But is nice the time of awakening,
if one is not woken at the wrong time.

Of course these are not landscapes, these are pastels. Even if it is flat to emphasise this point, the works of Wieland Payer seduce us to easily forget this. His works depict forests and sky, mountains and valleys, mist and grottos, niche and starry canopies – so the familiarities in art education are recognised immediately. Oh, landscapes! Interesting. Dark pine forests under a dramatic sky – ah! As seen in Albrecht Altdorfer (1480–1538). The Moon’s disk in a starry canopy – ha! As seen in Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610). A morning in dim silver light – reminiscent of Johann Christian Clausen Dahl (1788–1857) ... In the Excitement of these enumerative recognitions, we are oblivious that the works of Wieland Payer were engaged with the principles of the dead painters, principles that waft in the scent of bygone eras – The Danube School, Romanticism! Remembering makes one overjoyed and fills the eyes.

If they weren’t filled, one must ask themselves, where has Altdorfer & Co. got to then? In chalks and cold picture arrangements that play precisely with such clichés in art perception. With this idea, there is on closer inspection inconsistencies and fractures to register, which releases the warm image of conformity or of retrospective connectedness. Even the handling of the pastels denotes a distance, separating the working principles of Wieland Payer and his historical predecessors. This is not just a coincidence, because landscape and pastels have hardly met each other in art history. The idea of ‘pastel paintings’ is somewhat ambiguous, because pastels are not painted, they are drawn. The abraded pastel pigments adhere as fine-grained lines on paper to create their own sphere of delicate pigmented expressions. The painting’s esteem is not a result of the material, but by the wealth of the artist’s technique using the material, applying mixed chalks in transparent layers, as one sees in glaze paintings. The golden age of pastels was in the 17th and 18th centuries, when they were used in the field of portraiture. The material’s powderiness matched the powderiness of courtly society of the late Rococo period. The appreciation of pastels was due to its ability to depict a stunning natural truth and give an internal glow to its adopted subject, not least because the soft “ungreasy” surface contributed to the effect. A cheek could not just appear to be peachy, but seemed to become velvety in a truly peachy way. The intimacy of the captured image compares also to the intimate character of cabinet pieces. With small formats and under polished glass they demanded the shimmer of silk wallpapers and did also decorate Boudoirs.

As a consequence, of the characteristics of the medium pastels, several artistic tasks were not invoked. The unsurpassed fineness quality in its presentation of still lifes and portraiture, seemed hardly suitable to suffice the magnitude of larger formed works. There weren’t Vedute, history paintings, genre scenes, or landscapes demonstrated in pastels. The technique had always been viewed as too sensitive for the representative tasks of art, and so pastels had had the long reputation of being too perfumed, too sweetish or subtly tainted. And so it continued to be treated as an exclusive side method right up until the 20th century, although this was irrespective of the pioneers of impressionism, such as Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) or Édouard Manet (1832–1883), who were the artists that discovered the power of light dust on the surface of the eyes perception. Or fearless individuals, who experimented with the media and its possibilities, played it through. These fearless individuals were Pablo Picasso, Albert Welti, who as an outsider maintained a pastel passion, or Heinrich Zille whose enchanting pastel studies show, that poverty and dirt can shine. One must not forget, also, Alfred Hrdlicka (1928–2009), Who created once again a major work of pastel painting with his drawings on works of Richard Wagner. For contemporary art though, pastels no longer play a role. Pastels have been denoted to layman’s art practice, where kits can be ordered via “amazon”, including instruction books like “Brilliant Designs Made Simple”. If Wieland Payer prefers Pastels in the 21st century, he must follow a concept that re-examines the technique’s status quo regarding its medial and functional purpose.

