Eschewing digital technologies as well as conventional photographic genres, Marco Breuer manipulates near-obsolete chemical developing and printing processes to create striking abstract compositions. “Zero-Base,” a recent exhibition of more than 30 works—all made between 2013 and ’14—featured a range of small, camera-less images that have been intensified in the artist’s studio to varying degrees through expressive, laborious manual interventions over days at a time.
Born in Landshut, Germany, in 1966, Breuer studied in the late ’80s and early ’90s at the Lette-Verein Akademie in Berlin and the Hochschule Darmstadt, where he found the institutions’ formalist tenets and approaches to photography stifling. Since then, the artist’s methodology has evolved over the course of a career in which he has experimented with photograms, pinhole imagery and, most recently, silver gelatin and chromogenic paper in pre- and post-development phases.
Initially, Breuer exposes light-sensitive paper to a partial or full spectrum of color—the latter turning the sheet entirely black—and then begins stripping down the individual layers of cyan, magenta and yellow emulsion, sometimes to a bare state. He scrapes, slices, perforates, shaves and burns with a variety of tools, including sandpaper, embossing machines, Brillo pads, matches, torches, shotguns, razor blades and even his own teeth. The resulting compositions frequently allude to Color Field or Abstract Expressionist painting, either in their spare geometric configurations or gestural qualities. In Untitled (C-1547), for instance, the upper portion of a two-tone rectangular field is a brilliant lacquer red and the lower a uniform lustrous white. In a similar vein, Untitled (C-1581) features a white field divided vertically by a dark fold with scorched edges, singularly calling to mind Barnett Newman’s zips. In contrast to these examples are the overall scarred and pocked surfaces of works such as Untitled (C-1310), in which variegated luminous orange-yellows bleed through undulating abrasions, evoking Gerhard Richter’s colorful squeegee abstractions. In many of these pieces, a single sheet of chromogenic paper has been methodically folded over and over, and then unfolded so that the creases effect a gridded format. The rippling, brown-ocher seams in Untitled (C-1494) encase mesmerizing networks of tight, agitated lines and scratches along with blizzards of dots. These intersect with pale gouged areas in each of the grid’s cells. Streaks of umber-red, brown and orange-citrine, simultaneously suggesting ebbing sunlight and the textures and glint of silk threads woven into cloth, are also revealed in these shredded areas.
Rather than exploit photography’s ability to capture a moment or a place, Breuer, through his enduring allegiance to his materials, creates beautiful images that record irreproducible traces of physical presence and impulse