In „the book of Disquiet“, Fernando Pessoa writes: „A man ... with nothing but his senses ... can enjoy the entire spectacle oft he world from a chair, without knowing how to read and without talking to anyone.“ Let us talk about someone who uses “his senses” as well. And about the openess of senses. For forty years, the painter Peter Dreher has been painting the same painting. There is hardly an end in sight. It is the painting of a beaker glass that presents its openness.
Glass is a challenge for vision. Dreher is fascinated by the character of glass, its transparency and the reflections of light. Its immaterial appearance, the delicate interaction of object and space. All this is a challenge of vision. Vision is what matters for the painter. In this case, he settles for the simplest model of a still life. He adjusts his view and opens his eyes. And will not feel restricted or limited at all. Taking a look, without further demands on himself, not forcing anything – what else could freedom be? Dreher is the man in the chair who exploes the world by looking at an example.
Despite persistently revolving around a single object, his painting is anything but a mere routine. Repetition is blind. Here, however, we are talking about an exercise in openness. For Dreher, his glass is an open vessel of painting. Even in the calm unison of the glass images, nothing is ever the same. No stolid repetition at all. More than 5.200 times the beaker. But still not the same.
The series does neither seek nor demonstrate discrepancies. Difference is what happens. There is no painting automaton at work, no painter who is able to paint in his sleep. Alertness is both a condition and the effect. It is due to alertness or open-mindedness that new paintings are created time and again. This is why this series can never be complete. How could such an extensive view of the world ever come to an end – except by the author’s own end? This is the final conclusiveness of these paintings which, ironically, are always potential “last pictures” as well.
When Peter Dreher started the series which accompanies his life like a diary, he was hardly more than forty years old. Such a picture conserves a piece of lifetime. Each of them made on a single day. The series is a life line made visible. How does one come up such an idea? The answer is written on Dreher’s “Großplakat in Aquarellen”: just like that. It was in April 1974. And that was the idea: “It has to be an object, and this object must always be at the same distance to me, in always the same artificial light.” So there is the surface on which the glass stands and upon which its shadow is cast. There is the background which is a bit darker at first and becoming brighter. And only this one glass absorbing the light reflections which make it visible. This is how it stands in the studio up in Sankt Märgen, close to the easel. This is how it is shown in the painting. The central spatial horizon between the surface and the floor, slightly lower at first, becomes distorted when seen through the glass beaker. The glass is obviously painted, but without emphasizing this fact,. The painting remains as transparent as the glass itself. The same could be said about the painter – that he depicts himself empty, just like the glass.
Relaxing idling. In a serene self-experiment, painting is part of the daily routine. Blends in with the invariably simple meals, the moments of reading, the usual cups of white coffee, Baroque music by Domenico Scarlatti and minimal music … Blends in, As Dreher himself sees it, with the rhythm of day and night, finally becoming an image of happy, uneventful time. What is shown is what is. What could, should or ought to be is nor an issue. This type of painting does not ask about a meaning. And as it does evaluate importance and does not take any opportunity, it creates crystal-clear awareness of something thought to be almost lost. Awareness of the present. Present is, as we see, not what is given for granted. To realize this present, we need a sensorium. Peter Dreher’s glasses reflect the present as a process with unrelenting intensity. These glasses are his speech and objection. Against the unbearable complacency of professional artistry. Against the forced originality, the affections in the scene. Confidently, the painter keeps his distance from the customary palaver. To make a stand against compulsive talking, he shows a frugal concept of glasses, their unfailing silence. Their silent relevance.
Apparent reduction attracts attention. This attitude of painting is described by the title taken from an ancient scripture of Chinese Cahn Buddhism: “Day by Day Good Day”. This is exactly is the attitude to contemplate the flow of days with calmness, just like this glass. Without any judgment. Without any dualism, the usual black and white. Hans Albert Peters, who organized early exhibitions of Dreher’s work in Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, already recognized the fact that Dreher moves “in an atmosphere of finely tuned shades built on grey”. Before Dreher, says Peters, on Giorgio Morandi had been able to achieve this. This bright grey is the pitch of perfect harmony. Even in the light, there is still is the softness of the shadow. And the picture itself is the secure vessel for the glass. Thus the daily task of painting does not entail sleepless nights for the painter. The initial series painted in artificial light was complemented by another one showing the same glass on the same scale, full size, daylight. Instead of the light spot of the lamp, the reflecting calinder now mirrors the source of daylight, the lattive window in Sankt Märgen. Furthermore, light changes slightly more during daytime, thus increasing the grey scale variety. If seen in a row, light seens to be slinding along the picutes. Sometimes flickering a little.