In fact Payer attacks the essential determination of Pastels interminably, from the dictum of intimacy and limited formats, to the hybrid status between drawing and painting, and even to the apparent inadequacy of landscape art. Payer’s approach is of subtle and calm consistency without missions. He is a draftsman, and he doesn’t abandon the trace of the hand nor the importance of the line for the pictorial shape. Even the translucent paper base is included as a constituent element in the pictorial definition of the space. The visible application, the powdery structure of the lines, the luminosity of the finest details, the transparency of the superimposed chalk formations, and the created surface of the paper base all confirm stringently to the fundamental character of drawing. By concealing them onto large formatted image carriers, Payer surprisingly stretches the structure field of his works. The sheer assertion of surfaces shifts the accent of the drawing back in the direction of painting, even though the dry surface environment has held artists back for over 300 years. From this medial hybrid (pastels = drawing as painting) Payer creates a hybrid: Images portraying events and landscapes crystallise into event landscapes, which form offsets of nature images in their refractions.

This idea of a new hybrid form of landscape leads to the next consequence: If landscape painting historically helped define the viewer, by means of discovering horizons as “representative of the distance”, as Gottfried Boehm called (1), then Payer cancels this principle of order: He zooms the views so close, that the horizon from the grandiose nature theme often disappears. In this way, the viewer is separated from the relational indicators of above, below, near and far. One never is moved anywhere other than in front of the view, and sees the image alone that defines its own vista shot, instead of becoming a slave to the imagination of a particular landscape. Payer unsettles the constants that viewers seek in a landscape image. Instead, he highlights the brokenness of the design context that we still call “landscape”, and by every effort he questions, redefines or totally denies the ‘genre-specific-parameters’. The cross point of his discussion is the concept of portrayal. This concept’s historic and functional instability has called modernity on the scene, to make an end to the pictorial rhetoric, which uses sedating illusional instruments. Payer sets the unequivocal image sense into a peculiar ambiguity by calling for the viewer’s representational reading and then rejecting it. As a result, the longer one looks, the longer it dismantles the holder’s classification terms: Every thought, every feeling or every idea, which is taken to the image in order to evaluate it, is perforated by the intentions of the artist to ensure that the viewer initially doesn’t see what he sees. The viewer shall understand that he is facing a figure of thought, which at first has to be decrypt. The viewing experience changes into the experience of the recognition, that newly spells out every facet on every level of the representation. This is why the participation of the viewer is crucial: He must check the known on what is shown in order to tap into the prerequisites of these images. Then, it becomes even clearer that Payers landscapes are not classical landscapes anymore. They neither have any topographical nor memorized or emotionally intuited reality as their starting point. Even though Payer likes wandering through beautiful landscapes, he stays away from the homeliness of the delightful touch of the gaze. Feeling forest and meadow and the immediate realization of nature’s occurrences do not play a role for his inventions. In his drawings there are no motives which could have been extracted somewhere as a visual image, but only arrangements that create mysteries to the premises of our expectations, and thus create the unpredictable. One is standing in front of structurally created compositions within which viewpoints and perspectives are overlapping and are transforming into fantastically compiled motives. What is declared as a natural image, on a closer look proves to be deception territory – as a created “area”, which contradicts every continuously evolved perception. Only when you realise that Payer’s pictorial creations are not images, and not images of a historically legitimate concept of nature, only then it becomes apparent that you are dealing with constructions contrary to the traditional ideas held about landscape. Each view that Payer provides plays with ideas that we, not he, carry into the beautiful world of nature. To keep it clear, he structures pictorial spaces so that foreign body structures, light phenomena or surfaces suddenly conceal the idyll, the seemingly harmless view of mountains and valleys, without touching the fascination of the purely visible. The leaves gain an enormous presence, because they drape the complexity of the intellectual design motive in a coat of beauty: the drawings are of high level visual attraction, due to their luminosity, their powerful light and dark contrasts, and especially by their richness of the detail.

