An Idea Out of Time

In 1919 an envelope arrived at the door of Albert Einstein. The theories contained in this envelope were so advanced even Einstein couldn’t understand their implications. After two years of contemplation he finally sent word to Theodor Kaluza, the unknown German mathematician whose theory had expanded Einstein’s own work on Relativity, that there were indeed rational possibilities to the idea that electro-magnetism and gravity could be united, and that there might be a fifth dimension.

As revolutionary as these ideas were, it was nearly fifty years before science and mathematics caught up to them and were able to utilize these ideas as the foundations of “string theory.”4 It might be an exaggeration to say that the ideas of “Critical Realism” are of the same magnitude as a fifth dimension, but there is a parallel to the fact that these ideas have taken thirty years to be assimilated and expounded for their relevance. During this time society’s ability to “see” has evolved.

The skepticism of a “critical” attitude has become a popular branch of philosophy: hermeneutics. The logic of skeptical irony is clear; decay is the material for the birth of the new. History is a tool to help one move into the future. Chaos is merely another type of order.

The techniques and materials of Petrick’s work are various and complex including; painting, drawing, printmaking, book art, collage, sculpture, assemblage, and computer altered photography. He may incorporate drawing over painting and collage, or assemblage with photography and printing. This shifting of modalities within an individual work, from planar to linear, from realistic, to expressionistic, to Gothic, somehow coalesces into a cogent image that breaks all the rules for uniformity of intent. Petrick is a figurative artist who depicts the human condition in all its frailties, naked grotesquerie and sexiness. Hands and feet take on huge proportions, as if to evince their importance as means of sensual experience and transport. Boots, shoes and roller-blades are recurring motifs that take on a fetishistic interest.

The “Glass House” series of sculptures are a recent development on a subject that Petrick has employed since the beginning of his A in a region between display case and reliquaries.

Petrick has developed a practice that involves a type of counter intuitive instinct: the skeptical questioning of accepted ideas or wisdom; and ability to analyze and deconstruct images and visual information using aspects of science as criteria; realizing the “reality” of the image; making pragmatic use of methods that solve problems, rather than a blind allegiance to current dogma; the rejection of fashions and trends in the pursuit of more timeless solutions; and the realization that history is no longer linear but three-dimensional.

These are some of the factors that have encouraged Petrick to pursue the discovery of a new dimension of content, a dimension that extends deep within the individual.

James Kalm

(This essay is an excerpt from “Vision Quest in a House of Mirrors,” by James Kalm, Deep Action: Wolfgang Petrick and Master Students. Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 2005, 25-67.)