”Fantastically tangible emotions” (2002)
Author: W.T. Turmond
For the book: “Fantastically tangible emotions”
Smeitink-Mühlbacher is a down-to-earth artist, who approaches his artistry with clear common sense.
The reality of everyday life which we all experience, has always been the starting point for his artistic expression, but by no means is visible in his work in an easily recognisable convention of forms reflecting or symbolizing this reality for us.
Instead of opening himself to current development in fine arts, Smeitink-Mühlbacher seems to be ever strongly urged to focus on his own identity and creativity.
“… limited arm’s length and span of hand …”
When starting a new cycle of paintings, Smeitink-Mühlbacher expects nothing but new to await him in this creative process, but soon has to accept the evident fact that this new starting point is influenced by the recently finished cycle, even when several months of creative recovery lie between both cycles.
Each step in the creative process is a quest into the future and necessarily has to result into something new, which cannot be gained by repeating earlier moves. Within a new cycle, each single painting is at the same time reflection of and point of reference for other paintings of this specific cycle. Thus all paintings involved in this cycle determine direction, form and contents of each single painting as well as of the cycle as a whole.
In Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s creative process, waves of strongly controlled motorial actions flow form the deepest inner self of the artist unto the canvas. The paintings are carefully built-up by several layers, enabling the matters as well as the changing processes and their mutual interaction to interweave.
The characteristic features of Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work are more than a sheer exposition of know-how, artistic technique, routine and skill. The artist does not interfere with the materials by taking into account on beforehand their specific properties, which ever so often restrain him but approaches his materials in his own intuitive way.
By using - amongst others - his limited arms’ length and span of fingers, he creates a personal relation with his materials and paintings, a personal embrace.
Each of his painting matters, all composed by the artist himself, is allocated a unique character which Smeitink-Mühlbacher lovingly allows to engage in a struggle with himself as well as with the other matters involved in the process. Through this struggle, he is involved in a dialogue with his paintings in which he allocates key roles to all of the material characters he has created himself. Furthermore, he allows himself time and space to explore and observe his materials, and by his ever enlarging material awareness to improve the expression of his pieces of work. Thus, the artist actually lives (with) the creative process.
During this process, not everything is predictable. This becomes obvious, when after minutes, hours, days or even weeks of drying, changes have occurred; unforeseen, uninfluenced: spontaneous bursting, shrinking, colours through oxidation, all being the result of the natural powers that surround us. They appear to have been given the opportunity to leave their characteristic traits on Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s painting, and thus co-determining its expression.
During and after each phase of drying, Smeitink-Mühlbacher explores every detail of his work by touching it carefully. After cleaning, scratching, polishing, carving and manual interferences, a carefully built layering of the painting’s texture is created gradually, resulting in various nuances becoming visible depending on the viewer’s perspective. This can easily be perceived when looking at the painting from various angles comparing the effect of natural light on the different parts of the piece.
No ornaments, no frills …
The signs Smeitink-Mühlbacher uses in his works to express his basic feelings consist of a large variety of vaguely recognizable, often damaged, geometrical elements painted in sober earthly colours.
Through their mutual relational structure and inclination to flee the canvas, they do not shut the painting off, but rather create a three-dimensional effect that can even be captured in the smaller pieces. This effect is also supported by the fact that the artist incorporates the edges of the paintings into the whole piece.
In the last couple of years, the geometrical features tend to become ever more integral part of the whole, but keep manifesting themselves quite dominant, still.
A ready to recognise fore- and background in the paintings is avoided by letting the transparently composed layers suggest a movement of fusion.
In more recent pieces, the foundation seems to be smoother but yet more layered, awarding the paintings more depth but at the same time lesser contrast. The layered structure remains visible, but the way the piece is being composed is kept undetectable as any stroke of the brush or imprint of palette knives seem to be absent.
Smeitink-Mühlbacher deliberately avoids and rejects any ornamentalism and frill because he does not intend to exploit all technical options of the materials but focuses on the options their mutual effects and influences could offer to his work. Their optical as well as material three-dimensionality are also supporting the artist’s message.
By the mainly vertical arrangement of his canvasses, Smeitink-Mühlbacher leads the viewer’s looks upwards, stressing the monumental effect of the pieces.
Many of his recent paintings thus compete with the human dimension without intending to attack the viewer.
Is the painting to be decoded or the individual?
When looking at a piece of art, every individual feels the urge to put his perception into a mental framework, which for him is safe and almost tangible. They are often assisted by an army of art critics and curators, who, for safety reasons, categorize Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work as “matter-painting”. This appears to be a simple piece of advice to assist the viewer, but on the other hand leads to generalization, stigmatisation and standard reactions of the kind “I have seen that before somewhere”. Within this framework, precisely described and almost “prescribed” values and standards reign and they strongly influence our perception.