This cool charisma, also brings to the viewer’s mind immediately the epoch of the Romantics, before he is aware of the pitfalls of this associative dependent relationship. But this is not a bad thing, even the Romantics dealt with this conflict between outer and inner image. Payers predecessors also had been harassed by references to their predecessors. Back in the day, same as nowadays, one bypassed the necessary criticism and productive boldness, in order to result in the originality of an own personal view, to which one shows, at a later point, in order to make it comparable after. The problem with these legitimate associations is that they assert history to be the unfolding of an inner logic. The reference to the past times generally does not tell anything about the actual present of contemporary art mentality. Although the history of art is full of internal and discrete reference points, these are not to be found in a constant line of its predecessors and successors, but in a spiritual resonance space, where the early and the late are residing at the same point in time. So the epochal image system by Claude Lorrain (1600–1682), which was still prevailing for Goethe, was radicalised by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) through abstract composition principles. But Friedrich’s radicalisation was hardly likely to have the intention to do precedent work for Wieland Payer. What does the former upheaval mean though? Was Lorrain brought into himself by Friedrich or Friedrich by Lorrain? Or are we, with the one or the other case, confronted with an original accomplishment, which doesn’t only overcome its predecessor’s references through a newly won position but was virtually obliterated?

The motive, apostrophized by old and new elements is always subjected to a foreign concern, including all its consequences in the last found image appearance. Because all the decisions that go into forming an image are due to the context of the artist’s own present time, and are exposed to this present condition even before one can consider an historically grounded relationship with the past, such as Payer’s to the Romantics. Art has only one present, and it is within this present that the thinking about art takes place. This principle applies to the production of images no less than to their effect, and their appreciation through the times, which are nothing more than present times that rotate with each other.

In the immediate presence belongs to the waking consciousness of the artist, that the world neither him nor anyone at all needs. This is the serious difference to the Romantic’s metaphor of seclusion. Payer’s art works say we are not alone but we are outdoors. He also does not claim anymore that nature was there to uplift us and that it was art’s task to serve symbols of profoundness with sun and night or pictures of life with mountain and valley. He rather sees in nature the backside, the wild, the chaos that cannot be solved artistically without being dissolve through an ordering look. Drawings can minimise the overwhelming world to an impression that can express the drawing itself. This formulation, in turn, correlates with our own experiences, and experiences are reflected in our expectations, and art plays with this, not with nature.

Payer’s pastels interrupt the experience of a gapless mapped and touristic visualised world that is rotting in domestic use by a strangeness of a resistive, rare artistic technique. Anyone visiting this scene finds it to be occupied, ploughed, cut up, meliorated by industrial subjugation, what emerges is the absurdity of a cultural landscape from nature. Already due to this nature can hardly be a naïve object of art. The opposite is the case. It is already a subject of museum like conservation in agency like administrated preservation rooms – like art itself.

At this delicate point, the rift between the landscape painter from 1816 and 2016 becomes clear again: The innocent glance is not a reality anymore just like an innocent nature. Not only has everything already been depicted to the degree of unrecognizability – every look is always also occupied by preceding model pictures. The most important consequence, which was drawn in the postmodern era, runs on the certainty that the evidence of the visible decays. Through this art is finally free. Free of wanting to transform nature into a valid figure system but also free of being important for the interpretation of the world. In that sense, contemporary art almost exclusively deals with the secret of its own occurrence instead of the world’s secret. The recourse of the history of pictures is then no longer part of a self-unfolding tradition, but reflections on the distance. Image and meaning no longer coincide together, but point out to each other from their opposite positions. The art works of Payer shows abstraction or figuration, tradition or avantgarde, modern or anti-modern are lost queries. They call the formerly immediate present possibilities between clarity of nature and planimetric abstraction of surfaces, without still believing in the excluding claim of unconditional terms. Payer’s pastels admit belonging to that crisis of the concept of portrayal, which expresses itself in disturbed relationships between the image of nature and the nature of the image. Images are constructions of the world, that certainty pervades periods, otherwise there would be no history of style. To honour and categorise that fact, art historians work off for over 200 years. However, making construction the sole object of art is the enabling art of modernity.

