Exhibition text

Hüppi, like his two brothers, bears an Italian first name, despite the family name going back to the small village Hüppi near Bern, because the father served in the Swiss Guard in the Vatican. Hüppi became a silversmith in Lucerne, which then led to sculpture on the one hand and calligraphy on the other at the academies in Pforzheim and Hamburg. His painting is therefore always conditioned at the same time by the tendency to calligraphic signs on the one hand and by a penchant for three-dimensionality in secure volumes on the other. This can already be seen in the early nature studies of 1959 and also in the large painting panels, which at least stand diagonally in front of the wall, but often become independent in various parts and reach three-dimensionally into the space. The most concentrated form of the painting panel, the narrow and long slit of vision between iron frames can hang on the wall, but should mostly also stand obliquely in the room and, moreover, be assigned to or superimposed on other similar companions of condensation.

In between lay long paths, "wood paths", which in recent years have regained importance in the work and to which this exhibition is dedicated, for which Hans-Joachim Müller has written a wonderful text.

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hAs an employee of the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden in the 1960s, an omnipresent material that Hüppi had to deal with and that was accessible to him free of charge was the wood of packing crates and pallets. From this mostly raw wood he created his "wood reliefs". Sometimes he accentuated their wood color only delicately, sometimes he painted them in strong striking colors, but even these always of high sensitivity, which is not a contradiction in Hüppi's work. Thus he created "Entwürfelungen", results of wooden boxes taken apart or breaking apart in the surface, or "Holzteppiche", "Bogenfelder" made of sawn raw spruce boards or boxes of just this wood. But other found woods were also suitable for Hüppi's realizations: for example, in his "Hommage à Tadeusz Kantor" from 1966, a found old wooden door. Wood in its natural surface was and remained not only a painting ground but also an integral part of his works up to the large painting panels at the end of the 80s, whose wooden ground he painted unprimed and also often included this free standing in the picture.

The second basic material for Hüppi's work is paper. He is constantly drawing, as evidenced by the countless telephone drawings to which, together with those by Franz Eggenschwiler and Dieter Roth, a separate traveling exhibition with several volumes catalogue was once dedicated in 1980. However, paper only remains a flat medium in the drawings and in the sensitive and eminently material-appropriate serigraphs from around 1970. But Hüppi would not be Hüppi if it remained that way: as with wood, the painting surface is cut, bulged, crumpled, torn, sometimes painted before, sometimes afterwards, sometimes before and afterwards. Or found, cut or folded papers are reworked, as in the collages of the early 1980s, which could take on wall-filling formats, or in the painted "passe-partouts", the paper equivalent of the "frame pictures", the panels that continue in the wide frame. In general, any found object can become the support or raw material for a work, but in Hüppi's work, as can be seen from the found pieces of painted wood, for example, it is worked, reworked, alienated and shaped, not merely juxtaposed with other found objects to form an assemblage.

If one takes a look at his entire oeuvre so far, one can see a peculiar history of development: Not wild in his youth and then successively calming down and clarifying, no exactly the opposite, he goes from restrained forms and colors and almost geometric structures, which already led to the misconception that he was a constructivist, to ever more expansive forms and was actually around 2000 in his most explosive phase. This can be seen in the framers of the time and the large painting panels that can only be held together by iron frames. Thus he, for whom language is more than a mere instrument of communication, once asked me in 1999, before he came to us for an exhibition opening, whether he should still "bring explosives with him". In my speech, I then said, "I have rarely experienced such a high level of subversive energy after retirement, and I wonder where it will lead. We can be curious." After all, Hüppi had then just completed a quarter of a century as a full professor of painting at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. He was and is a gifted teacher. However, he was sometimes accused of subversion there as well. He built a museum and academy for his students in the Namibian bush, not in a world-famous place - Etaneno.

Since then, watercolors were created, which light-footed "exploded" in the Rouleaus, which we showed in an exhibition in 2005. The artist, so committed to the material and the craftsmanship of his works, thus suddenly let print in oversize by foreign hand - albeit in his intensive supervision. The question arose as to the reasons, as it does now again with regard to his return to the roots, to wood, whether as a relief or as an expansive sculpture.

The sensitive surface of the only smoothed, sometimes not even planed light wood, often still whitened, stands in stark contrast to the large and strong form of the simplest shape that Hüppi gives it: The planked wall of the crate shines out again and again. The same applies to the colors of the reliefs and sculptures: From large-scale pastel shades to expressive color fields. Above all, however, these recently painted woods generate spatial situations that are both highly exciting and delicately poetic. They need a lot and the right space and cannot be depicted without such an environment, as the catalogue published for the exhibition shows.

In fact Hüppi is the perfect integration of Apollo and Dionysos, cosmos and chaos, asceticism and exuberance, because both constantly appear in his art - but balanced in the highest perfection, even beauty, on which always the mischievous but already nibbles again...

Hüppi's work makes signs, strong signs that are neither non-objective nor abstract, even if this sometimes seems so, as for example in his early variations on the sign "tree". Hüppi definitely belongs to the generation of those who overcame the abstraction of the years 1948 to 1965. With his signs he created their counter-image. He creates very consciously and precisely, there is neither coincidence nor automatism despite sometimes seemingly playful lightness. There is rather consciousness and deliberateness in clear form and color beyond the playfulness and the fine irony with which he catches us again and again. This Apollonian coolness and clarity, however, lies only as a foil over Dionysian fire and chaos, which again and again push to the surface. Hüppi's art is the art of man.

The art of a man who constantly questions himself, himself and others, certainly with humor but also fine irony. In the celestial-terrestrial figurines of his watercolors, for example, the creatively wandering thoughts break out chaotically, but are always caught again embracing Hüppi with the ink pen. The solid signs of the large Entwürfelungen, wooden carpets, frame pictures, panels and slits, which we showed extensively in Wichtrach in 1993, 1999 and 2002, are the main work of the artist, from which he draws a sum in the most recent woodwork presented here, which perhaps shows the calm serenity of age, but is hard to beat in youthful freshness. Surely he will also write one of his wonderful poems on this.

Ingeborg Henze-Ketterer and Wolfgang Henze

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