Herbert Zangs

Herbert Zangs (1924 – Krefeld, Germany – 2003)
Windscreen wiper painting
Dispersion paint on corrugated cardboard
signed and dated ’57 on the back
32 x 113 cm

Private collection


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When Herbert Zangs entered the art scene the discourse and exhibition practice was focused on Abstract Expressionism in the USA and Art Informel, its European counterpart. Tachisme and lyrical abstraction are based on informal artistic practices. The application of paint is characterised by gestural movements. Zangs takes a different position. He permeates the picture by way of actual movement. The painting itself opens up into space. With this radical approach Herbert Zangs takes the dissolution of the genre of painting to the next level.

Zangs’ artworks instantly convey the artist’s active and intense approach to the materiality of his art objects. In doing so he is led by intuition rather than a set concept. His works oscillate between painting and object. One senses the artist’s ambivalent position between creating structure and rhythm on the one hand and an almost non-existent artistic arrangement and alignment on the other hand. This dual nature results in a poetic lineament of serial structures, order and rhythmic spatial forms which contrast with the impression of dissonance and inconsistency that is caused by the inherent imperfections of Herbert Zangs’ works. Chaos and order are the two opposing poles that characterise the oeuvre of Herbert Zangs. His works come into being as a result of the struggle for balance between action on the one side and formal order and serial structure on the other side. It is this inherent polarity from which his art derives its vigour as well as its quiet allure.

In the mid 1950s and 1960s Herbert Zangs creates work groups in which he evolves structure and rhythmical order in the form of cells, grooves and ridges that he wrests from the paint by using unconventional methods of application or from the physical surface of the support itself by folding, knotting or treating it in various ways. These works earned him recognition in the art scene as a prime protagonist of the European avant-garde right until he decides to relocate his residency to the South of France in 1962 and travel the world in the ensuing years until the mid 1970s.

During his stay in London in 1957 a trip by car in the rain was described by Zangs as another key moment in real life that sparked off his development of the windscreen wiper technique (Scheibenwischer-Technik). Windscreen wipers dipped in very liquid paint, mostly of an intense ultramarine colour, are applied onto the support in rhythmical serial sequences. The string of lines set side by side once again divides the space in rhythmical succession into positive and negative, open and closed, transparent and opaque. Zangs’ windscreen wiper paintings are of a highly agitated character. A sensation of movement in serial sequence is at the centre of the beholder’s perception, so much so that one might think of fugues in music as a contrapuntal composition technique.

In the context of the exhibition “Herbert Zangs, Oeuvres 1952-1959” held at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris in 1995, Pierre Restany (1930-2003), the French art critic who coined the term Nouveau Réalisme in 1960, aptly captured the nature of Herbert Zangs as an artist:

En tous les cas, ce sont des gens comme ça, qui vous montrent que la vie dans l’art est plus forte que tout le reste.
Herbert Zangs rends le témoignage le plus fort, le plus actuel, le plus immortel de la vie dans l’art.
Il est l’homme qui a choisi dans l’art la vie.
Il n’a pas choisi le business, il n’a pas choisi la connaissance, il n’a pas choisi la gloire, il n’a pas choisi les museés, il a choisi la vie.

In any case it is human beings like him, who show you that a life in art is more forceful than everything else.
Herbert Zangs gives the most powerful, the most current, the most immortal testimony of a life in art.
He is the man who chose life in art.
He did not choose business, fame, glory, and the museums.
He did choose life.