The beginning of Lewis Caroll’s fantastic voyage „Alice in Wonderland“ deals with the notion of beginning itself. Alice asserts, that she would know how to proceed, if only she could find out where to begin. And so she begins. Without a beginning. In Elfenbein Dirk Stewen also begins in the midst of his own production. The title denominates the turning of the papersheets, which are more than half a century old and on the backsides of which Dirk Stewen is staging the works of his first solo exhibition at Galerie Karin Guenther. They do neither offer a white base, which pretends to represent a form of neutrality, nor do they present a clear colouring. Their fading out offers no dereferencing. Stewen’s four large format, framed paper planes, which are at the centre of the exhibition, are each compiled of sixteen of the sheets. They are the pages of a publication, on the backsides of which Stewen sew, printed and glued. Everything which is to be found on these surfaces was produced by the artist, originates from his own fundus, from his own production and in that way remains in some respects ineluctable.
Stewen does not unveil his beginnings, rather he positions them in the form of fragments in each work. And the formal role of these elements on Stewen’s paper hardly ever corresponds to the canonized prestige of these media within the history of art. Not only are the publications on the backside of which Stewen is producing here in itself a compendium of the masterworks of French painting, lavishly printed in glued single sheets and wrapped in folders and ricks in the 1950s. The seemingly ‚only’ diffusely coloured confetti circles, which constitute a central formal element in Stewen’s work and dominate his surfaces, turn out to bet he painterly core of Stewen’s drawings. They cut off, and insert anew, and, even though they at first seem to repeat an industrially determined format, they are their absolute opposite: fractal elements of small format paintings, watercolours and ink drawings, which have in their entirety been painted and printed by Stewen, and are thus acting out exactly those artistic media which traditionally to expand on formats instead of being cut down by them. Stewen introduces this antagonism as playful as strict. In sewing loose connections onto the singular sheets and collecting the coloured spots close to one another they at first remain a drawn variation of the surface. But as Stewen compiles these countless processed sheets into final image combinations, glueing and framing them, they turn into stringent finished works. Leaving the horizontal, in which Stewen works on them, these composed paper planes in their verticality become unapologetic, confrontational. Their sight has something touching, maybe because his works carry the haptic relations of their materials at their core, in the sewn colours, the painted circles, the old paper, which registers every touch with an imprint, and the relegation of all the relations into the vertical, in which they are laid out in front of their perceivers.
On the opposing wall Stewen arranged settings of different contingencies, further continuations, but here Stewen brings that medium into the construction, from the deficiant nature of which his artistic work takes off: photography. It is over-painted, reproduced in black and white, turned into its own negative and encircled by abstractions. Stewen provides photography with a series of companions. And where photography always starts from the assumption of a total image, and the graphical drawing always already seems to start from the plan of the full image, Stewen produces from singular parts and expands from them. He draws upon his own production in which the exhibited works are only marking specific points of concentration. Stewen presents exemplary ends without beginnings in his, haptic points of photography and its predecessors, the drawing and the painterly. But Stewen does not re-stage the controversy about the primacy of representation, but instead develops drawn diagrams in which he pulls images, techniques, materials and formats in their collaborations into the present tense.