Wieland Payer, who studied when this was already consensus, wanders through art history instead of landscapes like through a box-room, without the distress of having to legitimise or to justify himself. He withdraws from it what he needs as image requisites in order to conjure cunning mood sceneries to which we react according to expectation. As a brilliant draughtsman, he builds a sphere of overwhelment, of beautiful appearances and dreamful blessedness. This sphere magically attracts the viewer until he wakes up. And if Hölderlin asks, please do not wake me up at the wrong time, you could reply, Payer’s art works are exactly for this moment of wrong timing.

(1) Gottfried Boehm: Wie Bilder Sinn erzeugen. Die Macht des Zeigens. University Press Berlin 2007, p. 78 


The viewer’s gaze is drawn across densely forested slopes to a mountain ridge ascending towards the right and marking a boundary beyond which an open, atmospheric space begins – an expansive, transparent counterpoint to the close-knit structure of the mixed woodland. Dense forest and blue skies – that sounds like a typical mountain landscape of the kind that would hardly hold any particular fascination for us, if it weren’t for that strange sight in the sky. Our first impression is: a light apparition. Our second: a silhouette, two-dimensional. For the thing, whatever it is, conveys no sense of corporeality whatsoever; all there is to it is its contour. It is as white and radiant as the paper ground of this large-scale drawing whose landscape elements have otherwise been executed in charcoal and pastel chalk. Wieland Payer calls the drawing Schein (Shine), thus referring us linguistically to the atmospheric light occurrence whose outline is reminiscent of a geometric ornament, a pine cone with open scales or – likewise strongly stylized – an explosion. Unworked surfaces of this kind, reflecting the light of the surroundings with unbroken uniformity, are also found in other recent drawings by Payer, for example in Schneise (Aisle). Here we look through a densely overgrown corridor at an equally densely forested high mountain slope in the background, which blocks our view of the spatial depths and the sky. A light veil in front of the slope evokes a misty, atmospheric quality. At the bottom of the valley thus visualized, we notice three white surfaces stacked one above the other and each bordered at the top by a straight horizontal. In effect they look like calm bodies of water (or like a single body of water divided by islands or promontories). If we pursue this option of identifying the drawing as a landscape, we once again run into paradoxes. For nothing is reflected in the water’s surfaces; they are completely empty. As in Schein, they derive their luminosity from the untouched white of the paper. In both cases, a strange tension ensues between two-dimensionality and spatiality, light and dark, transparency and texture. Contrasts which sharpen our perception. Yet another large-scale drawing of the artist’s most recent phase is entitled Gewitter (Thunderstorm). This time Payer takes the viewer’s gaze from a low vantage point through a forest corridor evoking spatial depth by means of central perspective, and beyond to a sublimely beautiful natural event: a cumulonimbus rises up mightily in three levels, one above the other. Originating in impressive blackness, from one level to the next it develops an ever greater intensity of light reflection.

Not only this storm cell, but all of Wieland Payer’s drawings amaze us with the masterful handling of the graphic media and the detailed process by which the various objects of the depiction are made recognizable. Nevertheless, the works are not classical in the sense of emphasizing the line but – in the tradition of the Late Renaissance and the Baroque – painterly and atmospheric, with the emphasis on the material. For upon closer inspection we discern that the draughtsman has not faithfully reproduced the textures of clouds, vegetation, rocks or architecture down to the smallest detail, but virtually reinvented them with the drawing media. Clues to the images’ graphic origins – charcoal and chalk on the surface relief of the handmade paper – remain recognizable as their smallest visual unit. They reveal the principle by which the pictures were constructed and provide back references to the history of art. For we already find invented surface textures of this kind in the work of one of the most important protagonists of European Surrealism, Max Ernst. In 1925, Ernst began carrying out rubbings of a wide range of surfaces (e.g. the grains of leaves or wood or the silhouettes of metal objects), combining them to form natural objects (rocks, plants, animals, humans), and thus rewriting “histoire naturelle” – now drawing from the imagination and the inexhaustible source of our hallucinatory creative powers. Soon thereafter, Ernst further expanded the means of inventing textures with high associative potential by employing grattage and decalcomania. The mechanisms of human perception guarantee that we can associate artificially created structures of this kind with memories of natural objects or cultural artefacts – an important aspect of our ability to sublimate our relationship to reality with the aid of fantasy. Even if Wieland Payer does not use techniques such as frottage, the micro textures he creates with the drawing media open up similar scope for associatively transforming something into something else in Ernstesque manner.

