Painter Thomas Huber clearly demarcated the beginning of his significant work. Toward the end of his time as a student at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf he delivered programmatic speeches introducing three of his own paintings—“Sintflut” and “Schöpfung” in 1982, “Schule” in 1983—at the Kunstakademie. These compositionally complex yet very legible paintings are in some ways reminiscent of the educational posters that many will remember from their school days. Huber’s extensive creative output falls naturally into a chronological sequence of distinctive yet related groups of works on different themes. His focus is always on the painting as such, on the pictorial space within the painting and its architecture, on the relationship of figure and ground, language and image. From the outset Huber’s pursuit of a picture within a picture was a key tactic and stylistic device. Over the decades the form of painting that is the vehicle for his pictures—painting in the sense of “peinture”—has barely changed.
Huber’s imagery bears the stamp of his original ambition to become an architect, and of his active interest in architecture and urban planning. This also comes across in the watercolors that he painted in 2002 in connection with a commission to design the interior of the art library for the newly extended Aargauer Kunsthaus in Aarau.(1) The art museum wanted a space reserved for those wishing to engage with art through words and texts. Huber had taken on several library projects since 1990, which led to the invitation. Accordingly, in 2003 he created four large-format paintings for Aarau, in which the reservoirs and repositories first seen in the watercolors make a reappearance. “Huberville” is the name Huber has given to his urban project, which in many ways calls to mind designs for ideal cities created by Italian artists during the Renaissance. In the library in Aarau visitors find themselves facing a horizontal townscape, with a building directly on the water in the foreground; it is divided into three barrel-vaulted sections, with the painted facades reflected in the water. This is a variant on Huber’s earlier “Bildreservoir, ” although in the watercolor it stands alone in an Alpine landscape and has only two barrel-vaulted sections.
When Huber reworked “Bilderlager 1” as an oil painting for the library in 2003, the vertical format became an expansive horizontal format. Aside from the wider perspective and the different color scheme, this is in effect the same painting, although the title—“Wolken”—now makes reference to the way the walls are painted. A similar transformation is seen in the pictorial space of the watercolor “Réservoir, ” which becomes “Lesesaal” in the oil painting. Once again the walls are decorated with amphora-like vases, but now a man is seen wading in a round pool with numerous sheets of paper floating on its surface. The painter explained this image: “The water has collected together all of this world’s pictures in its reflections, preserving them since the beginning of time.”(2) Long before that—as someone who has extensively engaged in words and images not only with alchemy but also with the “ideal pictorial temperature” and with the aggregate states of a picture—he had already stated that, “The clouds in the sky are latent pictures, picture chambers, an indescribable [literally: unpaintable] wealth of pictures.”(3)
(1) See Thomas Huber, Die Bibliothek in Aarau (Schriften zur Aargauischen Kunstsammlung, vol. 4), Aarau 2003.
(2) Thomas Huber, “Wolken,” in Huber, Die Bibliothek in Aarau, p. 3–6, here p. 6.
(3) Thomas Huber. Die Bibliothek, exh. cat., Kunstraum München 1990, p. 90. This statement was reused by Huber as a commentary on the painting Ein Bild kommt, in Thomas Huber. Das Kabinett der Bilder, ed. Beat Wismer, Baden 2004, p. 161.
Further works by Thomas Huber in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0893, Erde, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 74 x 85 cm
Inv. no. 0894, Feuer 1, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 74 x 85 cm
Inv. no. 0895, Luft 1 , 2002, Watercolor on paper, 75 x 95 cm
Inv. no. 0896, Bilderlager 1, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 40 x 30 cm
Inv. no. 0897, Halle 2, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 40 x 30 cm
Inv. no. 0898, Bibliothèque 2 solitaire, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 40 x 30 cm
Inv. no. 0900, Wasserhaus bemalte Fassade, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 46 x 33.9 cm
Inv. no. 0901, Wasserhaus, 2002, Watercolor on paper, 40 x 30 cm
Inv. no. 0973, Ohne Titel, 2005, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 64 x 67 cm
Inv. no. 0974, Stille mit Rauten, 2005, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 cm
Inv. no. 0975, Rauten traurig, 2005, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 cm