Those who take the time to engage more closely with Markus Schaller’s art quickly chance upon three underlying leitmotifs or formal principles which have permeated his work since its incipient stages.
Essentially, the practice of forging, which has its roots in the ancient legend of the smithy of Hephaistos (Vulcanus), has not changed for millennia, regardless of the fact that the man-made resources used to tame the iron heated in the fire have been refined continuously over the years. Something new was created from power and sheer mass. Human energy was used to reshape, straighten or cleave a given material using the well-placed force of a tool, like the hammer or chisel. In principle, this process could not be substituted for any other. Forging is an ancient handicraft which has been practiced since time immemorial. It unites two elements which we perceive as primordial, fire and iron, which is heated in the former until it first turns red and then incandescent, becoming, with this, malleable; it can be bent and formed, thinned out and solidified, elongated or reinforced.
Secondly, Schaller’s predilection for simple constructive shapes – in some measure the consequence of his decision to work with metal and forging – must be mentioned. These shapes arise virtually inevitably from the nature of the material and the way in which it is worked. This applies both to the shapes which Markus Schaller unmistakably assigns to the realms of the figurative and which appear as a human figure, a house, or as the head of a hammer (a simple shape represents the body or cavity which has been created for it), and those which he combines to form purely geometric structures (e.g. those he terms “cubes”), which consist predominantly of independent, homogeneous individual components.
Thirdly, Schaller’s work contains an added element: his love of text, the use of words, which are stamped into the material letter by letter (frequently covertly, secreted in unexpected spots, using embossed letters or stamps made from tempered steel). This has the effect that his works are invariably loaded with additional significance. Yet, above all, Markus Schaller uses these linguistic clues to attempt to make us aware of the legibility of the world. The words inscribed on many of his works unite to form brief poems (or abbreviations of the same) when read and connected, while, taken individually, they are reminiscent of those hieroglyphs found on ancient clay tablets or prehistoric stones. The statement entrusted to Schaller’s works is designed to enable the observer to enter into a unique discourse with the pieces once he has located the various characters, just as the artist before him conducted an intimate dialogue with his works, which went far beyond the process of their development. Is it not the case that the work of art is a wilful, headstrong opponent with the right to lay claim to its own entitlements?
Thus these three aspects or facets influence Markus Schaller’s work in a significant manner, and will be elucidated further in the paragraphs which follow.