Tobias Lehner



Frederic Bussmann

From Trail to Error

“Painting is a thundering conflict of different worlds, which in and out of the battle with one another are intended to create the new world, which is called the world of art”, wrote Vassily Kandinsky on the process of painting in a famous and often cited text from 1913. He continued: “Each work arises technically in a way similar to that in which the cosmos arose – through catastrophes, which from the chaotic roaring of the instruments finally create a symphony, the music of the spheres. The creation of the work is the creation of worlds.” 1 Kandinsky used music as an analogy to explain his own approach to abstract painting, which was not a purely mimetic reproduction of natural beauty, but rather a new, pure and cerebral form of art intended to lead the way to a unique artistic cosmos. Even if today, a hundred years on, a work of art is no longer seen as an act of creation of a new world and abstract art is no longer pitted against figuration, with figurative and abstract approaches no longer evoking contrarian positions, we can still trace impulses similar to those described by Kandinsky in contemporary artists. Painters still create their own worlds on the canvas, drawing on their surroundings as well as their imagination as source material. They give order to the ‚chaotic roaring‘ of shapes and colours that surround and inform them, with the intent of showing a new perspective to the observer and to align the freedom of experience with the freedom of creation.

Tobias Lehner is one of those artists. In the course of over 20 years he has created a comprehensive oeuvre, which, in its entirely abstract style in the tradition of western post-war avantgarde movements, is exceptional in the context of the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. While his earlier paintings were defined by lines and geometric shapes, arranged in a tectonic manner and in consequence reminiscent of artists like Martin Kobe, he has come to reject this approach in recent years, working on his pictures in a much freer way. Lehner is very consequent in avoiding the narratives and fabulations suggested by figurative elements. He prefers to juxtapose organic and geometric figures, he adds and strips away, assembling his images form by form without going back to objects in the slightest. Lehner is constantly looking for solutions to the artistic problems he encounters in the process of repeated overpainting, following the motto of “trial and error”. His works in acrylics seem like palimpsests where new subjects and forms are layered on top of older versions; Lehner does not scrape off the remainders, he leaves them as they are and adds new layers of paint on top of them. In this way, a painting of abstract forms and shapes is created layer by layer, which, contrary to classic modernist abstract art, is defined by depth of field, an impression that is both created by a range of compositional effects and the use of central perspective, but also through actual overpainting with thin layers of paint. Lehner goes back to his canvases many times, placing colours, creating associative patterns and moods in the physical act of painting. At times he refuses the results and looks for new possibilities. He continues as long as it takes until the interplay of colours and shapes have reached the right balance and level of complexity, until the painting has gained the appropriate meaning and mirrors his own mood. His compositions are not representations of the world, they are new creations born in the act of painting. This is in tune with Kandinsky‘s dictum that the creation of a work means the creation of a world. Lehner presents us with his inner worlds, he works out experiences and impressions and looks for their corresponding forms and shapes.

His disposition towards the abstract sets Tobias Lehner apart from his immediate, often figuratively oriented artistic environment in Leipzig. He finds direction for his own work in western art of the 20th century, in particular postwar Anglo-American art.

