Didier Rittener has been probing the medium of drawing for more than a decade. For most of the works in his recent exhibition, the 42-year-old, Lausanne-based artist drew an image by hand and then subjected it to a process of increasing mediation—scanning it, printing it on a digital printer, sometimes at a different scale, and finally transferring it to a new support using solvents. This process compromises the quality of his initial linework, often generating doubled images and favoring bold areas over fine details.
The first room offered six such works, titled “Forêt Brume, I–VI” (Forest Mist, I–VI, 2011). These large-scale, black-and-white images of sylvan settings (each approximately 7 by 5 feet) surrounded the viewer, as if he or she were standing amid a clearing. More modest in size was Juste avant . . . (Just before . . . , 2011), which re-creates Gustave Doré’s engraving The Death of Abel (1865), but without the figures of Cain and Abel and the lightning bolt cracking above them. A second art historical quotation came in the form of a graphite wall drawing across which float rectangles, circles and triangles. The geometric forms seem plucked from Malevich’s canvases, and indeed the work’s title, Tout ce qui était directement vécu est devenu simple représentation (Everything which had been directly experienced has become simple representation, 2011), sounds like a line from his Suprematist manifesto.
Between Doré and Malevich, however, there is an artistic and temporal gulf. Doré (1832–1883) was best known as an illustrator and printmaker; his images, although often depicting biblical or mythogical subjects, are representational in style. Malevich (1879–1935) would scorn representational art as being “the savage’s idea, the aspiration to transmit what is seen, but not to create a new form.” Such tension between representation and abstraction ran throughout Rittener’s show.
In contrast to the first gallery—which was dominated by the outdoor scenes, with their wooded pathways and glimpses of open skies—the second was designed to entrap. The walls were hung with 18 reproduced drawings of cracked windows (“Recomposition II,” 2011), their linear, spiderweblike patterns serving only to halt one’s gaze. The claustrophobic feeling was intensified by Grille (2010), about 8½ by 4 feet, a flat steel grating that stood at the center of the small room, requiring circumnavigation. The bars of Grille form a busy assortment of overlapping rectangles, the composition suggesting an imploding Mondrian or a computer screen filled with open browser windows.
Rittener seems to struggle with the role of drawing in our digital age. By embracing contemporary tools for copying, transforming and reproducing images, he works at the forefront of the medium. But he also shows the limits of these tools and their effects on the artist’s hand. Perhaps Rittener dreams of a return to the naturalistic style, which provided such relief in this exhibition—titled “Escape”—and that had once offered artists such fertile possibilities.
Photo: Didier Rittener: Forest Mist I, 2011, drawing transferred to paper, 82½ by 59 inches; at Lange + Pult.