it permissible to ask a "What if...." question and in
doing so hope to approach the content of a work of art? Only to
a certain extent – one would probably say all kinds of nonsense,
though one wouldn't be all that wrong. Nevertheless: what would
have happened if pop art had never existed? How would we see a Coca-Cola
bottle today, would "today's home" still be "so different,
so appealing" – and Uncle Rudi? Would the daily routine
still be the daily routine, which is to say stiflingly dull, or
at the most a conglomeration of inconveniences interwoven with stress
and pressures? In the meantime, everything has turned into pop,
and people put on a cool and youthful attitude in all areas of life.
Once upon a time, pop art – in the beginning – was implemented
as a tool of criticism against a consumer fetishism of western capitalism
that was seen as over-dominant. At the same time, however, it was
also an act of homage to the aesthetic achievements of advertising,
the increasingly multifarious culture of everyday, and the equation
"art is life – life is art". Of course, it was also
a declaration of youth, which prior to this had never been able
to play a major role on the scene. Before the rock 'n' roll movement
of the fifties, the world was adult and male. Jazz musicians frequently
died of heroin or alcohol, which was not regarded as cool, like
later, in the sixties. The invasive row of bebop gate-crashed into
the 1940s dance halls and its swing music, killing ballroom dancing.
People of that time heard what appeared to them characteristic of
the tonal movement of bebop, wild, nervous phrases, mere rags of
melodies. Every unnecessary note was left out. This stress seizing
the public could be interpreted not only as a reaction to the world
war, but was also a subcultural impulse of a younger generation.
In the jargon of young American roughs, bebop signified a brawl
or knife fight. Existentialism in attitude to life and the harsh,
black-and-white contrast – not only aesthetically conspicuous
but also exerting a pervasive influence on the mood of the times
– created a dark harbinger of the glamorous and ecstatically
colourful pop art. Since television and the media were still only
rudimentary in development and not widely disseminated, people had
other attractions. Besides the cinema (Hollywood's film noir) and
jazz (Bird, Monk, Gillespie), sporting events were enormously popular
(above all in stadiums and indoor sport arenas). Betting at races
of all kinds, the act of being hot in pursuit of sensation were
things people could find in the overfilled stadiums, in the racecourses
and above all around the boxing ring. Fighters like Sonny Liston
were not idols of the masses. If they were, then it was not for
the degree to which they were likeable. The wonderment inspired
by this kind of brutality and lack of compromise, which after all
enabled such characters to escape from the slums, was crucial for
their status in the eyes of the public. Though Liston's criminal
career was not as remarkable as his sporting success, it ran parallel
throughout his life – he died of a heroin overdose at the
age of thirty-eight. Larry Holmes: "It's tough being black.
Were you ever black? I was once – when I was poor". Boxing
as the sole chance of escaping poverty, misery and crime, or at
least of transforming it into another kind of misery or another
kind of crime, was fascinating not only for the protagonist. After
all, it had not been so long ago (around 15 years) since this sport
– if one can call it that – was prohibited, for instance
in New York. Yet there were more fights then than now. Each district
had its own club, which was not devoted exclusively to sport. When
fights ended in death, the body was thrown without identification
somewhere into the water. In later times, people could at least
read in the daily newspapers: "Boxer killed in ring" or
"Death in the ring", etc. "Why are you a boxer?"
the Irish featherweight champion Barry McGuigan was asked. He replied:
"Because I'm not a writer. I can't tell stories...". Every
boxing match is a story – a unique drama without words, compressed
plots of the utmost intensity. Enough of boxing.
Andreas Leikauf's pictures are not about boxing, nor about jazz.
Yet his paintings are still densely composed works; despite the
use of text in the pictures, you are more aware of an atmosphere
than of narrative content.
They have this special expression of "pre-pop". For instance,
you can feel the power of the now forgotten artists of "pulp
art" (cover illustrations of the 1930s and 1940s in America).
Dynamic, enigmatic scenes combined with texts. The cover picture
is meant to represent the whole story – above all its climax,
the release. The advice "never judge a book by its cover"
was thus turned upside down. Besides: "Pulp art is hard whiskey:
men's art fueled on testosterone." (Robert Lesser)
Leikauf is therefore not a "retro-artist", who opts for
what has been tried or established before, and tags onto it. It
is about classics of theoretical perception, which are structured
with the suggestive power of images, texts, general information.
He presents his themes, such as violence, politics, sexual relationships,
etc. as they are in the media, using existing pictorial material
(from newspapers, magazines, etc.). Few, mainly intense colours
combined with black are pivotal in creating the dramatic quality.
Although the protagonists are of the present time, they appear timeless
and don't give a damn for fashion and zeitgeist. Leikauf's pictures
have the quality of woodcuts in the best sense. They reflect on
what we think is beautiful, and question ideals, fantasies and dreams
not least through the juxtaposition of image and text. Using the
structure of the comic, he finds in addition already developed options
of representation. This model seems to help the artist in his striving
to apply a general style in contrast to a personal one. Moreover,
the viewer immediately has the impression of standing in front of
existing visual codes. The dramatic suspense achieved through gestures,
light directions and colour intensification elicits a sense of general
validity. Besides, the texts he uses are very evocative, we often
think we know them – "Don't fly me to the moon".
Advertising texts and quotes, slogans and sayings have a long tradition.
It affects us all when we think of the confrontation with the Old
Testament, or Chinese, Indian, Persian philosophy, where the knowledge
of the material is frequently restricted to a few proverbs (as Lao
Tse already said...). All these great edifices of thought stand
today like ruins and are dwelt in by esoteric gurus. Language has
become sloganised, resulting in a certain dilution, especially in
advertising, so we get the impression that the only things that
remain of the works of world literature are anyway quotations. Connections
within a text-image structure that could be contradictory do not
crop up by chance in Andreas Leikauf's paintings. They are endowed
with the appearance of necessity. Thus semantic autonomy is the
result of a meticulous construction, which we are nevertheless not
necessarily aware of. Like an author of comics, Leikauf seems to
have access to and use of an inventory of images, which is surely
traced back to the anonymous pictorial style. The idea of trash
is certainly no problem for the artist. Trash replicates all major
genres of advanced civilization and parodies it, too. The potency
of popular culture – which of course also existed before pop
art – lies in its directness and supposed inarticulacy. His
image-word combinations seem to be part of a collective subconscious.
Naturally, it has to do with the stereotypes of media visual perception.
Trash does not claim to fathom the great questions of existence
with a view to eternity, but exists for the present and the everyday.
Are boxers trashy, or jazz musicians? No, but the information that
comes to us transfigured by temporal and locational distance is
an admirable base. James Ellroy's "White Jazz" plays in
this sort of milieu. Here the focus is on jazz musicians, Art Pepper,
like Charlie Parker addicted to heroin, appears as a character in
this picture of post-war life and customs. As a painter, Leikauf
does what a photo-reporter does in the classic sense: he photographs
into every shadow of society. The abundance of his results is as
astounding as the ingenious mise-en-scène of his pictures.
Fast working methods and great topicality, also excellent distribution
are the secrets of a good photographic reporter. Leikauf has all
of this, drinks his whiskey on the rocks and smokes plain cigarettes,
The famous sports reporter John Schulian once said: "It's hard
to say whether this job will make me into a humanist, or a voyeur."