Lehner is interested in artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman or Frank Stella. The technical approaches of abstract expressionism and American color field painting have inspired his work with their immersive qualities, tending at times tend towards the transcendental, with the immersion into image spaces of cosmic appeal, and most of all with the exploration of painterly complexity and simplicity. This aspect makes Lehner comparable to contemporary artists like Sterling Ruby, who, in his work, also explores the heritage of abstract expressionism. Lehner is in accordance with Rothko concerning the notion that art should evoke emotions and the imagination instead of representing a system for its own sake. However, he shuns the strict reduction in Rothko‘s or Newman‘s work and instead ‘overburdens’ his paintings, he ‘leads them into chaos’ and rearranges them. His style is less cosmic-transcendental than that of his older American colleagues, Lehner rather seems to go back to more strict approaches by op art representatives such as Bridget Riley and to develop them further with a contemporary vision. His work stems from the art of the 20th century, this is his source and these are the impulses he develops further. His aesthetic, however, is very much of the 21st century, his visual vocabulary is unimaginable without the visual language of animated films and computer graphics. Kandinsky‘s metaphor of painterly “instruments” which “finally create a symphony” can also be applied to Lehner‘s paintings. As a former choir boy and son of a professional musician, Tobias Lehner was strongly influenced by music, in particular the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. The notions of cosmos and order, the structures and repetitions that characterise Bach‘s music, and also its harmonies and compositional principles have been internalised by Lehner. And yet his paintings do not appear as a direct translation of Bach‘s musical principles. Lehner makes use of the capability of music to abstraction, the way in which it evokes ideas and images in a listener through harmonies, melodies, and rhythm. Lehner‘s paintings do not depict literal motifs, they constitute rhythmic polychromatics that are sometimes interrupted by a Leitmotif. They create patterns of free association, giving the observers an opportunity to draw their own multiple connections. Sometimes, Lehner‘s paintings appear as études, with few, but precisely used means of expression; at other times, they unfold the orchestral power of veritable symphonies, captivating the observer with their scope and variety.

Lehner‘s central piece in the Wolfsburg exhibition, painted to be shown above the main staircase, can be considered such a symphony. It is marked by a strict grid on a black surface; amorphous shapes in magenta, orange, blue and grey stand out as if they were rendered with stencils. The grid lines repeat these hues. In certain areas splatters of paint testify to the dynamic, physical act of painting, denouncing any form of control that was asserted previously by the strict geometrical grid down to tiny detail, a strong contrast to the impulsive randomness. These are elements of style and technique, that appear in other works as well, sometimes in different forms. The size and composition of the image aims at immersion. As an observer you might get lost in the picture, were it not painted with a long view and distance in mind. Another example for Lehner’s immersive style – conceived through paint rather than computer- aided virtual reality – is a large format painting that Lehner showed at Galerie Kleindienst in Leipzig in 2017 (Untitled (5), 2017). Presented amidst other canvases – dominated occasionally by monochrome geometric surfaces reminiscent of the paintings of Frank Stella – and his abstract sculptures this painting was the definite centre of attention. In this work too, Lehner superimposed different and contrasting painterly approaches: spherical shapes appear in orange and pink, they seem almost torn apart by splatters of black paint in a Pollockian manner, while everything is coated by a liquid grey haze, painted so fluid and quick, that the paint runs down and thus marks the processual nature of painting without inhibition. Finally, the picture plane contains monochrome orange areas, their effect attenuated by grey & white aureolas; they seem to emerge from the depths like islands and cover the dynamic space of colours below like a camouflage net. Contrasting colours and shapes create an open space that allows for a variety of associations with jagged, rough landscapes, and yet the painting eludes any clear narrative. One dives into Lehner‘s image spaces, one labours piece by piece through fragmented layers of the picture, searching for recognition and insight. In the end, only fragments of meaning remain. They can be put into conjunction with shapes and colours, without ever arriving at a clear overall appearance. Fleeting traces of a moment. Lehnert pairs this fragmentation in his current paintings with a bold use of colour, defined by a garish combination of neon tones in magenta, green or orange, their effect heightened by dark or grey backgrounds. These blots appear like warnings and do not in any way establish harmony. They call for contradiction, they are visual provocations.

Lehner‘s pictures, conceived as such, with their associations of uneven landscapes, seem to critically react to a time that is marked by division and conflict. The shapes of colour are assembled like camouflage patterns, they might imitate strategies in battle, but Lehner‘s open approach to form does not readily suggest this reading. Lehner works without a defined subject, but yet full of reference for the world of his paintings and everyday life. The faith in a coherent image of work and world, as Kandinsky’s text might suggest, is no longer feasible after the political and artistic experiences of the 20th century. It is this fragmentation of thought, the variety and complexity of the world, the doubt in a simple world view and thus the torn ambiguity of existence, that is pronounced by Lehner in his paintings.



