There is more than one
hub of the world

The paintings of Roland Schappert

Thomas Wagner, 2010
Translated by Jacqueline Todd


These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby, don’t cry
Don’t cry

Paul Simon, “The Boy In The Bubble”


Something appears, ventures out into the open – but in the same instant it recedes, fades away again. There is definitely something going on before our eyes: something is materializing, appearing and disappearing, rising from the surface and becoming immersed in matter. Colours and letters, pictorial and symbolic elements merge, overlap and interact, spreading out in their momentarily fixed state to create an apprehensible form.


This does not mean that we really think we understand what is happening on Roland Schappert’s canvases. The image never returns to a state of complete nakedness; it never goes back to its place of origin, which exists only in its absence. The commentary remains a parasite on the artistic invention, entering into a symbiosis with it that inextricably links the two. But what does it mean for the outcome of the picture if the invention is so deeply imbued with its own commentary that the two can no longer be separated? What if image and word were to combine to form a discreet visibility, whereby the image is coloured by the word and the word is saturated with colour? Or does the commentary become absorbed by the image; is the image flooded with a sense beyond the pictorial? Is it even conceivable – in an age where originality is scarce, where the irruption of the new is constantly invoked, yet just as persistently fails to materialize – that it is nothing more than an image, that we might be capable of seeing only a defined area composed of colour particles, without immediately inquiring into its meaning, without automatically categorizing what we think we see and constructing our own meaning? And to what end? So that we do not stand before it feeling alienated and at a loss? So that we may appease ourselves with this self-created meaning? “We are swimming,” according to Vilém Flusser, “in a flood of printed matter, of colour-splattered sheets of paper. Not inscriptions but superscriptions are the writings that immerse us.”



Roland Schappert’s paintings, the majority of which are picture-objects or reliefs on canvas, employ superscriptions – letters and words that seem to have been casually thrown across the surfaces. However the documentary intent of these words or letters – to convey their message to us – is seriously undermined: the letters seem to disintegrate; they appear to be fading into the background or only gradually emerging from it. Besides this, the arrangement of these letters into legible lines is also interrupted: the confused eye moves laboriously over the characters, scanning each new line in the attempt to spell out something meaningful. No more than a bump in the painted matter appears to be a letter, a bulge that is of course immediately interrogated to find out if it has something to tell us. And so we read, line by line in the blackened – as if covered with soot – lilac surface of the painting “Untitled (Nabel der Welt)” from 2009: NABE – LDER – WELT.

Even after we have combined the letters in a conventional manner and deciphered the phrase “Nabel der Welt” (hub of the world), the visual field remains in its centreless confusion, like some kind of warning or portent. There is no sign here of a central point, let alone the hub of the world. Or is the painting suggesting that the “hub of the world” is the very act of naming and bringing up for discussion? Does the world therefore revolve around gaze and meaning, their bestowal or loss? Does it centre upon the dialectic of eidos and logos, of image and spirit? Or is our effort simply a recurrence of the scepticism associated with Ludwig Wittgenstein, who compares the results of philosophy with bumps that the understanding has got by running up against the limits of language?


Roland Schappert’s paintings interweave all of these aspects and keep them in play simultaneously. They do not take one side or the other, refusing to decide where they belong – whether solely in the realm of the pictorial or that of the symbolic. They abstain from attempting to be only manifestation or only explanation. They deliberately leave the question of what they are and what they mean open. They nullify the difference, hold it in place and present it to us. And they do so with an awareness that from the viewer’s perspective, both sides will always be assigned to them – what is felt and what is read, image and commentary, visual representation and verbal utterance, matter and spirit. They confront the irrefutability of their transformation by becoming transformers themselves. Or, to put it another way, they absorb the discursive particles that orbit the image within the context of modernism and postmodernism, in the same way that a celestial body attracts cosmic dust due to its gravitation. In this way, Schappert’s works become more than just pictures; they are suggestion and allusion, commentary and gesture, palimpsest and remix in one. What appears within them is constantly overpainted and repeatedly overwritten like a data file. They speed up the steady flow of signs that never stops circulating, but also slow it down with their own materiality. And at the same time they transcend their own materiality by the fact that all the signs that are read or seen into it appear and disappear within its limits.


Among the boundaries that have been crossed by twentieth-century art, the integration of language into the visual image is of pre-eminent importance. In Roland Schappert’s art, language is on the one hand incorporated into the work: it becomes a medium of visual art. On the other hand it becomes a commentary, which in turn is commented upon from the perspective of the image. In this way, the picture has an integrative effect. Due to the fact that the line break ignores the beginnings or endings of words, and that the linearity and temporal continuity of reading is abandoned in favour of grasping the image field as a whole, the picture as a real space also questions the meaning that is pushing its way towards its surface in order to reveal itself. The word becomes the image and the image appears to be infected with the word. Instead of unambiguity, we are faced with constantly shifting meaning and varying illumination. What we see and what we comprehend form overlapping layers, with the result that we not only set eyes on a picture, we can also witness the construction of different models of reality. Roland Schappert thus conflates image and language, visual and verbal meaning at the zero point, as it were, of a poietic metaphysics.


The image immerses us as deeply in superscriptions as in coloured matter. In search of a subject, however, it goes astray. As if to compensate, it finds within language and its signs something that is both concrete and abstract, that refers to something beyond itself. Is this not also the case with the reference to a “hub of the world”? Does it really exist or is it merely a metaphor? Is it an image that speaks or part of a language that is based on images? Beneath the play of matter and spirit there is clearly a melancholy dimension.

NO MAN’S LAND, Katalog, Hardcover, 64 Seiten, mit ca. 45 Farbabbildungen und Texten von Andreas Bee und Thomas Wagner, deutsch/engl., Salon Verlag, Köln 2010. ISBN 978-3-89770-365-0