Stephan Fritsch Exhibits a Nervy, Blithe Quality
By Kenneth Baker
San Francisco Chronicle
January 15, 2011
Stephan Fritsch lights up the George Lawson Gallery with a show of paintings that look offhand, but bespeak a confidence not easily acquired.
Fritsch's work lacks a quality common to most contemporary painting, made unnoticeable by its near-ubiquity: Despite the ingratiating details it contains, his art appears unconcerned with seduction.
This nervy indifference, no matter its source, makes the paintings pleasing in a surprising and novel way. They arrive relaxed almost to the point of bonelessness, implying no conviction except that their cultural context will shore them up.
Fritsch, who lives in Austria, anticipates viewers who have already seen in painting such a range of stylistic posture and strategic attitude that they will read whatever move he makes as meaningful.
Fritsch's blithe creative posture would irk me did it appear even faintly cynical. Instead, it strikes me as founded on a realistic, even mildly liberating, view of his historical position. The fresh pleasures he generates feel slight but also genuine because they involve no denial of their own modesty or of their dependence on the viewer's complicity.
I cannot recall a painting show in which the pictures seem more immediately to change complexion depending on their viewer's disposition.
Los Angeles painter Roger Herman, also at Lawson, stands in contrast to Fritsch in nearly every respect, from material and content to attitude toward his work's reception.
In each picture, Herman aggressively sets the tone of its anticipated encounter with a viewer.
"Untitled (Cake)" (2010) has an almost Matissean appeal compared with the various skulls, nudes, conquistadors and other small pictures by Herman that fill a wall, salon style.
Herman's work has always felt driven, but never more so than in juxtaposition to Fritsch's dreaminess.
In the contemporary context, Herman's paraphrases of the German Expressionism of E.L. Kirchner (1880-1938) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976) wobble from irony to nostalgia for lost authenticity to plain orneriness, finally exhausting the viewer's curiosity. But Herman has always had an answer to flagging viewer interest: productivity. It may no longer be enough.