Luca Beatrice
The Ventriloquist



It is not a game. It happens with increasing frequency that painting sees a need "to rely" on certain special forms in order to make it clear what the inspiration is behind a specific conceptualization. In contemporary pictures you especially find writings, as a means of expression. It may take up different places and meanings, and it may be more or less significant in the hierarchy in which we see things. The writings in the two-dimensional works of Ed Ruscha are immediately reminiscent of sites and situations of which the cultural mythology in America is filled, both in the real and in the imaginary world communicated by films. The paintings of Christopher Wool are simply writings, letters which – just like it happens with graphic artists – can be traced back to their creator immediately. And it is this very dry and extreme style that has brought him success. Raymond Pettibon, on the other hand, establishes a dialogue between images and words; it is a kind of short circuit between sense and nonsense, with icons – and the moods which they create – being the element that allows perceptibility.
These three great artists are all Americans and – given the influence of words on everyday life in the United States, as compared to Europe – this is no coincidence. They are certainly interesting forerunners to the work of Andreas Leikauf. This Austrian artist, though, takes an interest in writing, not in the form calligraphy, signs, decoration or graphics. On the contrary, he selects the most common composition patterns – conventional, anonymous capital letters, the style of which is irrelevant and does not pin them down in any way. Nevertheless, it is important, in fact of fundamental importance, that there is not a single picture by Leikauf without an inscription, a full sentence, a slogan, a title or simply two or three words.
On the premise that writings raise the conceptual level of paintings, it is interesting to study the perpetual to and fro between these two modes of expression. First, there is the game involving references between symbol/drawing and meaning: Does what we see consequently correspond to what is being expressed? Sometimes, not always and certainly not regularly, so that one often perceives a fascinating, non-synchronous effect, as though the words were spoken a moment before we actually hear them uttered. Leikauf is a ventriloquist when it comes to painting; he paints, he writes, but the voice comes from another source, from outside, and one does not really know where it comes from.
And what is written in these pictures? And, in particular, do the sentences and words mean anything? Leikauf uses his own world of signs, just like a DJ uses already existing sounds and turns them into something completely new by singling them out. Before beginning with his work, there is – no doubt – the compulsion to write, a kind of compulsive behavior to record words, to take down notes, to mark paragraphs, to remember something that would otherwise be forgotten. Certain sentences seem to be taken from plays or song titles and, indeed, the works have more resonance. With others, the reference can be directly to the world, with its slogans and instructions or – in a more banal, but not less efficient manner – messages printed on T-shirts, stickers and flyers which are meant to be consumed quickly and to be forgotten just as quickly.
As was said before, these are anonymous writings – and, yet, one recognizes a work by Leikauf immediately, it has an unmistakable (non-)style. This is due to the word, but also the pictures, in which he uses the same method: He takes from the world whatever strikes him in this world. This is selection instead of intervention, or painting in the "post-production" age. In Leikauf's pictures, which function particularly well if they are stage-set, we find situations like in a comédie noire – rather suggestive and visionary references instead of the truth. Films, music (which he loves enthusiastically), literature, commercials, and television: these are the sources of inspiration for "modern" painters of the 21st century. Whereas art was previously geared to life and reality, our eyes only catch sight today of what the media have already filtered. The artist therefore selects, underlines, adds commas and full stops, but he invents little – and this is not meant to be a negative statement. The painter of the 21st century creates new mixes, he cuts and pastes, he creates a mood in which we think that we are able to recognize familiar sounds and images, especially because they characterize a borderline, a certain belonging, from which the rest is excluded. This is the most interesting of Leikauf's concepts: to select information and to choose from it to define a world.

Luca Beatrice teaches Art History at the Accademia di Brera, Milan. He is an art critic and exhibition curator.