Out of the catalogue "On the way to the Artists in St. Jakob in the Valley of Roses"

 Phönix in the Valley of Roses" 2006“


In Carinthia only the insiders know him, in Salzburg it is not different, recently in Vienna he also has a place to stay, the artist, who comes and starts out and paints with the fire.

It seems if Thomas Girbl was to the manner born to lead a nomadic life, over the regions, the countries and continents away. As the second son of a Tyrolean forester and a Carinthian mother (till 2004 soul of a hut on the mountain “Turk’s head”) he has grown up in Pinzgau and Flachgau (two regions in Salzburg) and in Oberösterreich. At the age of 16 years he finishs in Südkärnten the technical college for arts and crafts, department of engravers, where the first, quite promising, copper plate etchings and persuasive steel engraving in the manner of romantic scenery representations of the 19th century, were originated. From Ferlach the young engraver moved to Graz and Cologne, his examination for the master’s certificate he made in Innsbruck, where he – enclosed in the corrie – made up his mind to become a “freelance painter”. In Prague and Vienna disciplines his technical know how; he travels around Florida, India, China, Bali and Australia with the well paying attention look, which he trains from an early age.

Because of the move of his parents he himself also came back to Carinthia, to a lucid house, on the southern foot of the Mittagskogel (mountain). About him he knows to report that out of his lime-stone “nostrils” water drips or steams, without arising a spring, and he also tells that this like stoic poising mountain was “portrayed” by no less prominent-figure than Egon Schiele.

The studio of Thomas Girbl in St. Jacob expands over a hidden situated cabinetmaker’s workshop, on a peaceful place, between the fizzy “mill-brook” and a fruit-tree meadow plucked by sheep with a view in the Süd-Karawanken (mountains). His works pile up there in a small chamber and await their discovery, while in the big workspace the raw canvas waits for different processes. On gigantic tables it is mounted cleanly, painted on the scaffold and before fire-resistant background on a wide wall they are exposed to the fire, are undergone a branding, to get their “brand”.

The coloured sceneries which Thomas Girbl engraved once in the polished surfaces of metal plates can not to be tracked down in the studio any more. Who enters the Atelier, is demanded to rummage through narrow beams – admittedly, only on the canvases – from dominating horizontal lines and verticals. Columns upthrusting to the sky and transversals lying over the ground, co-ordinates between the Occident and the Orient, from darkness and brightness, are continuously Girbls “theme”.

By the spatial narrowness the look comes ashore faster on a section of the extraordinary designed picture surfaces, before a painting can be considered as a whole. The biographical thread back to the engraver can be easily pursued and betrays to the viewer, that the artwork, the subsoil of the painting represents an indispensable challenge in the artistic work of the careful, sense-bundled painter.

Girbl did a lot of traditional test runs with paintbrush and oil colour on canvases, however, he always nearly slid, regardless of the given, napped fabric structure which should give, actually, more footing than the paper. The idea, to mount it in layers on the woven material, asserts itself and make the pictures in certain manner look body-like and leathery. The priming occurs with long experienced anti-fire recipes from the alchemistic corner in his studio where nothing else – like in other ateliers too – glasses and crucibles serve differently coloured liquids to be partially torched, in the end.

Agilely and with high attention, in a virtually quick tempo Thomas Girbl let the flame flick over the sky- or waterblue dyed painting surface and applies an other one, the supreme “coating of paint”. By her substantiality she signalises herself primarily by a morphological condition, colour she becomes only as its side effect, a warm brown, that of the burnt, charred. Burning is in each case the final act in Girbls artwork. This dangerous “paint application” could undress as a concealed attack on the painting skins, because it means every time also injury, which evokes, however, an artistic transformation. A certain untouchability seems to be own to the painter itself. As he was impregnable against the evil, by controlling the paintbrush in the form of a hard roaring flame.

One – the soul warming – brown is available in nearly all pictures and it causes an archaic ancient feeling, optically bedded in the material of mother’s fibers, the far Eastern paper skins, in which the canvas is interpolated. The result of the layer construction of the paper skins and the slimy, buffering paste forms a robust, tanned, and hardly destructible surface, which is reminiscent of cowhide or buffalo leather. However – as if the status of the good thing could never continue forever – porously, from coloured surfaces skinning, splayed out, a little carbonized particle remind of to the gap between being and nonbeing.

Girbls artwork, which dissociates itself from the representationalism, seems to cling to a Far Eastern spirit, the concentration asserts itself in diminished, horizontal or vertical lines, here and there there are circles or areas of a circle and other signs with symbolic significance, whose legibility discloses only by exploring exotic language areas. Basically they deal with the elements, the relations of people to their environment and the nature.

Girbls ways remind a bit of great Yves Klein, the originator of the monochrome and the “fire painting” (1957), which were originated as an alarm-memory of Hiroshima after his stay in Japan in the beginning of the 1950s. Both artists take an inferno as a starting point, Klein the nuclear disaster in Vietnam and Girbl the distroying bush fires in Australia, which he pursued there first-hand during his stay for one year. While Kleins fire pictures can be subsumed under the impressions of an apocalyptic inferno, Girbl aims by use of an artistic aesthetic the form of a fragile garment, behind the idea of the dematerialization as an ultimate thought of freedom, of transcendency. His maxim is to create a balance between the worlds, finding the internal balance in the external chaos and in subjective borderlines.

His conflagrative-brown Fire-Ignograms – as the artist calls them – are throwing bubbles meticulously, protect an ultimative state of colour, before this pass over in the unformed final state of cinder. The light catching vesicle reliefs, as well as the light preserving ones, the thought of Apokatastasis is wafting over coloured paper skins, wherein beginning and end are caused and the release of each other at the same time.


Hiltrud Oman PhD. in Art History in Salzburg