Terrain in Flow
Konstantin Dery’s pictures have accompanied me for years. Every day, my gaze is caught by two small winter landscapes, which bring out the prickly, ragged texture of straw, wood and earth under a thin layer of snow; by a large picture of summer in which, with light and leaves, the soft, ruddy ground appears, to be in constant state of movement; and by a brush drawing of undergrowth in which every line is a trace, a path or an impasse, threads in the texture of this piece of land. These paintings and drawings which were created some years ago, are never concerned with depiction, instead they are a translation of the artist’s gaze into depth, into the layers which create structure and texture and, when composed in brush strokes and set by the sculptural application of paint, never stop moving.
This idea of using the gaze into nature as subject matter has developed in the newer work. The artist no longer leads the observer’s eye into the distance, where sky and horizon are the counterpoints to terrain. Figures, who sometimes intervened in the earlier pictures, pushing themselves into view, qualifying the landscape like motionless intruders – strangers whose own gaze the viewer had to contend with – are absent now. The paintings from the last few years show environments without people, not untouched by external influence but without the presence of a character to distract from texture.
Landscape is a difficult word in art, leaden with reinterpretations over the centuries , encumbered with changing implications in the word paysage in painting. It is, however, questionable whether Konstantin Dery’s pictures are to be seen, to be understood, as landscapes at all. Dery’s work is rather about nature in a broader sense, contending with the possibilities of finding a visual language for the natural processes which take place autonomously in the fabric of a terrain. Terrain appears a good word for the landscape of the ground, which these pictures move around in. The word is unencumbered, unprejudiced, at most affected by the lines from Paul Celan’s poem Stretto:
taken off into
the terrain: with the unmistakable trace
Terrain is one of those nice umbrella terms in language, which allow a retreat to so-called neutral ground from where it is possible to define without intervention, undistorted by the strictures of convention. This same idea can be traced in Konstantin Dery’s pictures. The settings – glades, sections of steep riverbank, water, streams – are not bound to an identifiable place. The titles of the pictures are not defined by anything apart from external appearance: Water Surface In Wind, Dry Forest, Flecks of Light, Sunlight Brushes Rough Ground. Without comment, they surrender the field of interpretation to the viewer who has at their disposal the names of the colours, the dynamism emerging between the fine outline of the details – grasses, leaves, tree bark, earth – the application of the primer and layers of paint, and the vertical and horizontal lines. There is tension between surface and depth, foreground and background and this creates movement, picked up by the viewer’s eye everywhere: in motionless water, in fissured bark, between leaves. But this movement is contained by quietness; the dispersing ripples on the water are not frozen but silently self-engrossed, like the furrows in the bark, the rough ground under the beam of sunlight, and the flecks of snow which are dispersed amongst the green undergrowth, soft under the buds of a line of reddish trees with their cold branches stretching up towards the sky. Water is always the centrepiece, in permanent dynamic intensity, in movement through colour and texture, flowing and rippling. Burn, Still, the title of the exhibition , may indicate a quiet stream or embers, still aglow. Both are possible interpretations of these pictures which bring together the precision of line as perceived from the outside with a lyrical or dramatic colouring drawn from introspection. The pictures are not the result of a view of the landscape, they are instead an insight into the terrain. And the rules of the terrain, which are embodied by the things passively in it, have been translated into a language of colour, silent flow and poise, dissolution and consolidation, decay and growth. These terms seem pale in comparison with the language of colour in the pictures, these absorbed considerations of terrain, in which the unmistakable trace of a distinctive gaze into the essence of matter emerges; a trace which articulates itself in a silent, never-ending story of colours, lines, surfaces and structures.
Esther Kinsky, September 2017