This approach is particularly evident in a group of small drawings Payer has entitled Pionier (Pioneer). Each of them features a strange object which contrasts chromatically with its black-and-white surrounding while also dominating the pictorial space and the format of the respective work. Are these vegetable or animal individuals, or some rare type of crystal? Or perhaps even a UFO, an extraterrestrial architecture? Many of these “pioneers” settle in a barren high mountain landscape, others in valleys. In a number of cases, the objects appear huge in the context of the surrounding landscape. Their central placement in the composition and the similarity of composition from one drawing to the next invite comparison – we intuitively perceive similarities and differences. Some of the forms are clearly crystalline in nature, others quite vegetable. Ultimately, however, our efforts to categorize them are doomed to failure. For these objects really are pioneers, firstlings, newly colonizing an existing ecosystem. As we study them, our fascination is mixed with fear of the strange and unknown these “pioneers” explicitly embody.

As we have already discussed, the textures of the worlds in Wieland Payer’s drawings are to equal degrees inspired by visual reality and invented by various draughtsmanship techniques. Yet the same also applies to the representational forms en detail. They have a quality of being emotionally charged, more dramatic than their respective counterparts in the real world. Here Payer takes orientation from such artists as Albrecht Altdorfer, Wolf Huber and Augustin Hirschvogel – i.e. German artists of the sixteenth century linked with the Danube School or Style. The drawn forms correspond adequately with our own visual experiences of nature while at the same time they inflate those experiences in mannerist fashion, borne by a capricious power of imagination and a latent quality of disconcertion. Not without good reason have the artists of the so-called Danube School been associated with an exaggeratedly expressive approach, are their landscapes said to have originated more in their fantasies than in reality. Yet the drawings of Wieland Payer have nothing overtly expressive about them. What they share with the works of Payer’s artistic ancestors is their subtly artificial quality. This is apparent in the contrast between the impression of a natural scene and the geometric structure: underlying Payer’s landscapes is a geometric construction which reveals itself the most blatantly in the two-dimensional blank areas, while at the same time, formally speaking, entirely dominant in each respective work. The contradictions between forms which have grown in nature and geometrically constructed ones, between three- and two-dimensionality, void and abundance, are constitutive for the pictorial logic of these works. They evoke a certain uneasiness on the part of the viewer, and throw our usual automatisms of perception off track. They activate heightened attentiveness, for there is something here that doesn’t fit into our usual patterns of visual experience. These landscapes are not what they appear to be at first sight; there is something different about them.

