BADEN-BADEN.- Central to Stefan Müllers (b. 1973) approach to his art are the engagement with painting and the question of what its formal significance may yet be for the present, after the problems raised by Conceptual Art and Minimal Art. Employing a minimalist approach, Müller explores the picture, often considering it finished at the earliest possible moment. Framing and stretching the canvas and leaving minimal traces that seem to be the products of accident are often enough to form a complete picture.
Müllers painting is distinguished by a reduced choice of materials, motifs, and colors. He paints on untreated canvas, cotton fabric, or used fabrics such as bed sheets, which he exposes to accidental modification before and during the act of painting. Beer stains, ashes, dust, coffee, or blood often replace the conventional varnish. His palette of materials ranges from acrylic, transparent lacquers, oil, and silicone to markers, pencils, and crayons. He also integrates banal elements such as dirt, tissue paper, confetti, and glitter into his works.
In the pictures from the early 2000s, Stefan Müller is still palpably torn by the conflict between representational and abstract painting. Giraffes rambling across the canvas or a drum kit dissolve into abstract patterns of color. Yet Müller soon develops a formal vocabulary comprising circles, spheres, lines, and rectangular fields that pervade his work to this day. Curls become the I, circles represent the thoughts incessantly spinning in the artists head. Titles such as Total total Confusion, Aua, aua, armes Universum, Zu lange in die Sonne geschaut, and Empire of Dirt add another layer of meaning to these paintings.
The protagonists of Minimal Art confidently resisted the traditional expressive means of painting and sculpture. Trademarks of their three-dimensional works include an extremely reduced formal language, modern industrial materials such as plywood, aluminium, and fluorescent tubes, and the removal of anything suggesting the artists individual hand. The products of American Color Field painting are defined exclusively by visual illusionism, negating the traditional representational function of painting. Palermos fabric paintings likewise categorically eliminate the personal artistic signature. His pictures made of dyed panels of fabric, having lost all painted materiality, are radically reduced to the impression of color.
If Müller begins in the mid-2000s to develop a form of painting without painting by transforming fabrics of various composition, size, and color into works of art in a purely additive process, this must certainly be considered a reference to Minimal Art. Mistakes and ruptures often mark Müllers fabric paintings, implying the Romantic notion of failure. The chronological arrangement of his pictures at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden illustrates how Müller constantly rethinks and reinvents painting. Stefan Müllers roots are in painting, which he questions with a variety of formal instruments and methods; in his most recent paintings, he has found his own striking and distinctive visual language.