Bullfight – The start was the experience of a bull fight in Seville in 1987,
which moved me greatly. I desperately wanted to work.
The bull fight itself was less important to me that the metaphor
I saw therein for our human being.
The ambivalence and shocking contradictions, the high
aesthetics and the refinement of the fight (or should I say
dance?), of movement, form and colour, the beauty and
the awfulness, the certainty of the almost unavoidable death
which you can physically feel and smell in the sweat and
blood and in the dust of the bull ring. It is not the nameless
death of the slaughterhouses but a sacrificial ritual which
has something of the religious in it, which is not without dignity
despite all the apparent or actual cruelty.
It is the coming together of the elementary and primeval
force with the intellect, of the boundless, fighting fervour
with grace, of manliness with womanliness, of life with death.
The people come in their Sunday best with their families and
the crowd becomes attached to something gracious and
festive. It is not the rough and uncut people’s entertainment,
not the arena of the hooligans of the European football
Part of the fascination is the unique reflex we are subject to,
especially on the first encounter with something terrible
which confuses, shocks and irritates us, pushes us away and
yet magically attracts us. We turn our head away, abruptly
and as though this turning away is also definitive. But immediately,
perhaps only slowly at first, but then quite decisively
we watch again, spellbound and entranced. The magic of
the terrible, of the “terribly beautiful” has us in its spell without
which we would have the free will to turn away. And no
detail of this encounter does not burn in the memory.
Work on this theme was then impossible with the range of
artistic possibilities available to me then. There were the
wonderful pictures by Goya and Picasso and the less wonderful
but more impressive ones by Francis Bacon. The
danger of plagiarism was so great that at first I did not dare
to start but was able to suppress the urge to master this
Perhaps one year after this first experience that had hidden
itself deep in my unconscious, I saw a cock fight in a film.
It was as though I had been electrified. I had my unburdened
theme for expressing what painting failed me for the bullfight
and what corresponded directly to my own way of life.
I had two cocks prepared in the fighting position in order to
understand their anatomy and the materiality and movement
of feathers. But then I did not paint this still life, instead I
painted a comprehensive series of cock fights in 1988/89
which were a clear reproduction of my own internal com-
position and ideas.
For me, this broad range of oil paintings and tempera work
has lost none of its presence and urgency in its dynamism
and internal glow and none of my possibilities to identify
I painted these pictures without ever having seen a cock
fight in natura, and later, when I had the opportunity in
northern Thailand, it no longer interested me, instead I was
This hanger for my artistic theme was dead, used up.
But not the underlying reason, not the bullfight as projection
surface and metaphor for the great theme of humanity and
In 1992, while I had a stipend in Spain, I encountered bullfighting
again in Pamplona. A small series of pictures, at
last, was created based on artistic possibilities which I had
newly developed: the collage. The principle of collage not
only as a working method of artistic craft but as a principle
of thinking had made it possible for me to understand this
theme (and later others), not just conventionally and to
release myself from some of the previous stylistic habits an
he shadow of the “Greats” of the past.
It was the playful (but I do not mean not serious) use of and
the moving of shapes, colours, materials, picture vocabulary
and content, the combination of apparently unconnected
elements in often dissonant connections which then create
unhoped for and amazing results which could not have
been achieved with a conventional, purely representative
understanding of painting.
The time was then too short to exhaust the theme and other
attempts and extreme necessity forced me to break off and
put the unprocessed theme “on hold” until a later, more
10 years later, In September 2001, it was done “Take the bull
by the horns”. Endless photo series in the “Las Ventas” bullring
in Madrid formed the basis for my typically very systematic
method for the processing and working on a theme.
First, however, a teaching job took me to the university at
Bangkok in Thailand for several months. Starting from there,
I had a collage-like encounter and connection.
Towards the end of my stay in Bangkok I travelled to Chiang
Mai in north Thailand in order to prepare for my stay there
as I had been invited to the Chiang Mai University for the
next year. In the small town of Borsan near Chiang Maim
there is a range of traditional manufacturers which produce
massive fans, over two metres in size, which fascinated me
not because of their patterns but because of their size and
the neutral basic shape that is not traditional for south east
Asia. Then there was an initial spark like a wild fire. Madrid
and my bullfighting theme, somewhere in the back of my
mind but always present, reared its head: SPAIN – FANS –
BULLFIGHT – BULLFIGHT PICTURES – BULLFIGHT FAN OBJECTS.
The preparations were quickly made. A selection of largescale,
hand made layered papers made from the bark of
the mulberry tree, double sided to aid stability (similar to
heavy Japanese paper) was shipped to Germany and
waited for me to return to Berlin.
Several months of feverish, restless and a little out of focus
work, 12-15 hours a day, followed until the present total
exhaustion of the theme and of my own physical and mental
Building giant templates which marked the area of the
subsequent fan shapes on the square sheets, which because
of their size could only be worked on on the floor. Layers of
artistic gestures with acrylic paints of various consistencies
on top of one another with broad wallpaper brushes, not
from the wrist, not from the lower arm, no, but from the whole
body, movements and runs of paint with the broad brush,
which tried to follow and simulate what went on in the ring
of “Las Ventas”.
A half dozen layers of colour, broad, watery, flowing, then
half dry, almost tearing the paper. Traces of work. Splashes.
Drops. Abrupt stops and then further hurrying of the paint
as a result of its own momentum which then forms it sown,
only partly controllable shapes. The narrow brushes. Lines.
Exciting emphatic orange, readable as abstract, aesthetic,
artistic gestures or, in another objective connection, blood.
The “terribly beautiful”. Then the contra-positional stop of
the colour fireworks with the calm black of broadly stretched
Japanese water colours. Lithographic allocation of my
digitally processed, reduced ad alienated photographic
material: organic against inorganic – bulls, animals, Picadors,
Banderieiros, Matadors, Toreros on the one hand. Then the
shape of the ring, numbers, letters, the inorganic angles of
the rows of seats, roof coverings and edge posts which
contrast with the organic, moving and artistic. Circling,
lurking, the movement of the Cappa, dodging, attacking.
Stabbing and jumping back. Dance. Self-loved poses and
the smell of sweat and blood. Ecstasy, emotion and a
hurrying past of processes and events which can only be
reflected upon in slow motion after the leaving the ring.
And at the end, painting again. New layers, on top of one
another, half transparent or covering, colour structures are
built up. The main object is created. Pictorial, spatial depth
is built up through the objective and abstract runs of colour
layered on one another. Dissonances argue with harmonies
which are finally reconciled in a tense but internal enclosure.
Finishing touches. Finishing off. Modify detailed. Last check.
A large role with pictures under the arm, the path took me
back to Chiang Mai, where 24 artistic hands crafted the fan
from the pictures in almost one week of intensive work.
Shipping to Berlin.
The second dimension has been joined by the third, spatial
dimension, and also as a result of the construction which
hangs the fan on the wall at angles.
The fan opens up like a passage of time. The shape as a
semi-circle pretends to be the round of the bullring, fixed at
the centre of the folds of the fan where everything runs
together, which everything points to and from where everything
radiates. The fan, the semi-circle – dissonant breaking
of the most absolute and most harmonious of all shapes,
the circle, appears to keep the reasoned balance between
equilibrium and irritation – maybe not such a different association
for my own understanding of self and life.
Frank Rödel 2002