For about ten years now, Jens Wolf decidedly executes his paintings as small-format, fully executed drafts, which he calls Pattern Boards. Their medium is always plywood in the format of 48 x 36 cm (36 x 48 cm), with their worked-on surfaces already showing all of the elements that are later transferred to larger sheets of plywood. The artist owns about 200 Pattern Boards, which are now presented for the first time — in a catalog and as an exhibition. They function as models for thought and/or action and as true role models for any further disposal. (1)
The Pattern Board has the quality of a matrix-like beginning that already contains all meticulous details of the future large-scale paintings. (2) Different decisions maintain distance and support or enact the body of work in its reproducible and repetitive nature. Jens Wolf works on standard sheets of plywood, in which the painting surface is untreated. As industrially produced wood products with grain, the boards possess their own natural space of clear objecthood. A linear skeleton of stencil is first applied to the plywood boards. Then form and color, delicate areas, bridges and curves reminiscent of marquetry are docked onto it in an elaborate process of masking and cutting. In this way, the pictorial figure is clearly characterized and sharply separated from the surface. Each gestural painterly impulse is avoided. Wolf isolates his materials, builds up the image and assembles segments. The color palette is reduced. The paintings’ subject and medium are precisely coordinated and function as a sensitive pattern of figure and surface that optimally anchors the subject in space, whether to create a suggestion of emptiness or a kind of limbo. Virtually working in parallel, he adds to his abstract ciphers some quasi-realistic elements that complement his iconographic program: a broken line, a spot, a bulge, a blob, a false gloss, an irregularity or a slip. Any seemingly spontaneous randomness is a formal decision that within Jens Wolf’s system has to be repeatable or cloneable, whether it is ripped varnish, overpainted glue, gradient errors, compass circles, construction lines or sudden stops at the format’s border. They pull the paintings into the present. This working method prevents the painting’s simple geometric abstractions from snapping back into just another art history.
Jens Wolf’s way of painting operates in a strongly subjective manner. He subjects his purely decorative forms, as well as his fragmented interventions, to a certain dissolving — a method that necessarily puts the question of beauty under stress. By the act of recycling forms as an appropriated element, he takes along every move into the blow-ups. (3) Dead Undead, Minimalism and After, and Ultramoderne were three group exhibitions in which Jens Wolf was involved. Their titles represent the climatic context of the mid-and late 2000s, with its search for a renewable taste from a mixture of neo-formalism and the revival of earlier models of abstraction.(4)
For Jens Wolf, history is not completed — he presupposes the long chain of geometric abstraction as his aesthetic reference. He knows that he has to make use of his own aesthetic position — before he becomes a doppelganger. He also knows that these days subjective opinions are flexible and context-dependent and therefore subject to pretense and representations.
Now for the first time, the Pattern Boards are on display in almost their entirety. According to their place in Jens Wolf’s work, they are particularly suitable for thesis elongation and/or refocusing — by putting the work’s conceptual components in the forefront and by emphasizing the general availability of his paintings in repetition and magnification. Unlike his usual previous exhibition practice of combining work groups with large-scale paintings, he now organizes his archives as an exhibition of lines, rows and clusters. As a successful self-commentary, he merges the work’s genesis as a texture with the full painterly range. The bare wood color additionally creates a continuous naturalistic level and pushes the sand-colored plywood boards with their porous top layer into a timeline — visualizing the construct and the course of the work as a strip that contain the drafts stored as pictograms, letters or drilling cores.
(1) Accordingly Pattern Boards would be sample boards, on which art and craft coincide and thus trigger idea, draft and repeated feasibility, ergo, reproduction.
(2) Each design can currently be applied to four sizes: 80 x 60 cm (60 x 80 cm), 115 x 85 cm (85 x 115 cm), 195 x 140 cm (140 x 195 cm), 235 x 170 (170 x 235 cm).
(3) Low, Lower, Lowest Expectations are pop music quotes, live-playback performed by Angus Fairhurst—endlessly looped intros and lousy samples that put an abrupt end to the initial toe-tapping, because the music never really starts, but practically ends as a broken record. In his work, Fairhurst often talks about the fragile, melancholic status of the artist: samples as a keynote, mirroring, repetition, meandering in versions, reprocessing, arbitrariness of availability, cover versions, recycling and transference as artistic approaches, which at this point can be docked seamlessly to Jens Wolf’s model.
(4) The exhibition Dead Undead, organized by Hans-Jürgen Hafner, was based on the observation that the exhibited works mostly function in terms of retro mechanisms—methods that partly reflect a formal aesthetic in the choice and treatment of materials or specific media or techniques and/or whose effects are visible on a thematic and contextual level.
Dead Undead, Galerie Six Friedrich Lisa Ungar, Munich 2004, Minimalism and After III, Daimler Chrysler Contemporary Collection, Berlin, 2005 and Ultramoderne, Espace Paul Wurth, Luxembourg, 2007.
The recourses to the 1980s (Neo-Geo, with John Armleder, Gerwald Rockenschaub or Heimo Zobernig) and at the same time the keyword-exhibition Formalism. Modern Art today, at Kunstverein Hamburg, 2004, was a clear attempt of a younger generation of artists to sound the bell for the end of the 2000s with a new definition of power. (In this exhibition, the headliners include—along many others: Tomma Abts, Carol Bove, Wade Guyton, Anselm Reyle or Katja Strunz). Moreover, Jens Wolf has exhibited with all of these artists in other contexts.