Peter Dreher

Peter Dreher (born 1932, Mannheim) is a German artist and was a highly regarded Professor of Painting. From 1950-1965 he studied at the Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe under Karl Hubbuch, Wilhelm Schnarrenberger and Erich Heckel. 1954 he had his first solo exhibition at the Städtischen Kunsthalle Mannheim. Through teaching he has influenced a whole generation of painters amongst others Anselm Kiefer, Friedemann Hahn and Dellbrügge & De Moll.


Dreher’s childhood was affected by the regime of the Nazis and the succeeding time of chaos. His father was a German officer during the war and he died in Russia. The house of his father was destroyed after his death, and Dreher felt uprooted. This led him into painting as a way of disconnecting from the outer world – as a refugium. He quickly discovered that he would be left alone to his own thoughts, when he was drawing or painting. For many years Dreher felt as a homeless – or without “Heimat”. At the age of 29 he built his own house outside Heidelberg in the belief that he would now feel, as though he had a home. But he discovered, that the feeling was not connected to a physical place. Dreher himself says, that he at last found a home or Heimat when he started painting “Day by Day is good Day” , 1972, (“Tag um Tag guter Tag”).

Style and artistic development

In the 1950’s Dreher went to the art academy in Karlsruhe. His professors were all teaching painting in a figurative style. Both Karl Hubbuch and Wilhelm Schnarrenberger were part of the “Neue Sachlichkeit” New Objectivity. Just like his professors, Dreher never separates painting from its mimetical reproductive function - he thereby inscribes himself into a classical painting tradition – but only partially because he abstains from the epical story. Instead he searches to cancel the dichotomy between reproduction and reality. Dreher paints in a realistic style using monochrome colours.

Since his first still life of a hering, Dreher always returns to this kind of painting – a glass, a conserves, snapsbottle, alarmclock, nail scissors. Also landscape is a beloved motif of Dreher, especially that of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).

For many years Dreher followed his own way thus going against the stream in German and international painting.

The trends of the 1960’s and 1970’s were many and very different: Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Postminimalism, Performance art, Pop Art, Action Painting , Color field painting and fluxus amongst others. Dreher’s style in these years remain realistic and figurative, and there are certain similarities to pop art. In 1979 he paints both statements as well as Mickey Mouse, dividing the canvas into several squares painting the same motif in each of them – not unlike Andy Warhol or Malcolm Morley, who utilized the squaring of photograhies, in the beginning of the 1970’s. The benefits to pop-art in regard to the object and reflection of the motif is clear –Andy Warhol, the early Jim Dine, Wayne Thiebaud but also to Nicolas de Staël. But Dreher was not aware of this himself. It was not until the year 1964 he discovered works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg in Venice.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s painters such as Martin Kippenberger, Jörg Immendorff, A.R. Penck all part of the group Neue Wilde or Junge Wilde as they were also called, painted in no one particular style but everything from abstract, expressive, representational, figurative, borderline surrealistic paintings and photorealistic. They did not paint in monochrome- but in bright and intense colours. What also differs from Dreher is the imaginary setting, the epic stories and the anticonformist ideas. Dreher’s realistic style seemed very out of date.

Since the late 1990’s the New Leipzig School has again brought figurative painting on everyones mind. Most of these painters are in their early thirtees and they share a devotion to literal, descriptive figurative painting. So yet again the descriptive figurative painting has become "en vogue". One may say that Dreher’s style was modern, then very unmodern only to become modern again. He has never changed his style to satisfy any need.

Dreher works with the passing of time and thereby shares a place in arthistory with the likes of On Kawara or Roman Opalka who also works with the theme of time in series made over a lifetime, and with young artists like Tomma Abts who goes similar ways as Dreher.

Where progress, innovation and new ways of thinking is normally accredited in the art world, Dreher has always wanted to do the opposite – the stagnant. It is painting only for the sake of painting that interesests him – l’art pour l’art.

Tag um Tag ist guter Tag

Dreher is perhaps most famous for his series “Tag um Tag ist guter Tag” or “Day by day is good day”. He started working on this series – which was only thought to consist of 6-8 pictures – in 1972. And he still works on it today. Dreher paints an average of 100 paintings each year of the same glass in the exact same position, image format and size also stays the same. The glass of course looks different depending on the lighting – whether it’s night or day, rain or sunshine. But what changes, is Dreher’s state of mind, the glass remains the same. With this line of work, Dreher goes radically new ways – away from personal, subjective perceptions, personal characteristics and a gestical search for form, towards a connection to or feeling for the canvas and the subject matter.

