In the daily process of painting, Thomas Hartmann initially allows everything to happen. Then the actual work of tidying up, sorting out, structuring begins. Hartmann is not interested in themes, but in structures that he develops from his favourite motifs: Crowds of people from a bird's-eye view, the "up and down" (2018) of escalator riders, standing "In Reih und Glied" (2016) or the masses of books piling up labyrinthine in hallways and corridors, which know "No Beginning, No End" (2008/2014) and become "Burden and Pleasure" (2017) in the hands of the book lover disappearing behind his mountain of books. The rows of books on the floor of a library (O.T., 2015/2018), viewed from above, blocking access to a volume, resemble the rows of containers in a "port" (2013), associating stasis, trade blockage, not universal trade. The "Volkswagen, Volkswagen" (2015) lined up away from the assembly line in a huge car park like toy cars also become emblematic of mass traffic at a standstill. It is amazing how aptly these images describe the current state of the world.
Hartmann says, "the subject doesn't matter, my subject is painting." He develops this painting into a plasticity that enables him to combine different perspectives and to stretch and widen the space in such a way that the canvas can theoretically capture the whole world and its population. However, he already inevitably failed in his attempt to put the "Berliners" (1999/2018) on a canvas. In his painted libraries, he then succeeds after all in creating a metaphor for the encyclopaedic total knowledge of the world. Hartmann takes the position of the "surveyor" (2017), who inconspicuously but precisely observes what is happening around him from the edge. "Like a funnel, everything goes in with me and comes out as a concentrate. The content is always the finding of a form, a structure." His view of the world is an attempt to order the chaos of his perceptions, the "Wimmelbilder (Crowds Paintings)", to give them a structure in order to make them vivid. In doing so, he arranges the teeming masses into manageable quantities: Crowds of people at long work tables ("Long Table", 2019/20), clusters of houses, books, containers, cars. Just as the mathematical doctrine of sets and their links describes the world as a summary of different objects, Hartmann's painted sets are an attempt to understand and illustrate the world. Hartmann produces a kind of painted set theory that helps him and the viewer to look at the world in a distanced and illusionless way, but also to bear it with irony and composure as it is, without wanting to improve it. (Text: Eckhart J. Gillen, 2020)