These drawings ostensibly take us into a world of high mountain valleys and Mediterranean-like dense woodlands, now seen from an elevated perspective, now pointing our gaze directly into the semi-darkness beneath the treetops where vegetation sprouts from the rocky terrain. In reality, the scenery of these images has its origins in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. Wieland Payer and his family often roam the Val Bregaglia in the Grisons canton of Switzerland. He loves the areas of the Alps which have not yet fallen victim to the tourist industry, where even today old farmsteads can be found which have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. A region with a quality of wildness and primitiveness as fascinating as it is unique, it is associated with the names of numerous artists and intellectuals. They include, for example, the painter Giovanni Segantini, the artist family of Giacometti native to Stampa, and Rainer Maria Rilke, who lived in Soglio for a time. In the neighbouring Upper Engadine region is where we find the village of Sils Maria, where Friedrich Nietzsche lodged in the home of the Durisch family for seven summer seasons from 1881 onwards – and where he wrote Part Two of his Zarathustra, among other works. Wieland Payer, however, provides us with neither topographical impressions of this part of the Alps nor with meticulous descriptions of high mountain scenery. As a human being, wanderer and artist, he is concerned with the monumental presence of natural phenomena capable of giving humans a sense of their own relativity. His own relationship is shaped by visual perception, by the absorption of various impressions, including those of an unusual kind. His relationship to the world of the high mountains is above all an aesthetic, but at the same time a romantic one.

But what do we mean here by “romantic”? The much-quoted chief exponent of the early German Romanticist movement in the area of art, Caspar David Friedrich, carried out meticulous studies of nature using the media of watercolour, graphite pencils, and pen and ink, as well as composite landscapes which he executed in oil paints. He devoted both of these categories to a fundamental idea according to which nature was the antithesis to man and his world, the world of culture and cities, and something far greater than everything manmade, a calculable continuum in contrast to the vicissitudes of human history, and a primeval context from which modern man had already far removed himself. At the same time, by virtue of its originality, nature was the purest manifestation of divine workings on Earth. Friedrich gave expression to these comprehensive ideas about the life cycles of nature and its divinity in pictures which assign light a special role and whose contemplation tends to become a kind of meditation. As the viewer immerses himself in these images, he finds himself capable of penetrating and transcending the world of appearances and grasping the idea underlying (or overlying) it, the structural presence of the divine – the explicitly no-longer-human. That, at least, was Caspar David Friedrich’s intention. Do we find the same portals to the natural and primeval in the work of Wieland Payer as well? Or, indeed, to the divine? The artist expressly negates such queries. At the same time, however, he affirms the complexity and depth of the works of Caspar David Friedrich – depth which can only evolve through time, through the intensive and lengthy contemplation of the world and the work. Art captivates him the more it evades that which is to be expected and thus easily deciphered, the more eccentric and sombre it is, indeed: apocalyptic, personal, peculiar and inventive in the Romanticist sense. The forest as an established symbol of the German nation in Romanticist circles and the ideas of nature mysticism as a substitute for religion likewise spark his interest.

Here I feel compelled to quote that passage from the Fragmente über Poesie (Fragments on Poetry) committed to paper by Friedrich von Hardenberg, alias Novalis, towards the end of the eighteenth century: “The world must be romanticized. In that way, its original meaning may be found again. Romanticization is nothing other than qualitative potentiation. The lowly self is identified with a better self in this operation. […] By giving the lowly a high meaning, the commonplace a mysterious appearance, the known the dignity of the unknown, the finite the aura of the infinite, I romanticize it. The operation works in reverse for the higher, the unknown, the mystical, the infinite – […] it takes on a commonplace expression. Romantic philosophy. Linqua romana. Elevation and degradation in alternation.” [1] Thus according to Novalis art emerges as a result of the reciprocal qualitative potentiation of the self and the world, the world and the transcendent. In Novalis’s writings, this famous passage is followed directly by a paradox. “Poetry is the genuine, absolute real. This is the core of my philosophy. The more poetic, the truer. The fable is virtually the canon of poetry – everything poetic must be fabulous.” And he goes on to heighten the last assertion: “The appreciation of poetry is closely related to the appreciation of mysticism. It is the appreciation of the idiosyncratic, personal, unknown, mysterious, that which merits revelation, the necessarily coincidental. It depicts the undepictable. It sees the invisible, feels the unfeelable, etc.” [2] The paradox of this argumentation can only be solved by taking a closer look at the philosophical background from which the Romanticists of Jena developed their ideas. They were followers of the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who posited the reflective consciousness from the epistemological viewpoint as an absolute self – absolute in the sense that no insight can return to a location behind the subjective positing of the self and the non-self. The world as it appears to us is an expression of that relationship. In other words, it is created in processes of mental construction and interpretation, “by the self-positing and limiting power of the imagination”. [3] For the early Romanticists, the power of imagination, fantasy and poetry were central terms in the context of access to the world. More than a hundred years later, in his first Surrealist manifesto, André Breton would take up these ideas once again, demanding and decreeing the rehabilitation of the imagination and the dream as opposites to the supremacy of logic and absolute rationalism: “Surrealism is based on the belief in a higher reality, in forms of association neglected to this very day, the omnipotence of the dream, the guileless play of thought. It aims to destroy the other psychic mechanisms and replace them with the aim of solving the most important problems of life.” [4]

