About the ink painting of Jean-François Luthy

I. To reach such places one arrives only by chance. One would certainly not look for it. But Jean-François Luthy has studied this. There are peripheral places, border zones, between places, sometimes one even thinks: there are non-places, perhaps non-places in the sense of Marc Augé: "if a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can not be defined as relational, historical or concerned with identity, this will be a non-place.

In any case, we see suburban wasteland, an unlocalised lonely somewhere, spaces that could be due to railroad tracks or on the outskirts, unused, but not without human traces: cabins, chairs, building fragments, rubble. A kind of modern wilderness where people once lived, but have now left. Perhaps it comes to mind, here's something happening, maybe something will happen soon, and the people who left their marks will show up again. And that could be downright scary, and if we have invaded their territory, those that have consciously chosen this place.

So there are things that begin to tell stories in relation with the place, stories that can not be known, that will never be known, butthey play in the head almost automaticaly. There again, each place functions like a stage. It wouldn’t be surprising if Estragon and Wladimir, the two main characters from Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, would suddenly appear.
So we would be the witnesses of dialogues associating the uselessness of these sites and the uselessness of existence:

"Estragon: Let's go!
Vladimir: We can’t.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot.
Estragon: Ah yes!

Sites always offer to see - as in the series Pass, in a concrete and topographical way – a form of transitions. Time stops for a instant - that which proceeds becomes unclear as to what will happen. Space is fixed, origin and future rest unanswered questions. This is most evident in the pictures with the steps that were being dumped (?in a somewhere). Is it the waste, rubble from demolished houses, traces of an unknown past? Or is it prefabricated elements to be integrated to a house, therefore, destined to become part of a new security in the future? These stairs are images of transition from an unknown before to an unknown after: Do they lead to the top or the bottom or which seems more evident, nowhere?

II. Sometimes an impression appears - and that is surprising and perhaps even paradoxical -, it flashes somehow here and there, that Jean-François Luthy was secretly romantic, but certainly not of the harmless kind, but of some one who in the fragmentary and even the destroyed, was searching for disappeared integrity, knowing conscientiously that it will never be. Therefore is there also a fascination for ruins, certainly not like Caspar David Friedrich for the ruins of Gothic churches and chapels. With Luthy, these are the ruins of civilization rubbles - ruins as they are, but also an aesthetic and downright metaphoric object, a form of transition, what the German philosopher Hartmut Böhme once said: "The ruin is a precarious balance of preserved form and decay, of nature and history, violence and peace, memory and the present, sadness and longing for redemption, which neither intact structure or object of art could witness.

Once such relationships are brought into focus, it is not surprising that those fragments of stairs lifted and scattered are bound to remember Friederich’s The Sea of Ice.

Such are the images of Jean-François Luthy, totally transitory. Not only do they represent spatial and temporal transitions, bur are themselves transitions by which , far from being picturesque at first glance, seemingly boring non-places are transformed, despite their apparent lack of interest, on site full of tensions and relationships - and so are obviously not non-places in the sense that Augé definies them.

III. At such places one gets just by chance. Or unless one has an interest for the insignificant. Or it is because one possesses, like Jean-François Luthy, a precise and sharp eye for the significance of the insignificant. Not that he would attach the insignificant, an excessive importance, certainly not, he feels on things and brings things into the picture, which can be easily overlooked. He arouses the interest of what is close, which may be, for example, a fireplace consisting a circle of pebbles,(? a formation, ? a device) which could be associated to the Arte Povera.

The medium used to bring to light the incidental is the ink painting, a technique that the artist has developed in an incomparable manner. His approach is actually like a photographer: he observes the play of light and sculpts the light in movement. He dissolves the landscape on spots and surfaces of light. What is in between are the shadows that develop out of the white surface of the picture as the photography in the developing bath of the laboratory. But with Luthy, this happens on site, in his eyes, transmitted by the painting hand. So the talk of the photography is just a metaphor. It evokes the special appearance of these images which are to some extent like a transition between two media - painting / drawing and photography – permitting, eventually, to understand better the process of creation.

IV. If the photography can be understood with Hans Finsler, like an immobility of the sun, this applies as well to the painting of Luthy. However this immobility, which differs from the photography, is in this case the result of a long process during which the artist observes and notes the subject carefully. During that time the light fluctuates. Therefore, the unit of light - obtained whilst painting in front of the motive - arouses astonishment. This leaves only one conclusion: Luthy is not only a close observer of the changing moments, he has for a long time studied the phenomenon of all shades of light and obviously counts on a wealth of experience. The unit of light in the eyes of the beholder calls forth a kind of flickering at the same time, not by blurring, but the fact that there are a lot of light and shadow effects which holds Luthy. So the painting is so compact and nuanced that it seems ready to disolve itself - another fascinating phenomenon of transition. One that evokes, in the tradition of Swiss painting, from Frank Buchser or Robert Zünd. Here we also find the extreme subtlety of the treatment of light and shadows, the skill with which the immateriality of light is captured – yet without being petrified. However contrary to Zünd, with Luthy, the light doesn’t illuminate a nostalgic landscape, the beauty of light tips over into the uncanny, in this places that we would prefer to see on pictures rather than visit.

Konrad Tobler


  1. Marc Augé, Non-places, introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, Verso, London and New-York 1995, P.77.
  2. Similar motivs and moods - of course completely differently implemented - appears by the Austrian painter Alois Mosbacher, as in the New Order series. See also: Konrad Tobler: Die Hütte. Vorsicht. Nur zu! – Les règles du jeu | Bilderregeln. In: Alois Mosbacher: outside fiction. Neue Galerie Graz/Universalmuseum Joanneum 2010, P. 126ff
  3. Samuel Beckett: Warten auf Godot. En attendant Godot. Waiting for Godot. Frankfurt am Main 1971, P. 39, 125, 157, 169, 175, 207f.
  4. Hartmut Böhme: Die Ästhetik der Ruinen. In: Dietmar Kamper / Christoph Wulf (Ed.): Der Schein des Schönen. Göttingen 1989, P. 287. (trad.)
  5. ««Photography is standstill. It interrupts the flow of life. 
The sun does not revolve any more.»(trad.) 
(Hans Finsler: Das Bild der Photographie [1964].Quoted by: