Oscar Bronner's flower paintings

Dieter Ronte, 1981

The canvas lies on the floor, its edges taped down. Diluted acrylic paint is squirted onto the canvas. All paint necessary to make the picture goes on at once. All the colors are primary and are mixed on the canvas by Bronner in a painterly process to form shapes, mostly pictures of flowers. These flowers, derived from memory, are inner visions. They reproduce no likeness, there is no model. The picture comes into existence in the painter's mind. The newly created picture evokes these ideas. The painting process is fast and is limited in time by the fast drying acrylic paint. The colors cannot be blended on the canvas for much longer than about thirty minutes.

 Painting the pictures is not possible at any given moment. The fast, irreversible process is strongly emotion provoking and physical. Painting is followed by periods of regeneration. A maximum of two pictures are produced a day. There is a long warm-up period before the process of painting begins. The painter has to gear himself into a state of mind which enables him to paint a state which he seeks and challenges. Periods of rest, creative pauses, intersperse the works. The pictures are independent of mood as they are aesthetically defined. Only a few pictures survive, those which do not stand up to criticism are reprimed and painted over or simply destroyed. 

The paintings of the Austrian Oscar Bronner are all created in his loft on Spring Street, New York City. The hectic energy of the city is conducive to work. In the background is Baroque music, the European heritage of Vienna.  Nothing of either can be found in the paintings. The reoccurring theme of flowers in his work of recent years is becoming gradually less dependant on their portrayal as flowers. The pure act of painting is taking over.

All his flower paintings are similar in composition. They are sketched roughly onto the primed canvas beneath the layer of paint. The lower part of the canvasses is dominated by leaves. Out of these leaves sprout stems bearing blossoms. While Bronner's flowers can be identified botanically as flowers, they are by no means an exact depiction of flora - the theme is clear, yet does not dominate the painting. The upper and lower sections of his paintings reveal different pictorial structures. Ascending leaves spread to fanlike shapes in the foreground which contrast with circular floral forms receding into the background. The colors of the lower and upper sections are separate, the unity of the painting is not disturbed by this slight change in the nuance of color.

The description of Bronner's pictures should not lead us to think that he is painting scenic flower arrangements. The paintings unfold on the surface without regard to perspective, to naturalism, to illusion, to idealistic representation. He avoids naturalistic temptations. Trompe l’oeuil is taboo. His paintings are a dispute between the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane and the colors applied to it. 

This is not pattern art as a first fleeting glance might suggest, but the work of a painter who digests the experiences of abstract painters. The brushstroke becomes visible as an element of the creative process. The mixing of the color is a result not of calculation but gesture. The smooth canvas is layered with paint, thereby giving it a three-dimensional surface. This third dimension depends on the quantity of paint applied. Paint, just like the canvas itself, is used as a three dimensional medium. By applying paint in different consistencies and by priming and saturating the canvas to various degrees, the texture of the canvas becomes an integral part of the painting. As the paint becomes more or less absorbed, a third dimension is created. Thus Bronner activates the canvas as a crucial element of his painting. In his artistic research he incorporates all possible components which contribute technically to the existence of each painting.  He bases his art on a wide diversity of analytical considerations, the result is their particular synthesis.

Bronner has turned the canvas into a palette. All paint is worked directly on the canvas. Like an East-Asian calligrapher, the painter concentrates in order to explode. The painting emphasizes the arm's movement. It is automatic painting. The kinetics of the process involve the entire body, the paintings themselves are endowed with body, adding new dimension to their size. As with the work of Mark Rothko both the painter and the viewer are immersed in the picture.

The large size of his canvasses deprive Bronner's flowers of any literal connotation. The subject matter is vehicle not motive, as seen in the art of other young painters today. Georg Baselitz, for example, paints his subject matter upside down in order to concentrate on his painterly process. Others implode in traditional ways with strong bright colors in order to circumvent a thematic connotation. Here Bronner is part of the big international movement which has brought back painting for painting's sake.

The new ideas of this art avoid devices like collage or photography. Expressed as pure painting they differ totally from the art of the sixties or seventies, such as minimal art, concept art or art and language. This kind of art no longer concerns itself with philosophical investigation but harks back to the generation of our grandfathers, which gave expression to the inner visions of the painter. In the works of Bronner are mirrored the experiences of Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, and Mark Rothko. Equally evident is his acquaintance with the Viennese abstract painters like Mikl, Hollegha, Prachensky, and especially Rainer, as well as the painting  of contemporary New York. The steps Bronner takes here cannot be completely measured today. At first glance they are not revolutionary, since the older generation already destroyed the taboos. They are careful new considerations to consolidate painting for painting's sake.