  • 1974 born in Regensburg
    1998-2003 Studies of painting at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig in the class of Prof. Sighard Gille
    2003-2005 Master Studies at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig, Prof. Sighard Gille
    lives and works in Leipzig

Solo shows

  • 2020 Myopia Magna, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2018 Trail and Error, Junge Kunst e.V., Wolfsburg (Germany)
  • 2017 Paragone, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2016 Refraction, Kunstverein Aichach
  • 2015 Mikro Makro, Bühlers, Fürth (Germany)
    2014 Triplex, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2013 VERTIGO, Art association Bamberg
    Unintended consequences, Gallery Baton, Seoul, Korea
    Gyration, UNION Gallery, London
    2011 Friktion, Galeria SCQ, Santiago de Compostella
    2010 Radiation, Art association Ravensburg
    Perihel, Union Gallery, London
    2009 Anthrax, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    1234YF, Gallery Susann Tarasieve, Paris
    60/40/20, Art of Leipzig since 1949, Museum of Visual Art, Leipzig
    2008 New Leipzig School, Cobra Museum, Amstelveen (Netherlands)
    GRIMME FINE ART, Amsterdam
    2007 Chromatic, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2006 Leipzig select, Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston, Texas
    story and structure, Marella Gallery, Milan
    Gallery Suzanne Tarasieve, Paris
    Union Gallery, London
    2005 Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2004 Paintings, Union Gallery, London
    2003 Laden für Nichts, Leipzig

Group shows

  • 2020 NEW, Westside Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • Full House, Bühlers, Fürth
    NEW 2, Westside Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2017 Group Show, Choi&Lager, Seoul
  • 2016 Paradoxes of the Ivory Tower, Oliva Greative Factory, S. Joao da Madeira (Portugal)
  • Immer und Ewig. 23th Leipziger Jahresausstellung, Westwerk Leipzig
  • 2015 La Coleccion, Centro Centro, Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid
    Leipzig 2015. Collection Hildebrand, G2 Kunsthalle, Leipzig
    German Cool, Salsali Private Museum, Dubai
    Starwars Episode 7, UNC Gallery, Seoul
    2014 Konstruktives Widersprechen, Sammlung Klein, Eberdingen-Nussdorf
    2013 Without title: abstract - concrete - constructive, Sparkasse Leipzig art exhibition hall, Leipzig
    2012 Leipzig Art Panorama, Seongnam Art Center, South Corea
    Triangel, Gallery of contemporary, Karlsruhe
    2011 Focus/Abstraktion, ESSL Museum, Wien
    2010 New Paintings, Grimm Fine Art, Amsterdam
    Viermaleins, Kunstgalerie Fürth
    2009 60/40/20. Kunst in Leipzig seit 1949, Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig
    2008 Drawcula, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    New Leipzig School, Cobra Museum, Amstelveen
    2006 Leipzig select, Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston
    Story and structure, Marella Gallery, Milan
    Artists from Leipzig, Arario Gallery, Peking
    Made in Leipzig, Essl Collection, Kunst der Gegenwart, Vienna
    2005 Malerei, Produzentengalerie, Hamburg
    Ohne Zögern, Die Sammlung Olbricht Teil 2, Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen
    Rainbow, Gallery sfeir semler, Beirut, Lebanon
    Forbilder, Art association Jena
    Cold Hearts, Arario Gallery, Seoul/South Korea
    2004 Eastory, Gallery Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris
    Plaza Suite, Union, London
    Clara-Park, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
    Alles muss raus!, B2, Leipzig
    2003 Kunststudenten stellen aus, Art and exhibition hall, Bonn
    Emerging Artists 08, Gallery Kleindienst
    Subversive, sexy and stylish, Wewerka Gallery, Berlin


  • 2019 Tobias Lehner - From Trial to Error, Wasserscheid Verlag
  • 2007 Tobias Lehner (catalog), Kerber Verlag
    Made in Leipzig (catalog), Essl Collection, Schloss Hartenfels, Torgau
    2006 First open, New York, Christies
    2005 Tobias Lehner - Painting (catalog), Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Most wanted (catalog), Olbricht Collection
    Cold hearts (catalog), Arario, Seoul (South Korea)
  • Tobias Lehner (catalog), Matthias Kleindienst, Suzanne Tarsiéve / Jari Lager
  • 2004 Coomer, Time Out, London, 02/2004