In the 1970s the young Martin Disler was initially much admired for his drawings. His charcoal and chalks—frenetically, furiously reducing and compressing his motifs into pithy, even crude pictorial marks—chased across ever larger sheets of paper. In 1976 he was not only one of the youngest artists invited to participate in the major exhibition “Mentalität: Zeichnung” at the Kunstmuseum Luzern,(1) he was also the most radical. Over the next few years Disler turned from drawing to painting. Following a number of spectacular presentations—from the installation “Invasion durch eine falsche Sprache” in 1980 (with paintings filling every room of the Kunsthalle Basel)(2) and the monumental, 140-meter panorama painting Die Umgebung der Liebe in Stuttgart,(3) to the gigantic, violently brutal paintings issuing highly charged accusations at documenta 7 in 1982—for a few years Disler became an internationally celebrated star of the new “Wilde Malerei”. It was a redhot career, marked by an intensity—arising both from Disler’s excessively workaholic nature and from the inordinate pressures of the art business—that he compellingly described in “Bilder vom Maler”, the novel he dashed off in 1980.(4)
The large-format sheet from 1984 is a complex fusion of drawing and painting, with Disler taking a draughtsman’s materials—charcoal, chalk, ink—and using them as a painter might; at the same time his monumental canvases from that period show how crucially and energetically aspects of drawing almost subcutaneously inform his paintings. 1984 was an important year for Disler the painter. Besides fast acting materials such as emulsion paints and acrylics, he now also started to use oil paints—slower moving, thick, and saturating. In terms of their content, the compositions on paper are closely related to the works on canvas; they, too, address violence and sexuality, erotic and forceful contact, amorous struggles and the dance of death. Unlike the densely painted canvases, the manically dancing or fighting bodies and limbs in the large-format works on paper are mostly seen against an open, empty picture ground.
In 1986 Disler’s career started to slow down; his paintings were less and less in demand. Nauseated by the art world’s constant clamors for something new, Disler withdrew from public life in 1988. In a secluded farmhouse in the Jura mountains he explored a wide range of mediums—drawing, prints, and painting—and increasingly turned to modeling and sculpture. It was here, between 1988 and his early death in 1996, that Disler produced an extensive series of monotypes; the sheet illustrated here from 1988 may well be one of the first. The monotype allowed Disler to produce drawings in the most direct manner possible once again. These pictures were caressed into life from the back of the sheet, blindly. Disler himself described their making as a sensual, erotic pleasure: “This kind of monotype is made by placing a sheet of paper on an area of paint applied using a roller; the paper is touched tenderly, but with gentle pressure, in the same way that practiced lovers have learnt to use their hands to morse or telegraph long unencrypted messages into the beloved body.”(5)
(1) See Mentalität: Zeichnung. Christian Ludwig Attersee, Anton Bruhin, Martin Disler, Markus Dulk, Helmut Federle, Heiner Kielholz, Claude Sandoz, Hugo Suter, David Weiss, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Luzern 1976.
(2) See Martin Disler. Invasion durch eine falsche Sprache, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Basel 1980.
(3) See Martin Disler. Die Umgebung der Liebe, exh. cat. Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart 1981, and on the occasion of the representation of Die Umgebung der Liebe at Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur, Martin Disler. Die Umgebung der Liebe, ed. Stephan Kunz, Zurich 2019.
(4) Martin Disler, Bilder vom Maler, Dudweiler 1980.
(5) Martin Disler, “Was ertastbar war. Gezeichnet auf der Rückseite,” in Martin Disler, Das Plateau. Die Zeitschrift im Radius-Verlag, 34, April 1996, unpaginated.
Further works by Martin Disler in the Baloise art collection:
Inv.-Nr. 0511, Untitled, 1973, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 30 x 40.5 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0512, Untitled, 1973, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 34.9 x 35.6 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0513, Untitled, 1973, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 25.5 x 21 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0509, Untitled, 1978, Pencil, charcoal, and gouache on paper, 70 x 50 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0504, Untitled, 1983, Charcoal, chalk , acrylic and gouache on paper, 99.7 x 64.2 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0588, Untitled, 1988, Monotype on paper, 29.5 x 41.9 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0690, Untitled, 1988, Pencil, India ink and watercolor on paper, 29.8 x 42.3 cm
Inv.-Nr. 0673, Untitled, 1995, India ink on paper, 29.5 x 19.8 cm