Friday, July 11, 2008

Essay: Klaus Hartmann

Haut XVII (Skin XVII), 2005
Bronze, 1/1
3 x 8 x 4 in.
$ 600

Whether he works in steel or bronze, Klaus Hartmann’s sculptures usually emphasize a similar set of characteristics. They involve the human figure but in abstracted fashion. They are stylized but still edgy, in part because of the surface quality of his work and its many sharp rims, corners, cuts and contours. Despite the heaviness of the medium and the volume of the sculptures, they have a light touch and often suggest a certain disregard for gravity. 

The manipulation of weight and gravity is quite literal in Hartmann’s new series of bronzes, Haut (Skin), in which the central element, the human figure, is suspended. It’s also evident in his often life-size sculptures in steel, including Schreitend (Striding). And it’s true for his Skizzen (Sketches), small figures with full but barely three-dimensional bodies, molded from a steel plate, that balance delicately on a small point. 

Next to suspension, Hartmann in some work achieves lightness and relative weightlessness by paying close attention to a piece’s center of gravity. Sometimes a strong suggestion of movement helps. Hartmann also implies the complete form without actually realizing it. Instead, he presents body fragments, attached to each other, creating partial figures with large holes that leave it to the viewer to complete the form. This procedure limits the work’s physical weight and volume both literally and through the lively interaction it allows between positive and negative space.

Hartmann approaches his steel work as a blacksmith, not simply welding pieces together but actually hammering and bending shapes and forms from the material. Many of his current bronzes, too, have a hammered look, though they are formed on molds. Hartmann occupies an area between classic, closed sculpture and the more free-flowing, open constructions resulting from the drawing-in-space approach. As such, the hollow space inside his semi-enclosed forms can become as important as the negative space between the parts, and the inside surface of his sculptures’ shells, as important as the outsides. Haut XII (Variation 1/10) is an extreme example of this. In many ways, Hartmann’s sculptures reveal the impact of the pioneering Spanish metal sculptors Pablo Gargallo and Julio Gonzalez, who have strongly influenced metal sculpture in Western art since World War II. 

Wim Roefs

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