Willi Facen's studio
By Peter Zeindler
There is a chair on a carpet with a fading pattern. Its seat shines dim in the daylight which falls subdued through the frosted pane of glass up on the roof. The chair is so positioned that somebody who would like to sit down wouldn't see any painting directly although the room is everywhere full of unframed pictures. They are piled up, hang on walls or are pinned there, or just lean against them.
Willi Facen's studio gives the impression as if the artist has just left it. Also the stool in front of the old desk is slightly slanting and looks disarranged. One imagines Willi Facen having brooded in front of this desktop on which brushes grow from many pots, staring hesitantly at the bizzare pattern which are formed by the bent and crumbled paint tubes and then, not ready yet for the surge of the inner pictures, leaving the studio to catch his breath.
This studio is full of life, even if nobody is in there, the artist being absent. It is Willi Facen's life-room. It is filled, full with fragments from his life, with objects which the passionate collector bought wherever it drove him to document his journey through life to leave a visible mark in his biography. There on a coat hanger hangs e.g. a uniform of a French general of World War I, here lies porcelain crockery in all sizes and colours, an enamel jug, a travel basket. On a wall there is an old pub sign, on a windowsill rigidly sits a string puppet as if waiting for its stage entrance. There stands an old postbox, there lie strange fossils. And everywhere hang and stand clocks: they all stand still. Time in this room has been stopped. Time not as a passing dimension, but time as space, as space lived in time.
When Willi Facen sits in front of a white surface the whole of his past life is present around him, you feel that the passion of the artist to collect objects lies in his need to capture the marks of his life, not to give up for lost his lived life. Yet, this lived life has not passed away, it doesn't give him peace, it keeps him on the go. It is a visible witness of his inner world.
And therefore this studio is also a survival-room for Willi Facen. Outside in a small yard and garden where weed overgrows the magical ornaments of the cobblestones stands a bronze sculpture of the Maillol pupil Ernst Suter, already coated with a green patina: a young man contorted in an unnatural thinker's pose which is to be put on Willi Facen's grave; this seemingly final act of a biography is part of an incantation ritual, testimony of Facen's survival strategy.
Back to the studio: in the left corner there on a easel is a large-size painting entitled "Noah's grandsons". It is one of those visions of doom which the artist during this creative phase has given artistic form to in many variations. In the foreground a huge old wooden ship in whose bilge a whole town is put up, a metropolis, the Greek mother town, now however, a deserted wasteland. The Flood is over.
The water has receded, the ship has run aground. It lies wedged between rocks after the perilous deluge of water has withdrawn under it. The survivors, if there are any, have no other chance than jump into the depths. They are prisoners of the ship which they have built as a rescue vehicle. The thought of survival is made nonsense of.
Willi Facen is back in his survival- room. The incantation rites ot finality have had their effect.
His absence has only been temporary. On the wooden chair which before has been left empty in the middle of the room a nude young woman is now sitting. The artist's model, her back turned towards the observer, facing the artist now sitting on the stool, a sketchpad on his knees. The woman has turned her face slightly so that her nose and cheek can only be seen in part. Her strawberry blonde hair comes down over her right shoulder. Her voluptuous buttocks rest on a dark-red, carefully draped velvet curtain.
The curtain rises.
Real bodies liven up the room now. The survival pictures which keep Facen possessed are at that moment a distant piece of scenery. Taken literally, still-life, the term for this art-historical genre is not accurate for Willi Facen's painting. But if you carry the idea further, a significant word occurs: still alive. It is true for Willi Facen's work and characterizes the survival-room in which it comes into bein.
Willi Facen sets his painted pictures against the pictures which emerge from the past and puts them together anew giving them the final artistic form which guarantees his survival.
From the opening address at the Exhibition in Predigerkirche Zürich, 17th March 2006
Willi Facen's pictures tell stories – in inverted commas "stories from the Bible". This is at least true für the Ark paintings and the towers which in every viewer may provoke associations with the stories of Noah and the Tower of Babel. Our imagination is set going. And comparing all the paintings exhibited here under the heading "The Flood in Predigerkirche" we first think that we
recognize a programme on which this cycle is based: We define Willi Facen as an artist of visions of doom.
However, if you know Willi Facen better, his private surroundings, his studio, if you speak with him, you understand that the programmatic range of his work doesn't have a moralistic background, but has grown out of a private consternation, out of a theme which is in the centre of his biography and which he has tried again and again to deal with from a new angle. Willi Facen is a survival artist.
In this exhibition we follow the construction of this survival ship, look into its bilge, admire the hyper-realistic structure, accurate in every detail, we see a whole town, a metropolis, a town ship, which is built in the nave, a place of refuge and consolation, and then once completed is slowly being raised and finally being launched. But the ship doesn't go on a voyage of discovery; together with the assembled human community sharing a common destiny on board it is trying to escape the threatening doom: the Ark is a survival room, a rescue vehicle. Later again we find these Arks stranded, wedged between rocks, partly mutated into wrecks, disembowled skeletons. Humans can hardly be seen in these paintings. The water has withdrawn. The Flood is over.
In a second series, in the left aisle Willi Facen takes up the same theme once more: this time instead of the arks the motif of towers appears in many variations – Babylonian Towers. These seemingly unshakeable towers which are to defy a second Flood are at the same time fortress, bunker, symbols of resistance, but also of human hubris and extravagance. And isn't there also an association with prisons, dungeons – self-chosen prison? And in the end – fallen into ruin – they are transformed into touristic meeting places – into lucrative culture spots by humans who have survived once more.
In a third cycle Willi Facen varies the same theme on an individual level one more time: these drawings, sketches and watercolours show stress situations – at work, in the open – they show worn-out women's bodies, rumpled beds, the wretched memory of a nightmare. We feel the build-up of aggression which Facen has ascribed to these pictures in which he depicts the emotionally charged, drugged protagonists of our age as soulless mechanical men: Noah's grandsons.
In the seclusion of his studio Facen paints against doom, also against his personal doom, against his inevitable individual death. There is a series of pictures in which Willi Facen has captured the dying and the death of his mother. Captured? – Also here Willi Facen painted against transitoriness, trying to get rid of this threat, to overcome it by painting. These paintings of his dying mother are thus also pictures of overcoming fate, just as his depictions of Arks and Towers.
Here Willi Facen's preoccupation with dying and death – as a man and artist - finds its generally binding expression in the exhibited cycles of pictures. Looked at in this way – to come back to the beginning – his artistic work has something programmatic: in the end, however, – and I hope I have been able to show this – the exhibited pictures reflect in a moving and impressive way Facen's ability to transform the private into the general and to express it in a convincing artistic form.
Doom und survival are the ultimate themes of man, and to depict this topic the artist forms and creates this matter of life and death away from his own biography in keeping his distance, which finally marks the work of art that deserves its name.Peter Zeindler
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