Fritz Panzer


Una Stanza for Panzer

Fritz Panzer draws. Kitchens and lorries, chairs, fruit crates, hydrants, radios and wash basins. He draws things that are familiar, his personal ambiance, things that surround him: book shelves, the corners of studios, the coffee machine on the windowstill. Windows are important. Through them he looks at cars being parked and the residential building opposite. Sometimes life stops and an unfathomable providence freezes the view. If the lorry sits all day long next to the tree in the avenue as if it were stuck to it, then that is a reason for drawing it. An opportunity, so to speak. A still-life that patiently waits until the artist´s work is done – the work of an artist who relies on the direct perception and who does not, for instance, reach for the camera, press the button and set down reality as a photographic quotation, perhaps in order to bring it out again later and work on it.

Fritz Panzer lived in the country for twenty years, in Prenning, near Deutschfeistritz. There was room for artists in the area of a small cardboard factory which belonged to the Feuerlöscher family. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, the Resistance architect, was frequently a guest there. She planned an additional building to the industrialist´s villa. It was a time that Fritz Panzer and his wife enjoy looking back on – living and working in the Styrian woods was good. At the same time Graz was not far away, with its famous Trigon exhibitions of the 1970s, for which Panzer produced sculptures out of cardboard. We cannot imagine Fritz Panzer´s life as an artist at all without the product of the Feuerlöschers´ business.

In 1998 Panzer, who had studied under Albert Paris Gütersloh and Josef Mikl in Vienna, moved to Berlin and got a job as a city artist for the Berliner Zeitung. City Views is the name of the column for which he does unpretentious jottings of Berlin life, measuring the contours of a city with his terse outlines. He has been living in Vienna since 2000, and since then has done countless little sketches and large, almost life-size works on paper. One of them is programmatic: Panzer draws his living room (it is full of his distinctive material: rolls of paper), and he says that In the Living Room was that sheet of paper through which the thought first came to him to draw three-dimensionally, to leave the surface and to break out into the space.

A couple of rolls of flat wire – leftover stock from the Prenning industrial warehouses – were used as material, and even the subject matter came from the old home: the Prenning Kitchen was produced, complete with cooking range and flue cover, kitchen table, shelves and tiles. The draining bowl full of crockery, pans and plates lying in the sink, postcards from people´s holidays stuck behind the electric cable on top of the plaster. Panzer bends the wire in order to bring it into shape; he bends the volumina into shape and winds reinforcements along the outlines of the furniture and utensils. The first wire he uses for this is thinner than the reinforcement wire, and is often left casually neglected, hanging in the air, so that an informal parallel structure to the matrix is created.
The everyday objects of his own living conditions provide a source for his work: next to the extensive kitchen drawing, Panzer builds free-standing objects and furniture – a chair, for instance, with a dishcloth hanging over the back; a portable radio, a type of ghettoblaster; the indispensable wooden trestles and a wash basin.

It is not just domestic items that Panzer wires up but also set pieces from urban life – a parked van, a fire hydrant: an inventory of public space; impressions from the kerbside. In the context of the exhibition the emphasis of the line generates a transparency which is not linked with masses or solid material. Space flows through the sculptures; one thinks the sculptures will dissolve in it, but in fact it is the sculptures that activate the space and make it visible. The wire objects and space fuse in the dynamic of a situation which is experienced as coincidental and fragile.

Iron wire – a mundane material – has already been used in 20th century art. When Pablo Picasso in 1928 set about designing a memorial for Guillaume Apollinaire, he turned to a friend from his youth, Julio Gónzales, a trained wrought-iron craftsman. Gónzales produced Picasso´s sketches in iron wire and in this way created a type of three-dimensional drawing, one of the first of its kind. In Paris, American mechanical engineer Alexander Calder in turn invented toy-like, partially moving wire figures and appeared in small nightclubs throughout the country with his Calder Circus, like a travelling showman. On the more abstract side of things, it was Walter Bodmer from Switzerland who soldered abstract filigree compositions to each other; these are often viewed by art historians as Paul-Klee-drawings made concrete. The link between drawing and space can exist – as we have learned from Marcel Duchamp – not only in solid materials but also in ephemeral, transitory materials. A nice example of this is provided by Man Ray´s photo of Duchamps´ La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (Le Grand Verre) that he had taken in Duchamps´ studio in 1920. Duchamp had returned from Paris from a trip that had lasted several months. In the meantime a layer of dust a milimeter thick had gathered on the Grand Verre, and on Man Ray´s photo Élevage de Poussière the chocolate grater looked like a fantasy landscape photographed from above.

Also in Panzer´s bold, two-dimensional drawings it is, quite classically, all about the relationship between form and space in the picture. With a few strokes casually distributed on paper, he examines objects by their contours. Much of it looks doubled or multiplied, just as in paintings from the Middle Ages the pentimenti surge forward to the surface. On the one hand there are graphical water colors, technically seeming drawings of contours with their vanishing points in perspective; and on the other, there are accumulations of shapes where the perspective and illusionism of the space are less clear. On the one hand there is the need to define exactly, and on the other there is the attempt to preserve the scope of a free, intuitively felt representation of space, and not to constrict it through too many rational constructions.

With his iron wire sculptures Panzer removes the line from the surface of the paper and projects the world of the object into real space. From the 1970s onwards he had the need to bend, fold and shape whenever he worked with cardboard. Then there was a long period devoted to painting, and he thought again and again of drawing; of paper and in the space. The characteristics of wire (which nevertheless provides a certain amount of resistance when bent), the light reflexes on its surface, the graphc play of shadows which traces the metal frame onto the gallery wall, the opportunity to combine different strong wires within one and the same object: in all of this Panzer discovers the essential values of two-dimensional graphics and displays them with the greatest attention to their meaning, which owns the brittle, sparely used material as a bearer of expression.

But as we are in the 21st century, what possibly matters much more are the divergences, differences, transformations and swerves, the twilight zones between the visible and the invisible, the crumbling piles of rubbish, where everything is at once present and absent. It is possible that Fritz Panzer´s fragile wire sculptures are insubordinate subversions, and their creator a mutineer.

Text: Brigitte Huck