Simon Linke's first exhibition in 1987 consisted of paintings of advertisements from Artforum. Pandering to art world narcissism, he offered collectors confirmation of their own wealth and success. The paintings' appropriately thick impasto stressed the wasteful, overblown quality of life at that time and this curdled effect still attracts Linke. Now, however, he has come to identify it with the fullness of meaning made possible only by high abstraction, created simply by brushstrokes and surface texture. That he invokes Sigmund Freud mainly for his analyses of jokes and his theory of the unconscious helps to clarify Linke's interest in such 'pure' painting: as both a fascinating, tactile surface and a way of monitoring states of mind; not least, the result of the performance of a ritual act. I Didn't Mean Anything By It (all works 1996) stresses this problem of meaning in traditional monochrome: partly deliberate, but mainly the result of automaton activity. Is it ever possible to communicate without 'meaning something by it'? (In other words, by letting your unconscious come to the fore.) Freud in particular studied such examples of sudden release or intrusion. Enter Linke, whose habit of juxtaposing typography and brushstrokes proves off-putting, but not as startling as the deliberate mistakes in his lettering or the phantom presences which haunt his work. Take, for example, the German term Schadenfreude which features in one of his paintings: gloating or malice, a word in which the ghost of Freud can be discovered.
Painted without deliberation, Van Houten's Kacao also depends on a slip: the difference between kakao and kaka, drawn from one of Freud's analyses, during the course of which his patient remembered that as a child he had believed that he was a chocolate factory and that, despite his mother's pleas, he was determined not to empty his bowels in order to retain all the 'chocolate' inside. By using different kinds of lettering and design, Linke interprets these and other examples. Some are hard to discover because eye and brain together correct spelling mistakes as if they had never happened. Linke retaliates by providing the viewer with false information. The result is to make paintings which mean whatever the viewer wishes, examples which serve to underline moments of loss of control, or which exist in an area where logic seems not to apply. (Using an elegant, chunky typeface, for example, Linke prints the words 'I found the/car keys on/the marmalade/lid in the/fridge', an updated version of William Carlos Williams's 'This is just to say...', his famous American haiku about cold fruit discovered in the freezer. Sometimes these poem/paintings are funny in far simpler ways. One of them, on which is inscribed the single word Gesamtkunstwerk, the German term for an artwork that employs different media at the same time, is cut perversely into sections, perhaps in order to make a joke about dividing elements which were to have been brought together. The impression of this exhibition of only five paintings has to do less with jokes themselves than with the freedom they demand. Linke, the former satirist, has changed direction and has begun thinking about daily life, the weaknesses inherent in communication and, most of all, the power of jokes which, as Freud realised, exist in order to break every rule in the book. Returning, then, to the brushstrokes of Jasper Johns or Robert Ryman, individual yet meshing together, and above all allowing the unconscious to percolate through mere automaton activity, it is easier to understand why Linke finds in them a sense of potential wholeness.
First published in Issue 33