49 x 50 cm
Collection Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Donated by Gret Utzinger and the artist
Annual members’ gift, Stiftung für konstruktive und konkrete Kunst, 1990
The work of Jean Pfaff (born 1945 in Basel, Switzerland) focuses on the perception of color. While still a student at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München (1965–1967) and the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Hamburg (1967/68), he became engaged in an intensive exploration of the physical, physiological, and psychological aspects of color. This would set the tone for his later artistic work. In the 1970s, Pfaff began to focus on color as a theme in his artistic investigation, which was primarily analytical and showed some similarities to Minimal and Conceptual Art. Color remained a decisive factor in the 1980s in his geometric abstractions, and it featured even more prominently in his new exploration of monochrome and polychrome structure fields in the late 1980s. An example of his work from the 1980s is “Römisch-Rot II” which belongs to a larger series of works based on differentiated color schemes. It consists of a dominant red color field with two black double stripes marking a border in two corners. This work already hints at the exploration of the monochrome picture surface that was to become more central to his work, for example in the dialog between yellow and gray in the diptych “Untitled (No. 10/06)” from 1987, the intense blue of “Azul-Indigo” from his series of works with enamel on paper, and the greenish engraving “Untitled” from 1990 that is the result of superimposing yellow and blue. Pfaff claims that the reason for this shift was his intention “to no longer work with color, but on color” – in other words, to go back to the basic principles of painting as declared by the representatives of Radical Painting, starting with color. From this point forward, he investigated the conditions of painting – “color – paint – surface” – periodically alternating between new perspectives that were redefined for each case. Of his now roughly twenty series of works – from panel paintings, to works on paper, and pictorial and floor objects – each incorporates a different, subtly balanced pictorial constellation with its own mode of relation between color (tonality and materiality of the paint), the application of paint (transparent vs. opaque, neutral vs. dripped or smudged), and the picture support (canvas, cotton, plywood, MDF, paper).
Pfaff’s long-term exploration of the perception of color is by no means limited to art. He is also a widely respected expert of architectural color design. With his meticulously planned realizations, he has played a key role in giving Swiss architecture a new direction in terms of color.