No beginning and no end - how Leif Trenkler releases his images from the stream of time
They are magical moments that Leif Trenkler captures in his images, and their magic lies in the fact that they become recognizable as just that: moments. As the smallest elements of a path that has no beginning and no end. Moments only, that's all we have. Brain researchers have calculated that we experience the now for three seconds, and then the world disappears into the past. In Trenkler's work, it happens much faster. As if carved in stone, rockets shoot out of the dust of a gray endlessness, and what time span could be defined narrowly enough to fix a red canary so steely rigid in the present as Trenkler does on his ten-meter-wide panorama from Hyde Park?
Those who engage with the thought experience a shock: it's all over so quickly. A flap of wings, an afternoon (already the shadows are growing), a summer (already the leaves are coloring), a childhood, life. Nothing was, and nothing will be. No history, no destiny, only trembling light and illusion. Trenkler is a painter. A craftsman, strictly speaking. His method of making the greatest in the smallest visible, no: foreboding, needs a few tools. The camera is the first. Trenkler treats it with due care. He photographs what catches his attention, spontaneously, without more than the absolutely necessary sympathy for the technique and the process, without determining the detail or focusing more precisely than the apparatus does on its own. Leave it alone! Trenkler photographs as the surrealists wrote: involuntarily, without detour via conscious control, automatically.
The artist's second tool is the change of place. Trenkler travels, and because his partner Yvonne Cornelius is a musician, her tour schedule determines the destinations: Mexico, Latvia, the Caribbean, Gambia, New York - as "Niobe" the girlfriend mixes beats and electronic sounds in the studios of new music; the painter lets himself drift, looks, records, photographs. He also uses the surrealist method in traveling. Hungary and China, Brazil, Poland, Turkey and Arizona: the destination is actually secondary, says Trenkler. The fact of a change is enough for him. The vegetation of St. Lucia, the light of the sun reflected in the facade of a skyscraper in São Paulo. The glistening brightness in a large, empty square, the violet reflection of the night in the panoramic windows of a bungalow. In a foreign country, he sees things in a new way, says the artist. The fact that something is different than usual is enough, and everything seems "fantastic and incomprehensible" to him.
This is his third tool: Trenkler refers to the history of his guild. He pays reverent tribute to predecessors and contemporaries, assures himself of their support, and bows to the spiritual exercises that the genre imposes on him. He paints on wooden panels, as did the monkish masters of the early Renaissance, Masaccio and Fra Angelico, Pietro della Francesca and Jan van Eyck, who had to wrest their new image of man from the brittleness of the material. Such resistance, says Trenkler, makes the struggle for the image physically tangible; wood as a painting ground dampens the colorfulness and thus the vain desire for too hastily placed highlights. It promotes humility. And so he approaches those who before him had already detached pictures from time and made them perceptible in the moment, how fundamentally incomprehensible duration and depth are, eternity, closeness, growth and life. All of them stand in a row with him, all of them exist only here and now - the surrealist Yves Tanguy with his endlessly wide plains populated by enigmatic forms and the crowded, garishly swirling reality of the ruralist Thomas Hart Benton. Edward Hopper with his rapturous street scenes and the combinations of a Robert Rauschenberg that defy all plausibility; the yearning horizons of the Romantics, the outrageously blue radiant pools of David Hockney and the smooth, blank, open faces in the paintings of Alex Katz. How grateful Trenkler was to the Impressionist Claude Monet when he revealed to him that shadows are purple, how grateful, too, to the avant-garde Lucio Fontana for pointing out that infinite spaces open up behind the darkness.
Trenkler's fourth tool: the painter keeps his distance, waits, lets it happen. Just as scenes emerge from the depths of memory to the surface, involuntarily and associatively. Trenkler dreams, the images are already there - but they are only moments, moments without recognizable antecedents and without continuation. And the viewer, accustomed to constructing a narrative around each image and giving it morality and meaning, is left puzzled: Who are the people having their party by the pool in front of the bungalow? Why aren't they looking at each other? What mysterious apparition shines in the night sky above the brightly lit house? How can the astronaut on the moon stand in front of a flower bed, and how can the artist crowd twelve people together in one painting without even one taking notice of the others?
In such detached moments, the impression of a dream world is created, a world of images that, barely perceived, are already cloying, ephemeral, mysterious and ominous. Time passes so quickly that neither the viewer can react to the image nor the events to the viewer: foreign and distant and a bit enraptured, the protagonists of these scenes seem separated from the viewer as if by a pane of glass, as if they lived in a region of serene, sunlit and exceedingly fleeting serenity to which our kind has no access. The sun shines. The water shimmers in the light, the bank of the little river glows pink. A group of children in bathing suits pulls a rubber boat into the current. A boy stands off to the side in knee-deep water. He watches, probably wants to join in, but something separates him from the others. Is it the painter himself? Memories of the pains of childhood. It is already over. Everything has been. Never again will this exact light break through the leafy canopy, never again will it lay this exact pattern on the surface of the silent pool. Precious moments, immersed in eternity.
On the Cimitero acattolico in Rome, quite far back, already close to the Pyramid of Cestius, lies the tomb of the English Romantic John Keats. The poet had the beautiful image of transience carved in stone: "Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water". Leif Trenkler paints this image in oil on wood like the Renaissance masters. In scenes that dawn from dreams like the surrealists. He is a romantic.
- Dr. Martin Tschechne