Those analytical and linear ways of thinking almost automatically look for “start and finish” to get a grip on things. It becomes obvious sometimes, for instance when somebody tries determinedly to find the name of the artist or the title of a certain piece of art.
Smeitink-Mühlbacher on the one hand has been able to stress this way of dealing with things; on the other hand, he thwarts this kind of behaviour by not signing his work on the front and by not allocating titles to his paintings. Thus he enables the viewer to experience his work free from any prejudice and, by spiritualising the piece, get to the bottom of his own individual feelings. As life itself is a process that can get out of joints by unforeseen events, every confrontation with Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work is the result of this process.
Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work is a fantastic piece of tangible reality. Almost unconsciously, we ascribe paintings to have a mystical message that has to be found, decoded and defined. It is doubtlessly Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s intention to create an impediment for the viewer to access directly the meaning of his paintings in order to create room for the viewer’s individual associations. This results in a tension between perception and emotions which urges the viewer to think deeply and which always triggers off whatever reaction. Is it the painting or the individual that is to be decoded?
Does Smeitink-Mühlbacher try to explore his own boundaries or is the viewer trying to explore his own ones? When the viewer wants to decode Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work, he apparently needs to get to his own human boundaries, in order to give the work its individual, personal meaning. It is this kind of freedom, which Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work offers, that creates new opportunities to newly define everyday reality and the current situation. As long as we only trust in the traditional language, signs, general values and standards we have been taught and which are propagated through the ever-present media, Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work will remain a mystery always. The extent to which we want and are able to understand his work, is strictly a personal matter and can not be verified or measured in comparison to perceptions and conclusions of others.
To sum it all up, a quotation from Mark Rothko, which Smeitink-Mühlbacher claims to hold for his point of view, too: “My main interest is not the relation between colour and form or suchlike. What appeals to me most, are the basic human feelings. People who are moved to tears by my paintings, have the same religious experience I had when I painted them.”
”Stairway to Matter” (1996)
Author: G.W. Stargardt
For the book: “Stairway to Matter”
The expert or interested layman who looks at Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher’s work can do three things: One: he can shrug his shoulders; two: he can say : “It has a kind of - you know?”; Three: he will be captivated.
The shrugger may not have the correct decoder to interpret Walther’s work; that’s a pity, but it probably can’t be helped. The “It has”- man has the benefit of the doubt, which he also allows other people. However, it is definitely rewarding to have a closer look at the world of material art in general and at the world of Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher in particular.
The artist makes visual work, but we would do well to reflect that these works are the result of an earlier process and that the visible object is the expression of an emotion (or whatever other term you want to use). We will try to get under the skin of this process and the artist it represents.
When you are in one of Walther’s studios (he has pieds-à-terre in Huissen and the Czech republic) you will see a large number of works, some in various stages of completion. However, this does not mean a large quantity of divergent emotions. On the contrary, we should rather think of a stream of emotions, an intellectual process, a philosophy of life which all find expression at various times and thirst for communication.
Walther is eager for contact; he wants to speak his mind, he wants to show himself warts and all, he wants to be looked at — a quite legitimate desire for an artist.
Smeitink feels at home in the world of material art, in the footprints of the Spaniard Antoni Tapies and Belgian Luc Hoenraet, with the latter he has close contacts.
Films have been made about the work of Cobra painters Appel and Lucebert which, among other things, give a captivating demonstration of their choice and handling of matter.
To illustrate this, it might be interesting to see Smeitink’s quite different relation to matter as such. What distinguishes him from the Cobra painters is, among other things, a high degree of austerity. He himself often speaks of “discipline”, which can often not readily be traced in his work, but which is by no means absent. Every action in matter is “hyper controlled” and very direct; no sketch work and no repainting. For his paintings, no preliminary studies are made as to form or contents, but he does preliminary technical research and a conversation with him about this matter is very interesting. One might say that, technically, he has no “problems”, but that there are always new “opportunities”.
It is clear that the artist, despite his sound training, does not work along academic lines. In this, however, he is no exception, for many modernists within and without material art have been self-taught.
In this connection it is interesting to have a closer look at the colour reproduction on page 80 of this book, a recent work from early 1996. Here we see, as it were, a “painting within a painting, a canvass on a canvass”. In a period around 1992 he used his training in textiles as a basis for a number of large and small canvasses, with their tattered borders in a glassed frame. And Walther was not quite satisfied . . . until in late 1995, when experimenting with new materials, he saw new possibilities for his tattered canvasses, integrated into a larger canvass, the tatters, as it were, absorbed into the new background. The tatters are longer, seeming to lead a life of their own. We can speak of a growing integration, a budding development.
The person .......
