Dec 14, 2016

Perfecting the Glass: Peter Dreher's Magnum Opus

Peter Dreher has painted the same glass over 5,000 times in the last 40 years.....and he has no intention of stopping
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Peter Dreher has painted the same empty glass over 5,000 times: 2,500 times at night and 2,500 times in the day. It’s a series of works he’s been working on since 1974 and after more than 40 years he’s still working on it.

The glass is always in the same place in the studio and always painted life-size on a 25 x 20cm canvas. There are differences; some glasses are light and clear, some are dark and heavy, but to the viewer, the initial response is likely to be that they are all the same.

It’s a fascinating magnum opus that has won the German artist critical acclaim. ‘Tag um Tag gutter Tag (Day by Day good Day)’ is simply like no other series known.

‘I had the idea to paint the most simple thing I could imagine. Before that I painted large, grey paintings, which showed a sort of optical illusion. And what is more simple than to take something usual, like a glass – I mean, something invisible – and place it on a white table before white walls, a white, white glass. I had the idea to paint it five or six times. I did one, two, three, then five, then seven, then 10, then 100. I couldn’t stop, and it became fascinating. I think the whole history of art—no, let’s say the history of the problems in painting—came to me.’
The title itself gives clues to the series’ intentions. Part of a quote by the ninth-century Chinese Zen master Yunmen Wenyan, ‘Day by Day good Day’ can be found in a collection of one hundred aphorisms that help people move towards a mystical experience of unity and ‘awakening’ in life. Each object should be viewed objectively, without judgement.

Dreher embraces this philosophy and tries to perceive the glass without preconception each time he paints it. In his own words:

‘Painting the glass is the only place and the only hours in my life when I feel quiet. Maybe I don’t make the impression of being unquiet, but I am.’

He is a master tonalist and has a unique ability to paint realistic objects with a twist of abstraction. With each work he simultaneously breaks down the object’s form and celebrates his joy of painting, Each glass an ‘ode’ to the art form.

‘I think painting should be open or recognizable to everybody. Everybody. These little paintings of a glass, everybody can understand. You see a glass, you say, “It’s a glass, it’s a nice painting, it’s realistic.” You don’t feel that you didn’t understand it. But if you want to learn more about it, you can. If you begin to deal with this concept, I think a whole world opens to you.’
Yet what at first appears a simple, perfect portrayal of an everyday object, takes a form of abstraction when viewed collectively. A spot of light or a reflection appears and disappears from one painting to another. The reflection of the window distorts. And while rooted in realism, the epic series, through its repetition and reiteration has taken on conceptual form.

Although unintended, through its consistency and stability it has paradoxically allowed Dreher’s work to remain fresh; a constant within an ever-changing art world that revolves quickly around his work, and in doing so changes the way the series is interpreted. It is sometimes of the moment, sometimes out of trend, but always changing with the world around it.

‘I ask myself every day if it still has sense to do this. The day I must say to myself, "No, it’s not necessary, there’s no more sense in it," I’ll stop it. But now, I’ll do it as long as I can, as long as I can paint. As long as I live.’

Artist represented by Koenig & Clinton