Wieland Payer does not go quite to such extremes in his art. Nevertheless, the proximity of his imagery to Romanticist and Surrealist ideas is evident. His high mountain sceneries glow and gleam mysteriously throughout. Here a peculiar light seen from the window of a mobile home, there glowing dots before a dark grove of spruces, glistening specks of light on the floor of the forest, a reddish object in the shadows by the wayside and, on the wooded horizon, a strange geometric apparition like a frozen flash of light – thus and similarly transformed are the Val Bregaglia landscapes the artist presents us with. In his works as well, the mysterious merges with the fantastical, the imagination’s free ramblings. Utopias and science fiction also belong to this realm. And in Payer’s drawings we can encounter set pieces of utopian architecture embedded in primordial – and sometimes quite inhospitable-looking – landscapes reminiscent of the visions sketched by various architects and artists who joined at the end of World War I to form the so-called “Glass Chain”, domiciled somewhere between a temple of light and a UFO. Bruno Taut initiated these fantastical designs for a new human being in a new world, and artists such as Hans and Wassili Luckhardt and Wenzel Hablik enthusiastically followed suit. With his print portfolio Alpine Architecture published in 1919, Taut had also provided the topographical specifications. His crystalline towers and cities characteristically colonized high mountain settings – i.e. those regions from which Nietzsche had his prophet and übermensch Zarathustra descend to the lowlands of common human existence. In the early 1970s, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky once again united the fantastical with the utopian when they published their science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic. The screenplay based on it, entitled The Wish Machine, in turn formed the basis of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 milestone of film history, Stalker. Both the novel and the film inspired Wieland Payer and played a role in shaping his vision of the Val Bregaglia scenery. When we look at a drawing such as Rest, for example – a scrutinizing close-up view of a stony forest floor encompassing not only a (boy-scout) hiker’s shoe but also a green figurine that could be a lost Martian’s toy – we are inadvertently reminded of the shots in which the Stalker roams the terrain of the enchanted zone. Here, however, the existentialist severity of the film has been replaced by a humour-tinged optical effect. Apart from direct sources of inspiration, it is also worthwhile mentioning affinities with regard to approach and style. Particularly the precisely captured, atmospheric high mountain scenes produced by Hayao Miyazaki in the famous Japanese animation studio Ghibli, for example in Howl’s Moving Castle – but also Miyazaki’s graphic visions of fabulous creatures and transformations – bear resemblance to many of Wieland Payer’s drawings. This similarity to Manga and the animated film is to be attributed not least of all to the medium of drawing, which Wieland Payer uses even to develop his motifs in large-scale formats.