In addition to these two parallel glass series there are others; in keeping with their dynamics. The glasses set the rhythm. In this context, too, the concept of a daily task, the unifinished pictures, proves tis worth. And even the skulls seen to glassy light. Siting redatley in rows, they are far from beiing burdened with content. No implications of a wishful “Woe”. The idea of death has turned to lightness. You can look it in the face and still pay attention to the painting, which Peter Dreher calls his “life”. There is an oval intergrated in an imaged surface. Its belonging to a skull carries no weight. How could painting that knows nothing but the present, acquiescing the passing of time, spread dark sceptizism of life?
The flowers, delicate petals painted and sketched by Dreher time and again, celebrate beauty. The Dutch flower painters of the 17th century showed beauty and vanitas. Today’s artist shows beauty and its subtitle synthetics. He wishes to stress that what he does is “surface art”. What counts is what meets the eye. And the surface, the foundation of the painting or the drawing, is no less important than the motif. For the painter, paper flowers are just as prescious as the life fresh one he finds on the market at Freiburg’s Minster. The reason for painting. There is more than just one. Next to the bright white skull in the studio in the Wittnau home there is the glass bowl Dreher shows in his “Vitrines” holding various colourful contents. He gives free rein to his continuing delight in visual stimuli. And amoung the requisites in the Wittnau wirkroom is the silver goblet he once found in New York, the one he paintes and to which, after several decades, he dedicated an enthuastic series. These “Silverbowls” with their warped, reflecting surface serve as vessels for surrounding space. Their shimmer absorbs the play of colours and shapes. A beautiful spectacle. Calling the artist ascetic would be doing him wrong. What counts for him is the pleasure of painting. The visual play with the surface requires no excuses. Why shouldn’t a painter admit that he believes in the magic of painting? If this magic is his life. And besides the series in which Dreher develops painting ad inifitum, showing that for him, an image is just as open and just as undirected as life itself, there are the large formats combining many pictues – approaches the pictures. Collections of painting fragments that, just like “Day by Day Good Day”, also imply that the process of creating a picture can never be complete. This calm and composed attitude is confirmed by their sychronized attempts in the image. While invoking the presence of an object, they also picutes the presence of painting. Even before his extensive series, in the early 1960s. Dreher developed type of picutes composed of painted pieces – a concept still valid today. An unassuming image that knows no detours and no purports – that is completely absorbed in its creation: it lets us fell the weight of the “real presence” George Steiner was talking about. It is a silent opposition to the primacy of the secondary in a time where people blindly believe the media. Drehers’s object painting refuses any explanation and any distraction. These paintes works, objects themselves, simply exist.
Time and again, it becomes evident how the act of painting compacts reality. Painting is Drehers’s way of meeting reality. He knows well enough that he can depict a glass. He does not have to prove it. What is confirmed time after time by every image of the chosen object is, however: I paint, therefore I am.
We will not impute any maening to Dreher’s pictures. They do not have any (other). Their natures is what Susan Sontag calls “untranslatable, senuous immediacy”. They are what they are. These tableaux remind us of Sontag’s “Against interpretation” and her dictum: “What is important now is to recover our senses.” When asked about his intent, Dreher simply states: “Seeing with my own two eyes.”
No, we are not going to replace his visual pieces, his very glassy pictures by an interpretation. They are irreplaceable. Interpretation is the interpreter’s revenge on the object. A hostile takeover. We know better. Dreher’s art is a humble but magnificent “De Pictura”. An essay without word. Words cannot express him. They should not paralyze him.

Volker Bauermeister in: Pearl series and Silver bowls, 2014

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