Dahn, Walter What's going on, 1990
metal, audio tape strip, paper Dimensions variable © Walter Dahn Courtesy: Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin/ London Photo: Archive Viehof Collection

About the work

The theme of music, which plays a major role in Dahn's life, can be found in many of his works. Symbols from the covers as well as song lyrics of famous bands such as The Smiths, the Sex Pistols or The National often flow into his works. Dahn himself had dealt intensively with the medium as a punk rock musician. Since 1981, Dahn has also worked as a musician. Over the years, he has played with a number of colleagues and bands.


About the artist

born 1954 in St. Tönis
lives and works in Cologne

Walter Dahn studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1971 to 1979 and graduated with a master's degree under Joseph Beuys. In 1979 he co-founded the artists' community "Mülheimer Freiheit", which named itself after the street on which their shared backyard studio was located. The group included Hans Peter Adamski, Peter Bömmels, Jiří Georg Dokoupil, Gerard Kever and Gerhard Naschberger.
They developed a neo-expressionist figurative style with intense colouring as a protest against the  intellectual minimalism and conceptual art prevalent in the 1970s, through which, in their opinion, everything had already been said. In small- and large-format paintings, Dahn dealt intensively with painting, whose meaning he questioned. The figurative works seem hastily and imprecisely thrown onto the canvas, the motifs are reduced to the essential, half-executed, grotesque and not infrequently slip into the obscene. There are jokes and innuendos in the titles that deepen these visual impressions of art, culture and personal experience. Dahn's painting seems to take nothing seriously and is thus directed not least even against itself. Dahn laid the first foundation stone for the "Bad Painting" movement and is today one of the artists of the 1980s who are counted among the "Neue Wilde" or "Fauves".
In the following years, the artist gradually withdrew from painting and turned to screen printing, photography, drawings and film. Contrary to the usual practice, however, his potentially reproducible works are original paintings without editions.
Today, Dahn teaches painting at the Academy of Fine Arts.
"The individual handwriting is the idea, the execution can be done by others." With this thought, Dahn provides a key to understanding his large-format paintings. Congruence of idea and personal execution is in any case a qualifying feature of his drawings. Dahn is not concerned with a personal artistic signature in the sense of finding a style, not with creating art market-oriented trademarks, with recognition values. He perceives this as stagnation. For him - and he sees like-minded people in Sigmar Polke, for example - permanent experimentation is necessary. For him, being an artist means dynamic creation, searching for ever new possibilities of expression. In this sense, he proves to be a disciple of Joseph Beuys.
Dahn draws from a repertoire of archetypal forms. These are archetypal signs that have been repeatedly given changing meanings in the cultural history of mankind, be they pagan marks or Christian symbols. They stand for Dahn's individual conception of the world, as it were, as pillars of his edifice of thought. Their original meaning is given a new or foreign meaning by Dahn. The viewer trained in traditional symbolism is captivated by Dahn's drawings in the same way as the unbiased viewer. They take hold and have a lasting effect. They awaken associations, general and individual. They are reduced to symbols and condensed in colour to form icons, mediation images..."
Source: Hinrich Sieveking, in: Walter Dahn, Zeichnungen 1986/87, Munich 1988, p. 8 pp. 12 - 13.