Axel Neumann never wanted to imitate but rather to innovate. He is convinced that an artist may only produce of him or herself.
And he paints because he is driven. The artist accepts his calling unconditionally.“I am nothing, my mission is everything”
. Obsession or inspiration? Such a determinism may seem quite strange in the modern context of free will, but stems from the realisation of his artistic key moment.
This took place in 1990. Driven by an existential restlessness that he hadn`t found his way yet, the artist let himself be locked up in his completely darkened flat for 21 days. He was ready to risk the ride on the blade. This retreat into dark silence turned into a slow immersion into himself. After a few days, his awareness of his own mental space changed. He lost his sense of time and at once he began to see previously unknown motifs with his inner eye. They were intricately interwoven figures and subtle colour gradients of almost tactile softness. The experience was alarming but he knew intuitively that he had to save as many motifs as possible in his mind.
He learnt only years later that he had performed an enkoimesis (lat. incubation), a temple sleep. This is an exercise, richly documented in all ancient high cultures, which is designed to provide healing effects in conflict-fraught phases of illness and transformation. It was always done under the guidance of priests and was closely related to the initiation rites of mystery cults. The dreams which revealed themselves while performing the rite were interpreted as dialogues with the gods.
Today the artist says that after those three weeks he learnt to remember. After those 21 days he knew he had a new profession.
But to banish the images of the visions he had during his incubation proved more complicated than expected. No existing painting technique would allow him to achieve even an approximation. Until by chance, while writing with a fountain pen, he asked himself, why such a finely developed instrument wasn’t also used for painting. Wasn’t it the perfect tool to create colour gradients?
He obtained ink in every available colour and began his research. After about two years, a special painting system crystallized, in which he succeeded in combining the plasticity of the wing-shaped curved forms of his visions with the delicate colour gradients. However, this triumph was only notional, because the first fountain pen paintings were already fading.
The fountain pen painting needed a second phase of development. Which light-resistant colour could be adapted to a fountain pen? After many exhausting experiments with pigment-bearing alternatives, he finally achieved the breakthrough in 1994 with the right mixture based on acrylics.
Since then the artist has remained faithful to his painting technique, as well as to his commitment. He works whenever he can, ideally every day and often for up to 18 hours at a stretch. He regularly pushes at the limits of his physical capacity. The numerous motifs he saw during his enkoimesis haunt him. They want to be put down on paper. Each “painted-off” motif provides relief.
Day by day, he repeats the work routines with the same dedication and care. Each utensil has its proper place, and the scrupulously clean handling of his instrument is of absolute priority. The fountain pen is a demanding tool. It can devote itself smoothly to the task at hand but from one second to the next it can also obstinately resist. He who wishes to master the fountain pen must approach it with humility.
Fountain pen paintings consist of countless fine strokes. They are created without any preparatory drawing or technical aid. The fountain pen painting technique does not allow for corrections. One wrong stroke, one wrong colour mixture and the perfect surface texture would be destroyed. It is for this reason that the artist only starts to copy a new motif from his mind when he has exactly re-memorised it. In some cases, this phase can take days or even weeks.
The artist experiences the process of painting as a sacred act. Only what has been placed into the painting can truly reach the viewer. Fountain pen painting is a ritual of artistic precision, performed in meditative slowness, always accompanied by music which the artist chooses specifically for each individual motif.
The correlation between the making of the art and the motif is also reflected in the choice of name. The artist calls his works “fountain pen paintings”. The definition as ‘painting’ is unconventional for works on cardboard, but is motivated by the fact that the colours undergo a multi-stage act of mixing prior to application.
The artist never settles for what he has already achieved. Gradually his formats grow. For technical reasons, large fountain pen paintings are always assembled modularly. The specific flow requirements of the tool force the artist to work at a table, which limits the size of the paper.
Time is also an important component of his art. Not only in terms of his personal patience while painting; the maturing of great ideas must also be granted time. After years of continuous fountain pen painting, it came to the artist’s attention that some ensembles of paintings formed variations on a theme, in striking resemblance to the structure of classical musical symphonies. To verify this observation, he spent months studying the opuses of as many pre-20th century symphonic composers as possible.
Thus he developed the tools for his next augmentation: monumentality. In 1999 the work on his first (blue) symphony started. He set it up like a classical score. Da Vinci called music and painting brothers and sisters, colour and music obey similar rules and have a comparable mode of action. Both consist of waves, of frequencies. Their vibrancy makes something very distinct resonate inside us.
The analogies with the dramatic art of big musical symphonies consist not only in their impressive physical dimension, but also in their emotional build. The diversity of the depicted forms and symbols on the gigantic surface is remarkable: no detail is repeated. Axel Neumann has matured into a symphonic painter.
Fountain pen painting is not merely a technically pioneering work. The motif’s stylistics are also unique. Despite their technical accuracy, the compositions never appear sterile. The proportionally harmonious, sometimes seemingly symmetrical motifs appear alive and on the verge of moving off.
Dignity of personhood
The artist situates his motifs in the transition between material and mental space. The artwork itself becomes a porous membrane between matter and immateriality which is activated and set in vibration by the viewer’s attention.
It is rare for the artist to give his paintings a name. Even though he himself has already personalized his motifs and knows his work is portraying; he doesn’t want to stipulate to his audience what they should see in it. Neumann calls his art gnostic painting. “True is what I have experienced myself”. Each individual is supposed to see in the motifs what they personally mean to him or her.
His preference is that the beholder just lets him or herself be carried along and trusts in his or her own imagination. The imagination is one of the most effective human tools, it is a reservoir of happiness and maybe even an active shaper of the future. But above all, it is the key to our inner world. And this is the artist’s intention: to make people aware of their inner beauty. Because for him, the real artwork is not the painting on the wall, but the person looking at it. “I am convinced that human beings already possess all knowledge. One only needs to learn to listen to one's inner-self"
Axel Neumann wants to reduce reservations towards visual arts. When listening to music the immediate feelings of the listener are regarded as valid. The same thing is possible with fine arts. To facilitate the physical feeling of colours, even in an inexperienced audience, Neumann transcends borders of genre in his shows. There, he stages his artwork with light and music, and invites his guests to a celebration.