Safety Curtain 2019/2020

The Trojan Horse

This season, visitors to the Vienna State Opera will be able to admire The Trojan Horse painted in 2017 by the internationally renowned Austrian artist Martha Jungwirth. The picture shows a side view of a large horse depicted mainly with vigorous red and brown brushstrokes. The bright red contrasts with the clay-coloured packing paper with visible splashes and trails of paint on it. Individual lines shape the horse’s frame while the vibrant brushwork emphasise the three-dimensional movement. The colours underscore the powerful presence of the horse with its proud and defiant head.

The colour red has a magical power for Martha Jungwirth and features strongly in her works. It represents fury, blood, life, fire and maximum energy. At the same time, red is the colour of aggression and destruction. This ambivalence can be seen not only in the interpretation of colour but also in the depiction of the animal itself. It is a strong and powerful animal, but also appears fragile and vulnerable. This inherent contradiction is reflected in the formal language, in which the evident reality of the horse is contrasted with the abstract pictorial structure.

“My art,” says Martha Jungwirth, “is like a diary, seismographic. That is the method in my work. I am completely self-referential. Drawing and painting are a movement that goes through me. My perception and gesture transform it into something else. The picture is an intelligent composition with flecks of colour, nothing fixed. It is about fluidity, transparency, openness.” Jungwirth’s subjects serve as sources of inspiration and as a catalyst for the confrontation with their inner tonality, atmosphere and the reality invisibly perceived by the artist. The paper becomes a musical score for her own perception and at the same time acts through the tonal harmony and the flecked structures as a sounding board for her intrinsic feeling for the visible. “My aesthetic principle is already in my head. Putting it onto paper is often a long process.” And this has nothing to do with trance.

Through Homer’s Odyssey and later Virgil’s Aeneid, the Trojan Horse has acquired a special traditional significance. The saga tells of a huge wooden horse built by the Greeks to conquer Troy after an unsuccessful ten-year siege. A seer advises them that they should use subterfuge rather than force to achieve their aim. Greek warriors hide inside the horse, and the rest of the army pretend to sail away. The inhabitants of the city believe that the horse is a gift by the Greeks to the gods. In spite of all warnings, the Trojans pull the attractive horse into the city with the Greek soldiers, sealing Troy’s fate. The feared Trojan horses in today’s computers operate on the same principle, disguising themselves as helpful software while wreaking havoc in the background without the user’s knowledge.

For Martha Jungwirth, the Trojan Horse is a topos for our Western culture and its speckled history. The centaurs, half-man, half-horse, are said to have been brutal and lustful, although one of them, Chiron, was wise and just and instructed many heroes, including Achilles. They represent other worlds and spheres, referencing alien systems, transcending normal limits and generally agreed perceptions. The third horse of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is red, symbolising war and violence. The picture of Death riding a horse is full of terror, fear and deceit – bringing at once victory and suffering, as it did in Greek mythology in the artful fight for the city of Troy. At all events, the horse is a symbol of movement and change, of power, freedom and passion.

For Martha Jungwirth, however, it is also a simple topos for Greece, where she has spent a lot of time in the past few years, taking artistic inspiration from the culture and landscape. Her travels are sources of inspiration or, as she says herself, also “painting escapes”. The works are not always completed on the spot but sometimes only after returning to her studio. She transforms the compressed quintessence of her perceptions and impressions into light-filled chromatic chords and linear structures. From within, she masters the task underlying all art, combining colour movements in a picture and creating the “endless rhythm” that Robert Delaunay demanded in the early twentieth century. Creating contrasts with colours also entails the option of giving them a life of their own, with the inherent chromatic tone touching an emotional level as well. Painting should not imitate but create new realities or, as Paul Klee said: “Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible!”

Martha Jungwirth’s Trojan Horse is far removed from a real animal. It is a bundle of energy allowing plenty of scope for a personal interpretation. It does not consist of monotonous and bland sounds. On the contrary, the lively brushstrokes create a symphony of vibrating flowing colour containing all of the sensitive tonal variations and fascinating nuances of the world of music.