outside the frame
It is probably every child’s dream to pick up a crayon or marker in their favorite color and draw all over the walls of their apartment. This gives them an unlimited (at least compared to a small piece of paper) space to express their artistic vision and this is certainly an opportunity not to be missed out on! The hand can freely wander from one end of the wall to another, from top to bottom, back and forth, guided by nothing, but an unrestrained instinct. A parent who then has to repaint the walls as a result of this creative process will certainly not be happy, but this is not about him or her, but about the freedom of being able to go beyond the limiting framework.
What is this somewhat lengthy introduction leading up to? The answer is: to the oeuvre of Austrian artist Otto Zitko. Although he utilizes various techniques, painting equally on paper, canvas or aluminum, he’s perhaps most famous for his large-format works painted directly on the ceilings and walls of corridors, exhibition halls, museums and staircases. His style can be summed up as a dense tangle of lines – sometimes tangled up, sometimes loose, but always full of expression, strength and liveliness.
These one-color or multi-colored patterns create surprising ornaments (although not exactly decorative in the traditional sense of the word) that certainly enliven, dynamize and give personality to the otherwise white wall. In effect, the space becomes the opposite of what it was before with the vibrating line, having neither beginning nor end, fully appropriating or even subordinating the background that it runs across.
A good example of this technique is Raumzeichnung (A Cosmic Drawing) found in one of the chapels of St. Andrew’s Church in Graz, Austria, where Zitko covered the walls with a grid of red lines. The apparently abstract form alludes to the net used by St. Andrew to catch fish, but such a literal interpretation is just one of the many. The work can easily symbolize the vibrating energy that churchgoers experience when they gather in the temple.
Looking at Zitko’s paintings, we do indeed see and feel unbridled energy and creative madness that defies all boundaries. The artist escapes from a small canvas or a sheet of paper and reaches for great halls to spill his vision onto them. What is so unusual from the technical point of view is that, even though the artist has to use ladders or scaffolding to create compositions in multiple stages, the tangle looks as if it has been painted in one stroke, without lifting the roller from the wall!
Let’s look at the real-life canvases painted over by the artist. Wouldn’t we like to stand in front of an empty white wall ourselves and, feeling unlimited freedom, draw a colored line to see what it will lead us to? When I was a child, I once drew tangle of lines all over my parents’ bright cupboard with a black waterproof marker and I remember deriving a great deal of joy from the process. So I can only imagine how satisfying it must be to paint over a church chapel or a museum hall!
transl. Jakub Majchrzak