The cross as a form, symbol and design principle appears in almost all of Arnulf Rainer’s creative phases. Over the decades as well as within certain creative periods, it develops a dynamism that leads to seemingly infinite variations.

Crosses are already found in the artist’s early drawings. Later, Rainer overpainted various motifs, including crosses, which in the end were no longer covered over but emerged as recognizable pictorial objects or became pictures in their own right in the form of cross-shaped frames. In the beginning, they were monochrome overpaintings, resembling dense curtains. The cross was also repeatedly used in the artist’s numerous overdrawings of photographs. It asserted itself as a structuring principle for bodies and faces, as well as a means to open up the pictorial space. Later, Rainer created cross compositions with overpainted depictions of Christ. The paintings marked a desperate battle, conducted powerlessly, against the pictorial theme. There were muddy furrows of color, hand prints, wild splashes and blotches, and even traces of violent attacks, carried out with a knife or other sharp, deadly object. In contrast to these works, other cross compositions convey a completely opposite atmosphere of serenity and quiet dignity.

In Rainer’s numerous cross compositions, various elements of his creative activity merge: energetic revising, blind drawing, compact overpainting; finger painting and overdrawing of photographs, empathizing with critical human situations, delving into the suppressed zones of life … all these techniques seem to converge in the cross.

“The many crosses that I have fabricated in recent times are not the result of a hopeful impetus, let alone Christian faith or missionary maturity, but rather of constant inner chagrin, spiritual thirst and drought. Emptiness, creative shame and a lack of motivation rule over me. If melancholy becomes a pain in the neck, resting there like a heavy lump of dough, you sometimes find the energy for all kinds of twists and contortions in order to shake yourself free. Most of them, however, were nothing more than the gestures of an old woman, repeatedly making the sign of the cross, because she can see great hardship ahead.” – Arnulf Rainer, 1984

The cross in itself is a geometric formation. In our cultural sphere, however, it is closely associated with Christ’s martyrdom and the history of salvation, and thus also with Christian art. In addition, it owes its permanent self-assertion to the fact that it is identified with the human form. In Arnulf Rainer’s artistic work, the cross has been an ambiguous sign from the very beginning.

(Text: Christa Armann)