Swordsman in the landscape of imagination. Paul Z. Rotterdam moved to the United States from Vienna in 1968. Ten years later, after numerous exhibitions of paintings and drawings on both sides of the Atlantic, his book ``Paul Rotterdam: Selected Drawings 1974-1977'' was published in Zurich. On the occasion of a recent show at Boston's Nielsen Gallery, where his work is permanently represented, we asked Mr. Rotterdam for a few words to go along with photographs of his art. He replied in the following unusual form, offering images as in ancient myth to convey demanding artistic concepts in those few words.
EXCERPT from the diary of a swordsman: On my journey as a painter I had to pass through many valleys, swim treacherous rivers, and climb high mountains. I wrestled with Beramud, the iron warrior whose painting sword had almost brought me to the ground; I resisted the temptations of Irmgard, whose songs distracted me from my route; and, after passing the valley of Almud, the vicious dragon, I have approached the area of the Unicorn.Skip to next paragraph
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At the age of 45, I finally find myself on a wide-open terrain that stretches like a green carpet toward the horizon, on which I see a boundary of seemingly impenetrable high bushes and sturdy grass. On this plateau there is great relief from immediate dangers, which hampered me in the past; they often prevented me from experiencing myself as the creator of my own acts and shortened the perception of myself as the subject of my own experience, thought, feeling, decision, and judgment.
The burden of history is the weight of a bull you carry on your shoulders while fencing. It makes you slow while it protects you. Of course, certain works can be created only at a particular time, because not everything is possible at all times, but for a swordsman, like a painter, to become himself he has to shake off all rational obligations to the past and turn the bull into his food. Even though there is always a definite intellectual directive for the creation of a certain type of work within historical circumstances, there is no reasoning as to the why of a style, but reason always finds its way back to inner necessity. A swordsman can never worry about the particularities of his obstacles or opponents; he lives out of the strength of his spirit, out of the spiritual, which is the underlying and unifying principle of all phenomena he creates.
The spiritual is not something that hovers like a fog in front of every phenomenon that contains certain formal conditions; it is the elementary emotion which remains the same regardless of the visual particulars of one's changing style. That is why it doesn't make sense for an artist to worry about rational constituents for his forms. As a swordsman, he does not work on his paintings, but he has to work on himself.
The pursuit of design problems in art is as much a futile enterprise as the pursuit of a formal beauty, because once certain solutions have been found they either become stale or are replaced by other problems. Masters resist analytical extrapolation of the elements of their style. What constituted the formal properties of their style in the past is not an overt or guaranteed end for their future. A swordsman lives out of his energy, which he trusts more than past accomplishments, and exposes himself to new challenges and formal risks.
Among the many propositions that are available to painting, the painter chooses those that carry his feeling with the greatest intensity. Painting is the only human discipline in which a recognition manifests itself as an emotion. But this emotion is recognized only in context with what we have recognized in the past, either in normal reality, in art, or in the works of the same artist. We cannot get tired of looking at more and more works of the masters, because the more clearly their singular energy emerges the more appetite we have for them.
A swordsman who continues his journey throughout his life is not adding more and more events of the same kind into the existing household of reality. But by adding battles -- paintings -- he is subtracting from the possibilities of interpretation of who he is. A single example is more complex than a whole proposition -- a style. Style, while being simpler, is also stronger, because it shapes a more precise vision of reality.
The myth in art is the uniqueness of expression that an individual has created for himself apart from all other examples in the history of art. Uniqueness manifests itself in the newness of style, because newness means uniqueness of emotion. All great names in the history of art have separated themselves on the basis of innovations that opened new avenues for a new state of consciousness. Resistance by society is great, because it accepts those artists with the greatest applause who provide seemingly new phenomena while indulging in old and well-known emotions. The swordsman's concern, however, is not the conquest of men or of art, but his travel is a conquest of reality and particularly of nature and its manifestation in the visual forms that carry his substance most clearly.
Painting is not an aesthetic but a moral enterprise. Its history is a basket full with the greatest myth, the vision, and the emotional attitude that all great swordsmen had to develop for themselves on their journey through the landscape of their imagination.