The primary motif for his pictures is the "good picture". Bronner is not out to fulfil a mission and not interested to mirror his vanity, nor does he aim to prove anything. All he wants to do is paint. Bronner's process of painting involves the use of acrylic paint diluted with water, applied to the wet canvas, wet on wet, a process normally used with watercolors. The work process is full of surprises, depiction turns into vision, experience becomes visualized magic and fascination. The results constitute a series. Though every picture is an independent concept, a singular event, it remains part of a series.

Art since the end of the 19th century has been increasingly determined by self-taught artists who have no ties with the academy. Bronner, who became an artist via a detour through a conventional profession, not through an academy, belongs to this group. Being self-taught implies a more self-determined and experimental approach towards materials, as practiced by Bronner for many years, with the purpose of improving his technique and learning to control the material, color. 

His technique of painting has been largely influenced by his previous experiences as a sculptor. Bronner understands the breaking of primary colors not just as a physical but also as a  spiritual process. Every color is mixed, none remains pure. The paintings live by this mixture, primaries are broken, complements created. The brightness of primary color emerges only in a few passages of his pictures. This brightness is always held in control. Bronner approaches his painting with careful definition, with almost monochrome, yet unbelievably colorful concepts of his  imagination. He denies the dazzle of New York and works from his experiences with the architectural conglomerate of subtle monochromes, the different grays of the melancholy city of Vienna. Autobiographical elements are thus contained in his pictures and determine their overall impression.

One can illustrate Bronner's ideas on painting by examining them in the context of the thoughts of two historical artists on the theme of color. The Italian Divisionist Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899) writes in a letter about his work: “As soon as I have determined on the canvas the outline expressing what I wish to say, I immediately continue by applying color as close as possible to reality. I make use of the longest thin brushes I can get, and begin working on the canvas with very thin, opaque strokes, leaving space between each brush stroke, which I subsequently fill with the complementary colors. This I do very rapidly, while the primary colors are still fresh, in order to make the painting seem more blurred. The mixing of colors on the palette leads towards darkness; the purer the colors applied to the canvas the better we guide our painting towards light, air, and reality."2 Of course, Bronner does not follow Segantini's ideas, he does not aim to depict reality, but they have one thing in common, both work the colors directly on the canvas. Like the Divisionists, Bronner seeks light, the radiance of color, but with him the colors are blended and broken on the canvas, and not on the palette. The irridescence, the incandescence of the colors are muted through the painting process. They are only perceptible as a secret which glimmers through.

Colors are given priority in the letters of Van Gogh in which he discusses painting. In 1882 he writes: “There is something infinite in painting… There are elements of harmony, or contrast concealed in colors, elements which act on  their own  and which cannot be expressed through another medium.” (l 402) “Color expresses something through itself”. (lI 235)3. In I885 he writes to his brother: “A painter should take inspiration from the colors on his  palette rather than from the colors in nature. When, for instance, one wants to paint a head and one is confronted with nature, one might think: This head is a blend of red-brown, violet and yellow, all broken. I am going to use a violet, a yellow, and a red-brown on my palette and let them break each other” (II 235)4. In Van Gogh we see the abstract use of color to the point of three dimensional layering. He writes: “I find the observation ‘ne pas peindre le ton local’ correct to the extent that I would truly rather look at a picture tuned lower than nature than at one tuned to the same pitch as nature... The meaning of ‘ne pas peindre le ton local'’ has many facets and sees the painter free to look for colors which form an entity and which relate to one another...”5. 

Bronner is in search of the magical, the unknown. The paintings themselves cause us to reflect. They allow us self-immersion, an inner monologue in search of the qualities of our own existence, not necessarily anchored in the immediate optical experience of our surroundings. Going beyond pure painting for painting’s sake, Bronner's pictorial language unveils new worlds, whose structures are defined by meditation. The craft aspect becomes a side-issue, and is no more than the basis of a spiritual cosmos, enlarging the radius of our knowledge and thus stretching the circle of our conscience, defining new borders to the unknown.


  1. For the technical aspect, see Jane E. Nisselson. In: Exhibition-Catalogue Oscar Bronner, Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf-Wien, 1980.
  2. Giovanni Segantinis Schriften und Briefe, published by Bianca Segantini, Leipzig (1900), p 117.
  3. Cited after Kurt Badt, Die Farbenlehre Van Goghs, Köln l96l, p. 13
  4. ibd. p. 13.
  5. ibd. p. 33.