mere rushes of colour outstretching no further than their designated floor. Right at the summit too there’s a curious roof which seems to be hollow, peering downwards through the entire thing. Perhaps the suggestion is of sedimentary layers slowly devolving in their progression. Yet the entity does have a bottom, one of a curiously kitchen tabletop blue.

Again, this could very well not be underwater at all, but the wispy shadows cast and the murky, filtered light of the background blend makes methink otherwise. The piece of kelp to the right that rises up against the design also suggests submersion. Its playful evocation seeming to crest at the third floor but in actual fact merging with the tones of the back and topping around the seventh.

Whatever this actually is though, it doesn’t really matter. Rather it is the remarkable confluence of techniques that Skreber employs, along with the cold, disjointed atmosphere, that make ‘Untitled’ such a fascinating work of art. From the harsh realities of ‘Untitled’ to the fantastical escape of ‘Untitled’ (this is getting difficult), the artist maintains a direct level of realism that is both affecting and moving.

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