Volkmar Hundhausen is a German Postwar & Contemporary artist born in 1939. He explores various types of visual art such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, installations and land art.
Furthermore he is a pastor and philanthropist who has curated group exhibitions with fellow artists and held pottery classes for children amongst other projects for his parish in Eidengesäß, Germany.
Hundhausen is best known for his 'U-Bögen' (U-turns), a series he started in the 1970s of bold geometric acrylic paintings rooted in the Concrete Art movement of the mid-twentieth century.
The term 'Concrete Art' was coined by Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg, who felt that 'abstract' had negative connotations in the context of art.
And although Concrete Art intends to be entirely divorced from realistic
subject-matter, based around precise and preemptive compositional structures,
many of which represent mathematical or scientific formulas;
it is not meaningless.
'A pictorial element does not have any meaning beyond "itself"' van Doesburg argued, 'as a consequence, a painting does not have any meaning other than "itself".
Hundhausen followed the Concrete Art movement but eventually extended the concept with his U-turn series by returning to symbolism in non-figurative art.
How it started
In 1939 Volkmar Hundhausen was born in the little picturesque village Kommern in the northwest of the German Eifel region. When he was 4 years old in the midst of WW2 his family had to escape the rapidly approaching American front. Seeking refuge on their odyssey they spent a few days on a farm where a kind farm lady provided them each with a big bowl of rice pudding. Within seconds the edge of Volkmar’s bowl was covered with black flies. Every time he waved them off his bowl, they unveiled the white ceramic, only to cover it again immediately. Intrigued with his impact on the picture in front of him he kept playing with the flies.
Hundhausen assumes this to be the origin of his love for black-white graphics.
A few years later in second grade his teacher ordered everyone to paint an interior scene from the famous German fairytale 'The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats'. Hundhausen struggled with this task so his brother Wolfhart helped him out. Wolfhart managed to draw a 3-dimensional space with impeccable sense of depth that Volkmar handed in at school claiming to have made it himself.
His teacher immediately suspected the fraud and punished Volkmar with a phrase he would never forget:
‘You will never be a painter!’
Volkmar Hundhausen, photograph, circa 1955
Hundhausen worked relentlessly to refute this lie and become an expert in linoleum printmaking, a technique that he experiments with to this day. When applying for university he was interested in two options: Fine Arts or Theology.
Although an art professor at the Academy of Arts in Düsseldorf was impressed with his portfolio, Hundhausen's father did not agree to finance his studies in Fine Art. Shortly after he enrolled in a course in Theology & Religious studies.
At university he befriended 2 professors both of which were also painters. One took him to an Alexander Calder exhibition, the other one invited him for tea at his place. Hundhausen walked into a room plastered with vibrant aquarelle paintings - his heart lit up.
That's when he started developing a passion for the relationship between colour, shape and space.
Visiting various exhibitions and investigating the works of artist such as Kazimir Malevich, Georg Karl Pfahler,
Piet Mondrian, Rupprecht Geiger and Max Bill inspired him to explore such relationships in his own work.
Specifically the tension and multidimension created by abrupt transitions between colour areas sparked his creativity.
Self portrait at age 17, Linocut print
The return of symbolism in Concrete Art
While working as a pastor in the church in Bremen Orlebshausen he met artist Horst Scheffler, who was developing a colour concept for the interior walls of the church. The idea was to create optical illusions by using colour to challenge the viewer's perception of the sacral space.
Hundhausen assisted Scheffler along with the parish in executing this concept; he soon befriended Scheffler and bought one of his paintings. A lot of Hundhausen's knowledge about colour and how it impacts our perception of our environment stems from his time with this artist.
Interestingly Scheffler's work consists of straight lines and sharp angles. Hundhausen felt it was no coincidence that Scheffler's art alligned perfectly with his lifestyle.
'When I would visit him at his place, he would immediately correct the position of the chair I sat on after I got up from it.' He recalls Scheffler's need for perfect linearity and order.
At a Vassarely exhibition they visited together Hundhausen remembers telling Scheffler:
Horst Scheffler, Untitled, Screenprint, 1971
'My life is not that straight forward.
I always have to figure out when to turn the corner.'
Volkmar Hundhausen, Ur-U, 1971
That statement marks the birth of Hundhausen's 'U-turn' (German 'U-Bogen'). Hundhausen started experimenting with a red ribbon shaped like the letter U painted onto cardboard with oil paint. This prototype he now refers to as the Great-grand-U (German 'Ur-U'). It still proudly adorns the wall of his art studio.
In his work as a pastor the U-turn functions as a visual tool to illustrate biblical stories. Most importantly 'The Savior's message of repentance', in the New Testament, in which a tax collector shows sincere regret for his sins and is rewarded by Jesus for returning to god. In this story the return is a reversal (a u-turn) towards goodness; it is the genuine attempt to humble oneself and to not look down upon others in righteousness.
In Isaiah 31.6-9 the people of Israel return to god, the king of peace and justice and in Matthew 18.3 the return to your inner child promises the entrance to heaven.
In a biblical context the U-turn represents the return to love, peace and redemption.
Hundhausen grew up during WW2 and worked as a pastor during the peace-movement of the 70s.
'I always thought and am convinced to this day that the message of the bible has been political from the start.'
He has always been active in the spread of this message in various ways and leads by example.
In 2015, together with his partner Irma he opened his home in Eidengesäß to a young Syrian couple seeking refuge from the war in their motherland. They have since settled in well and are expecting their third child.
Evidently Hundhausen was inspired by the Concrete Art movement, however by charging abstractified shapes with meaning again, he extends the concept of Concrete Art to suit his need for expression.
Ironically, the strong differences in colour and shape and the hard-edge style of his paintings call for unification.
It is by cherishing differences that we can create togetherness and equality.
The exhibition of Volkmar Hundhausen's signature U-turn series is a joyful celebration of a man who deserves a platform bigger than a gallery or even a church - his work is a beautiful translation of a constructive message to a universal language - the call to love and unite.