Again and again, the artist combines the familiar with the unfamiliar, really experienced things with imagination and dream, i.e. a romantically/ surrealistically inspired surplus. As Novalis proclaimed more than two hundred years ago, the world must be romanticized. What he meant, of course, was our relationship to the world. An astonishing number of artists follow this creed to the very present, and that number even seems to be increasing. Exhibitions such as “Ernste Spiele” (1995) and “Ideal Worlds” (2005) have already been devoted to this phenomenon. [5] Indeed, in this context Martina Weinhart even established that modern art – and with it contemporary art – owes a substantial part of its conception to Romanticism. [6] It was the expression of an outlook on life which took hold after the shockwaves of the French Revolution (and the radical reversal of all values it brought about) in conjunction with the urbanization, industrialization and rationalization of all areas of life as well as unsatisfied social expectations, an outlook which celebrated the freedom of the individual and his creative potential and conceived of primeval nature as the counter-image to the spurned society of the then present. It is the diagnosis of modernity, which has remained fundamentally unchanged to this day. Even today, individual mobility – topographically as well as biographically – and a growing ecological awareness (of the world as an organism) go hand in hand with uncertainties with regard to roles and apocalyptic forebodings. Nothing is certain and little seems to be what it is – a state of affairs allowing plenty of scope for a frame of mind also reflected aesthetically – in already established and well-known works such as those by Peter Doig, David Thorpe and Neo Rauch, but also in works presently on their way to carving out a place for themselves in the art world. Wieland Payer’s drawings are among them.

[1] Novalis, “Novalis. Fragmente und Studien 1797-1798”, in Novalis. Werke, edited and annotated by Gerhard Schulz (Munich, 2001), pp. 384-85.
[2]  Ibid.
[3]  Kurth Rothmann, Kleine Geschichte der deutschen Literatur (Stuttgart, 1985), p. 135.
[4] André Breton, Die Manifeste des Surrealismus, translated into German and annotated by Ruth Henry (Hamburg, 1996), pp. 26-27.
[5] See Christoph Vitali (ed.), Ernste Spiele. Der Geist der Romantik in der deutschen Kunst 1790–1990 (Stuttgart, 1995) and Max Hollein and Martina Weinhart (eds.), Ideal Worlds: New Romanticism in Contemporary Art (Ostfildern-Ruit, 2005).
[6] See Martina Weinhart, “The World Must Be Made Romantic (On the Rediscovery of an Attitude)”, in Hollein and Weinhart 2005 (see note 5).

The Gentleman Explorer is a species which has become scarce today. Georg Foster and Alexander von Humboldt were among their first representatives; dauntless explorers, sophisticated intellectuals and artists at the same time. They had the ability to discover new territories and to describe and present them vividly to their contemporaries. They occupied the imagination of entire nations and created ranges of ideas which lasted for decades.

Wieland Payer is a revenant of this visionary and adventurous type of human. His brilliant prints and drawings represent remote landscapes with weird cultures.

His first expedition led him to the Caucasus Mountains; further journeys disclosed more secluded territory of which the plausibility increases as the work of the young artist is developing. Some of the continents visited by Payer seem to already have been sighted from afar and drafted by George Foster. Payer aims “to see and amaze, to observe but primarily to collect and to measure“ as his tutor Uwe Pfeiffer states.

Payer’s latest series “Bondasca“ deals with the “Zone“, that mysterious and extraterrestrial area which is swarmed with marvellous artefacts and deadly traps. Arkadi and Boris Strugatzki described this landscape in their book “Picknick am Wegesrand“, with his movie “Stalker“ Andrej Tarkowski erected a cinematic memorial in its honour in 1978.

Wieland Payer now transposes the mesmeric motifs of the Russian master director to the Engadin and Bergell, the setting of the earliest high mountain paintings in art history by the pre-Romanticist Caspar Wolf (1735-83).

Payer’s synthesis of Science Fiction and Romantic peception isn’t a coincidence: The Master thesis of the young artist deals with the German Romanticism. The atmospheric density and perfection of his Bondasca series refer to Carl Blechen, its metaphysical quality to Caspar David Friedrich. The “romantic irony“ isn’t missed out either: “pioneers“, preposterous crop creatures which seemingly emanated from psychedelic visions by lunatic illustrators populate the barren rocky landscape of the Swiss Alps.