“Land” was the title of this exhibition of works on paper and a single sculpture by the German artist Jakob Mattner, born in 1946. Most of the show consisted of paintings in black gouache on white paper or white gouache on black, created through a process of pouring and directing pools of paint over the surface. The seemingly random method produces astonishing results, often giving the impression of photographic landscapes until you get up close. The larger black-grounded works, approximately 3 by 4 feet, such as Schilfmeer (Red Sea or Reed Sea, 2008), present a soft darkness, with glimpses of light and striated markings that have much in common with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s sea horizons. Some paintings flow like views by Edward Weston; the white in Neufundland II (Newfoundland II, 2008) gleams as if in a gelatin silver print of water by moonlight.
In a dozen smaller works from the series “Spanien—1492” (Spain—1492, 2008-10), Mattner uses a brownish wax on paper to create other types of landscapelike views. He brushes into the wax to suggest grasses, clouds or a column of sand whipped up by wind. Snatches of light appear where the paper is exposed. The artist also scratches into the medium in a manner akin to line-etching, while the sepia tones create the impression of yellowed paper. Take the series title into account and these barren images seem linked to Goya, though Mattner is more directly referring to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain over three centuries earlier.
This modest exhibition could hardly demonstrate the full extent of Mattner’s practice; since the 1970s he has produced a considerable catalogue of work in two and three dimensions, including photograms and photography, drawings, kinetic sculptural installations and prints on found images. These different strands do have a common theme, that of light: where it comes from, where it falls, how it is refracted and the darkness it usurps. Spheres that reflect light onto other objects moving in space often feature in Mattner’s kinetic works. Although these were not in this show, cosmological concerns were still in evidence. The exhibition’s title could be understood as both a verb of touching down and a noun denoting terra firma generally. 1955—V (2012), in white gouache on black paper, and roughly 3 by 6 feet, has a feathered white horizon, a diagonal traveling upward from bottom left. Its angle and slight curve evoke a view of a planetary body through a telescope; its diffuse edge could be seen as heat radiating from a fiery sun.
Mattner’s mastery is deceptive, a sleight of hand that almost conceals the experimental nature of his undertaking. With the resulting images hovering at the edge of credibility, he plays on the resilient notion of photography’s objective veracity.