Leopold Strobl Austrian, b. 1960


Leopold Strobl’s intimately scaled drawings (many of his works measure approximately 41/2 × 4 inches) lead the viewer into landscapes of haunting beauty. In every work he presents a deliberately partial view, covering portions he does not wish to show. Reposing forms suggest hills or crests or prehistoric rocks; nervy trees and melancholy shrubs may fill the visible part of the picture plane; segments of quiet roads, castles, fortresses, clock towers, or precise schematic houses and constructions may partially appear, with windows peeking back at the viewer like multiple all-black eyes. Strobl’s worlds are steeped in shades of ochre yellow, raw umber, sage, pine, olive, and moss greens, with touches of bone white, graphite, and gunpowder grays. Skies are minty, dawns are not roseate, and yet the contours of this realm express an almost meditative state, an intense quietude or perhaps an extreme suspense. Strobl was born in Mistelbach, Lower Austria, and has devoted himself exclusively to art for more than thirty-five years. Since 2004 he has been a guest of the Open Studio program at the Gugging House of Artists in Vienna (see p. 143), where he draws in the morning and finishes a new piece per session.

Strobl renders his drawings on newspaper clippings he selects and adheres to clean drawing paper. The undergirding of published media furnishes his works with pictorial facets and meaning. With an intuitive grasp of solid color and transparency Strobl allows a portion of the printed image to appear while obscuring other parts. In some compositions, he heightens natural elements with a flush of color for visual texture or three-dimensionality in his abstractions. In other drawings, the newsprint becomes a palimpsest with a faint trace of words or letters barely visible under the pigment.

The signature feature of Strobl’s work is his incorporation of bold, dark masses that create overpowering negative spaces, which become the primary subject of the work. These dark areas, which he outlines and colors in before anything else, may form an integral part of a landscape or appear to be mercurial matter as amorphous as dough. They can almost completely swallow a scene, create an extreme vignette, or form a deckle-edged border around the composition. In the unpopulated scenes of Strobl’s vision, these abstract volumes occasionally suggest humanoid forms. Strobl’s virtuosic sense of perspective and framing permits the viewer to see only what he allows. The negation of being able to know the full picture is a reminder that every story has its limits of knowability.Strobl’s debut in the United States occurred in 2016 with the solo exhibition Smallscapes at Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York, and two years later the Museum of Modern Art (New York) acquired five of his works. Strobl’s works are also in the Treger Saint Silvestre Collection (São João da Madeira, Portugal), and the abcd Collection (Paris).