Torben Giehler’s digital mountains; the new Modernism

Torben Giehler needs to have a sit down with Neal Stephenson. His paintings belong in the Metaverse.

These canvases are large (~120″ across). Imagine how they’d jolt you if you were to stand in the presence of the real paintings.  I respect how Giehler organizes warm light passages and cool shadow passages, and how he builds a focal point by reducing the size of the squares at center. Designers take note!

Torben Giehler – K2, 2002
Torben Giehler – 2002 – Mont Blanc
Torben Giehler – 2002 – Matterhorn
Torben Giehler – 2002 – Lhotse
His studio

Giehler breaks from the Modernist tradition.  Can you see why?  For one thing, his paintings always convey three-dimensional depth.  Also, his colors and patterns are more nuanced, less bombastic than the colors and patterns you would find in the early Modern period.  No color on his palette is straight from the tube.  Not even white.  Giehler grasps that his target market loves their their tertiary colors.  (Along the same lines, take note that Damien Hirst’s most beloved works are not his over-the-top sculptures, but rather his dot paintings, with their subtly modulated colors.  The dot paintings don’t shock their way into headlines, but boy do they sell.)

Giehler painted this mountain series in 2002.  The work he’s doing a decade later is yet more nuanced.  He could have become more ambitious and experimental with age, but that’s not what the elite market wants. Theatrical art appeals to the working class, and Geihler is moving the other way. I applaud him for capturing a balance of grandeur and subtlety in the mountain paintings, but I think he would admit (as evidenced by the direction his works have since taken) that he teetered too far towards overstated theatricality in 2002. His mountain landscapes may have been more successful (and amassed more critical praise and attention) had the squares of color been built up in oil paints, layer over translucent layer, to a subtle, vibrating effect. I’m not talking about beauty. I’m talking about an effect appealing to those who desire everything to be excessively nuanced, and who equate a convoluted, indirect process of art-making with sophistication and refinement.

Less is not more, then, but the stylistic changes between Giehler’s 2002 paintings and his 2011 paintings illuminate the direction that upper class tastes have taken during the last decade.  If they were painting today, Kandinsky and deKooning would be catering to the tastes of only the proletariat.  Collectors would remind them that bombastic, overstated abstract art is kitsch too.

Torben Giehler – 2011 – 24 hour
Torben Giehler – 2011 – Marian
Torben Giehler’s digital mountains; the new Modernism