With a series consisting of approximately 4400 works to date, Peter Dreher does away with the apparent duality of “representational” and “abstract”. The infinite variation of one and the same object shows that realism is a question of pure painting

Uncertainty, disbelief and at the same time certainty that the painting has to be an impulse coming from one self - that is the idea behind the series. Dreher tries to represent the glass as exact, as accurate and truthful as possible. He wanted to do something that went against the norms in society, something that is totally unsellable and unattractive.

Peter Dreher, Zen-Buddhism and the theme of time

The title of this series, Day by day is good day, is borrowed from Yunmen Wenyan, one of the last great Chinese Zen masters (864-949). Because the object does not change, Dreher can concentrate on the details that constitute the whole. And one picture is nothing without the whole context. This way of thinking resembles zen-Buddhism: you have to look at one stone before you look at the entire pyramid. “Der in sich ruhend!“ In Zen-Buddhism every single piece are of the same value. Dreher tries to bring this idea forth in his series.

Dreher doesn’t really find time to be of great importance. Time is something we ourselves have created. If there were no clocks, we would have another way of dealing with time – and that is also a point, Dreher wants to make in this series. He calls our understanding of time a “timedictatorship”.

Dreher is also influenced by the likes of Edmund Husserl (phenomenology). Husserl thought that our understanding of the world is disrupted from our memories and experiences. Instead we should look at the world without any preconceptions. This is what Dreher tries to do in “Day by day…”. Every time he paints the glass, he tries to perceive it without any preconceptions.

Henry Miller, Jean Paul Sartre and socialistic-communist ideas have also been of great importance to Dreher.

Grants and Awards

In 1958 he received the award Kunstpreis der Jugend. And in 1965 he received the award Rom-Preis Villa Massimo. 1965, he lead the painting course at the Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste Karlsruhe. 1968 he was appointed professor. He also received the following awards: 1976: Rheinhold-Schneider-Kulturpreis der Stadt Freiburg. 1979: Hans-Thoma-Staatspreis. 1995: Erich-Heckel-Preis des Künstlerbundes Baden-Württemberg. 2000: the Bundesverdienstkreuz.

Selected Exhibitions

2007 1st Athens Biennale, Athens, Greece; "Beachcomber Shores" Herrmann & Wagner, Berlin; The Approach, London, Great Britain

2004 Phenomenon of Time, Gallery sphn (Herrmann & Wagner), with Thorsten Hallscheidt, Berlin, Germany

2003 Clothed and Unclosed, The Athenaeum, La Jolla, California, USA; Real, Mark Quint Contemporary Art, San Diego, California, USA

2002 Die langen Kurzblicke, Galerie sphn (Herrmann & Wagner), Berlin, Germany; Dreher_früher, Städtische Galerie, Freiburg, Germany

2001 Galerie S65, Aalst, Belgium

2000 Patricia Sweetow Gallery, San Francisco, California, USA; Tag um Tag ist guter Tag, Galerie sphn, (Herrmann & Wagner), Berlin, Germany

1998 Mark Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, California, USA; Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York, USA; Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Karlsruhe, Germany

1997 Galerie von Braunbehrens, Munich, Germany; Räume für Neue Kunst Rolf Hengesbach, Wuppertal, Germany; Kunstverein Esslingen, Germany

1995 Galerie Krohn, Badenweiler, Germany

1993 Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe, Germany; Quint-Krichmann-Projects, The La Jolla Gallery, California, USA

1992 Galerie Wehr, Stuttgart, Germany

1991 Kunstverein Konstanz, Germany

1990 Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim; Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg, Germany; Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf, Germany

1987 Galerie Kilchberg , Basel Land, Switzerland

1983 Kunstverein Ludwigshafen, Germany

1982 Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, Germany

1979 Museum Schloß Morsbroich, Leverkusen, Germany

1977 Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany

1975 Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany

1974 Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; Landesmuseum Oldenburg, Germany

1954 Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany

Books: „Ich Mich“ available at the gallery HERRMANN 6 WAGNER in Berlin

External links

  • Article about Peter Dreher
  • Peter Dreher by the gallery HERRMANN & WAGNER

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