Decay As A Principle

The effect of Petrick’s work is determined by the process of decay, which is his principle of depiction. Rarely has decay been artistically elaborated with such urgency. Petrick has crawled into the city’s labyrinthine undergrowth. Already in his previous drawings, Petrick had introduced such material items of tactile interest as rice, leaves, feathers and gauze. Through the theme of the great metropolis, Petrick was stimulated to move out from the canvas’ flat surface and construct a thickly-laid assemblage-environment almost indescribable in its density and diversity of forms.

The center consists of two boxers constructed from old, partly singed and charred boards. In the middle of one box, the figure of an old man in rags dangles, as if in a musty dungeon. A horrible sight embodying a state of living dead, it is like a very real and concrete ghost, one that can actually be touched. Through horrified and empty eyes, his deformed face stares out into the uncertain. Those familiar with Petrick recognize this figure. It is the same old man that appears in other drawings of his, as in “Bird’s Eye” (Vogelauge). It seems as if the nightmarish image of this lost figure has materialized in person, if not in the flesh and blood, then as the dried-up mummy of an oppressive memory.

The dead-but-living old man is confronted with himself. His gaze falls upon his oversized reflection in a mirror held before him by an unseen hand. A horribly forceful self-reflection brought about by an evil magician, this is the disaster at the bottom of the labyrinth. The figure of this stiffened man in the musty pit is spun in webs of decay. Around him, the walls and floor are filled with all possible clutter which, viewed more closely, is decipherable in bit-city biographical terms: the scum and waste of civilization and its by-products, whether technical structures like a pressure gauge, or small scenes, fight, waged by artificial soldiers. Out of the cellar-box, behind the old man’s reflection, an arm with a knife clenched in its fist juts outward - the concentration of aggression as an end in itself and defense together in one. The murderer and the murdered are no longer differentiated. Those who live here are both perpetrator and victim. For the making of his “assemblage”, Petrick undertook to invent a blending and merging process with an almost alchemical quality. The observer has the impression a kind of fermentation has taken place, though not in the direction of decay, but of mummification. This frightening figure in Petrick’s box represents absolute isolation and loneliness in the labyrinth of the cities.

The second box shows a similar condition of rotting, this time nearly beyond man’s existence - a legacy, a requiem in waiting. Behind a dense layer of cobwebs, the figure of an old woman is vaguely recognizable. Insects crawl through the tracks of lapsed human activities. Paintings make up the surrounding environment, shaping the background and horizon of the whole with depictions of technical processes, processes of civilization, the accompanying gadgets and mechanisms and the symbolic figures of human alienation resulting from it all. We find well-known references here again from Petrick’s own work. In their examination of Dix, these paintings also hold for him autobiographical characteristics. He quotes not only himself, but Dix as well, exemplified in his adoption of the figure of the saxophone player. Petrick chose to place his self-portrait right next to the sax player, while in other parts of the work - derived from a mixed technique of drawing and painting - one finds portraits of his wife and daughter. In the density of the amalgamation process, with all possible materials and artistic means available, Petrick’s work nearly takes on the character of an incantation. A further part of the ensemble shows a warning vision of the future: the monster of the beautiful New World in the form of a development with no turning back or escape - the prototype of the synthetically functioning human being.

Eberhard Roters