Smeitink attaches great importance to the horizontal and vertical lines in the paint, which must be seen as a sort of orientation, a point of reference. In the above work, we must draw attention to the square dimensions of 65 x 65 cm; the painter speaks of a very difficult and dangerous size. He therefore often works with “portrait” formats, although the pictures on pp 68 and 69 seem to belie this: we see frameless pentagonal pictures with a sculptural character. New developments can also be found here.
The horizontal and vertical lines in the painting show letterlike movements, which might refer to the artist’s personality. But in general the expressive gesture only makes the briefest of appearances and we find a great, almost religious modesty. In this connection, we may also remark that the work is not signed in the obvious place, but always on the backside.
The idea of space ........
The colour reproduction on p 73 shows a painting which merits closer scrutiny. We see a portrait format of 120 to 150 centimetres. The use of colour is rather monochrome, whereas the two sides show a clear framing with respect to the environment.
The honeycomb motive at the bottom left, however, refers to a continuation of space outside the format of the painting. It is curious to see that we now also find frameless paintings, whereas frames used to be an integral part of the pictures.
In this connection we should also notice the appearance of related sequences of paintings.
Someone once jokingly referred to some modern paintings as two-and-a-half dimensional. When we relate this to the increasingly sculptural element in Smeitink’s work it may be understood that we can apply this term to his work, in terms of “spaciality”.
Walther is a brave man. He attempts to unite the ununitable, to reconcile the irreconcilable. In this sense, he is a religious man.
Referring to Kant, one might say that his work has an antinomic character. Just as light goes with darkness, good goes with bad, crime with punishment. It is interesting to view his paintings in this light. One will have to dig deeper that the mere skin of paint and ground marble, one will have to go further than the Czech Republic or Huissen.
One will have to light a lamp to discover mysteries. Men in spotlessly white clothes encounter uncouth reindeer hunters, inspiration and perspiration are blood brothers. The water in the river splatters everywhere and yet flows to the sea. Rooted firmly in the earth, the tree strives towards heaven, searching, searching, searching . . .
It is this antinomic aspect, this polar tension, which makes the work of Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher the expression of one of the essences of creativity. What we find is a completely unmodish modernism; he uses purely artistic means to express his innermost thoughts.
Walther is a brave man..........
”Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher the art and the circuit” (1997)
Author: Marcel Chevalking
For the newspaper: “De Gelderlander”, 24 July 1997
Doetinchem (NL) - “I consider the town’s museum to be a good place. Full of character, the colours, the old wooden beams. This location feels better than Groningen or Arnhem. I’m not bothered what they say or think. As far as I’m concerned, museums should be less pompous. A museum should be part of the society, just like a pub where people gather together in order to bullshit. In the town’s museum, the emphasis is on the ethnographical and less on the visual arts, so what? There are impulses. Now it’s the De Huet painter’s club, then it’s Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher, great!”
In the town’s museum on the Grutstraat in Doetinchem the painter/sculptor Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher has descended. The former inhabitant of Doetinchem makes his living from art. He works in Arnhem and from his studio in the Czech Republic. According to him, when painting, he uses a small colour-pallet. Grey and brown are tints, which are often used. He has had exhibitions in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. He has his own art publishing-company, works together with interior-design architect Dorien Siebersma and designs screens for open fireplaces for a large European manufacturer. “I’m an artist who has to make ends meet all by myself. That’s fine by me. I think it’s ridiculous that art graduates get a starting scholarship and don’t have to do anything except squander it. I don’t have anything to do with the circuit in which gallery owners request artists to pay fees for hanging their work. The circuit has become saturated by commerce. Business and art are strongly connected in the Netherlands. I’m vehemently opposed to conducting business in this manner. I visit galleries even less frequently. In a number of them, some of my work is to be found. But then I have been asked to hang it. I make ends meet thanks to collectors. There aren’t that many, but sufficient. Regarding the circuit? I’m not opposed to it, I work side by side with it, for example, when I organise exhibitions myself. I’m glad it’s there. It creates a stir, it initiates communication. People can compare the work of artists and put it into perspective.”
