The lord of the circles: The round "central form" is at the heart of Robert Schaberl's work
The artist, who was born in 1961, is busy exercising on a rowing machine in his studio. “It’s fitness training for my back,” explains Schaberl, glancing at examples of his work that are leaning against the wall, in formats up to 290 x 290 centimeters. We are in Vienna, in a yard off Rennweg — a main street leading east out of the city. This is where the Balkans begin, Prince Metternich apparently once said. But this studio is also the birthplace of art with a special appeal.
At first the viewer sees only circles — “central forms” as Schaberl describes them. But soon they begin to work on the subconscious. The viewer is drawn into the work as though into a tunnel. And if the viewer changes position slightly, the colors also change, altering the total impression made by the powerful, large-format works. The image takes charge. It comes alive in a subtle fashion — its surface vibrates. Unlike “op art,” which plays with readily explicable perceptual phenomena, Schaberl’s works retain their inner secrets even after the process of their creation has been explained.
Up to 70 layers of paint
Robert Schaberl in his studio in Vienna
It is a process demanding strength, an expert eye, dexterity, and good reactions. Schaberl positions his canvas — in his case cotton stretched on a frame — on a base, which rests on a rotatable metal disk on the floor of his studio. Then he lies, facing downward on a wooden bench he made himself, and uses his left hand to start the canvas spinning. His right hand holds the brush that he now uses to transfer his carefully mixed paints to the work. “Up to around 60, 70 layers,” explains the artist. The result is a deep structure which, along with two other factors, determines the character of the works.
For one thing, he mixes pearl luster pigments from Merck with his paints, and then there are the brushstrokes and the application of the paint, which emphasize the natural weave of the cotton background. “In the process, I have to use extremely fine tweezers to remove small insects, for example, which land on the painting while it is still wet,” says Schaberl as his index finger moves carefully over a finished picture that nonetheless holds a gnat, as if entombed in amber.
Nature fascinates him. Schaberl collects mushrooms. He talks enthusiastically about ceps, chanterelles, and field mushrooms. And in his hands, they become both culinary and visual works of art. He places them on sheets of glass and waits for them to drop their spores. Once he takes them away, they leave a phantom impression that even reveals the path a worm has eaten through the fungus — and of the worm itself. Scanned and enlarged, these spore images become reflections of nature, time, and transience.