After having finished his secondary education at the Ulenhof College, Smeitink-Mühlbacher studied handicraft, history of art and textile art at the teacher training college “Gelderse Leergangen” at Nijmegen. From 1985 to 1993, he taught at the “Grafisch Lyceum” at Utrecht, a junior college specialised in printing. “I chose teacher training college as opposed to art school because I felt the need to pass on my knowledge. The structure and the contents of the study programme appealed to me. I had a handicraft teacher at the Ulenhof College, Mr. Stargardt, not a man for blah, blah, blah, he was a tremendous stimulance to me.” Teacher training was just what Walther had expected. “I enjoyed every bit of it.” After graduating, he went on to develop his artistic skills even further. In 1993 he quit his job in Utrecht and decided to earn his livelihood as an artist. He regularly visited Austria due to his mother coming from there. It was in Austria, where he met some people from the Czech Republic, “and stuck around in the Czech Republic. At a given moment, it began to pound and I have to say I feel quite at home there. Art in the Czech Republic is more integrated into daily life. Pop music, visual art, and theatre are all disconnected here in the Netherlands; there they’re just part and parcel of society. There, art isn’t any more important than what a baker, a window-setter of a butcher does. That’s what I like about there. And I don’t do any more or less than everybody else does, namely exploiting and developing my own talents. Furthermore, there are so many reasons why I like it there. It can’t be explained in a few sentences. Why don’t I live there permanently? Well, I’m married and my wife doesn’t want to live there. I regularly go there to work and to recharge my battery.” Besides this he also feels attached to Doetinchem. “My family lives here; I become all nostalgic when I walk past “De Poort” (a pub); the neighbourhood is beautiful and the town is slowly coming to life. Those pubs, …….. at last, you can have a beer out in the street. What they formerly already did in the Themanstraat, and what everybody commented on, you now see in the Grutstraat. At long last life is being lived in the street.”
The exhibition in the town’s museum is a review of ten years’ work. Walther has deliberately chosen this. It is his first exhibition in his place of birth. “View it as a small retrospective.”
“Tangent plane religion and art fascinates me” (1995)
Author: Assia Vermeulen
For the newspaper: Gelders Dagblad, November 1995
Wageningen (NL) – The Dutch/Austrian painter and sculptor Walther Smeitink-Mühlbacher (1963) will be exhibiting his most recent paintings of matter and objects, in the theatre-café “De Harlekijn”, part of the Junushoff theatre, during the Cultural Café.
Hereafter his work can be viewed until 20 December. In March 1996 a summary of his work will be exhibited in the “Casteelse Poort Museum”.
“The fact that I bear two cultures in me, is of major importance to me”, Smeitink-Mühlbacher says regarding his work. “In the Netherlands I’m nearly always having to explain what my work is about. This seldom happens in Austria or in the former East European countries”. “The contents, sphere and technique of my work receive more recognition in middle Europe”, Smeitink-Mühlbacher continues. “The artist here is always confronted with the question, why? It is asking to divulge something about the ‘necessary secret’ that each person carries within them. If I had wanted so say something about my ideas, I’d have become a writer. There’s a good reason why I paint and sculpt. ‘The pagan Celtic and Germanic influences’ which according to the Christian west are to be found in my work, are considered to be an enrichment there. There, n o one asks any questions. The relationship between religion and art fascinates me greatly. Religion is connected with the earth as well as the people. It’s definitely something else than worship, which aims itself at the institute of the church. My paintings of matter have often been compared to icons, but then in an abstract manner”.
Smeitink-Mühlbacher chooses tints of the earth, gold, copper and silver for his paintings of matter, which are formed by peaks, dips, slopes, waves and scratches in the matter. He paints many layers on top of one another and uses matter, like acryl, oil and tepera-paints. Subsequently he lays about them with pallet-knives, brushes and hands. His paintings of matter aren’t covered up on the rear side and when sunlight falls on them, they are noticeably transparent. Geometrical and/or symmetrical forms lend structure to the work, such as regular grooves and numerals, which keep coming back. The numbers three, seven, twelve and forty appear time and time again in his work. ”They are numbers from the myths and fairy-tales which help to inspire me”, Smeitink-Mühlbacher explains. “Just like the struggle between good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, man and woman”.
As for the paintings of matter and objects, which Smeitink-Mühlbacher is exhibiting, the choice of materials shows similarities. The wood, copper, stone and grit used by him for his objects, come from the vicinity of his studio in Groesbeek, or were brought back by him from the numerous trips to his second home, which is a constant source of inspiration to him. The objects remind one of offertory-boxes, on which objects, made from wood or stone haven been laid. “Yes”, Smeitink-Mühlbacher reacts in a surprised manner, “that’s how one may view them. For me offering is a form of helping. Denying your own interest is a form of religion to me”. After having collected the things he needs, Smeitink-Mühlbacher locks himself away in his studio and works with everything that is on hand at that moment. “I’m a bit of a recluse”, he elucidates. “I recycle everything. Every remnant of a process, the waste, determines the net result. The grit and dust that are left over from the sculptures, I mix with my materials and paints. The preference for placing my ‘signature’, my texture and my locomotion are connected with my former work as a teacher at the Grafisch Lyceum at Utrecht together with my interest in typography and calligraphy”. But once more he emphasises: “My message is not legible literally. The viewer may ‘read into it’ what he/she wishes to. I sign my work on the rear side, not on the front. I regard myself as a sort of service-hatch for emotions and feelings”.