Light Bodies

The exhibition ‘Red Yellow Blue’ by Berlin based painter Mark Lammert has reopened at the Leonhardi Museum in Dresden and is on view till 20 June 2021. For the catalog I contributed the essay ‘Light Bodies’ from which you can read a fragment here.

Mark Lammert is not the kind of artist who allows a lot of visitors into his studio. His paintings develop slowly over time; layer after layer is applied before the works are finished. Strange eyes gazing upon them during this process of making could interrupt their growth, destroy their integrity. Such is the power of sight. Yet, one could still state that the artist’s studio is densely populated, as human figures loom in many of Lammert’s paintings. Usually there are several paintings on as many easels, each work hinting at some kind of human presence. So encounters between people do take place in the studio, even if it is on a different level than that of strictly in-person visits.

To discuss Lammert’s work, one has to decide whether to start talking first about color or about figures. The two seem equally important. In a drawing-like way of painting, the human motifs develop and appear in fragments, suggestions, and gestures – not in whole bodies. A turning face, a bending back, a breathing chest. They appear on color, or ​in c​ olor one could say, as there is a vast field of one single color around them, into which they are engraved. Usually this would be called “background,” but that word feels inadequate, because it is actually the first thing that catches the attention, and much work has been spent on it; it is as layered and meaningful as the figurative motifs are, though in a different way.

The work has strong abstract qualities, but there is always at least one figure, and often several, so we are dealing with figurative painting. We can see parts or traces of living beings. “You are looking at asses,” the artist says, when he shows me one of the new works in the studio. It seems that he wants to provoke me with a banal description of a work that is delicate and hard to capture in words. Formally he might be right: we are looking at a black painting, where four figures appear bent over, and we do indeed see their behinds, lighting up in yellows and white. Yet looking at the painting did not make me think for one moment about buttocks, or any other body specifics. It is actually never the depiction of human flesh or skin that I see in Lammert’s paintings, but the transformation of flesh into painterly shapes which have their own physicality. Light bodies you could say, intangible as they are.

“A good painting should shine,” the artist once said to me. We were actually discussing the exhibition of another artist, and the question arose of what makes a painting work or not. It was clear that he used a criterion that he applies in his own studio practice. Shining is what his figures are about, and the test they have to pass, before they can leave the studio, or before a visitor is allowed to see them. First the mystery of creation has to happen; the motif has to catch fire, so to speak. And this happens through lighting. Only after that is there time for talking and polishing, editing and accentuating. The paintings give variations in glowing, in casting shadows, in glittering, and also in hiding. They can only do all of this and exist as they are when they are touched by light.

(…)

Glenn Brown in Berlin

Glenn Brown exhibitioin at Max Hetzler gallery Berlin

Since his appearance on the 1990’s London art scene, Glenn Brown has been in an ongoing dialogue with his predecessors, without being afraid of mutilating his examples or pushing aspects of their work to the limits through stylish deviation and exaggeration. For his exhibition And thus we existed, the artist presents 17 recent paintings that are loosely based on historical figure drawings, alongside six paint-based sculptures. 

Multiple sources often come together in one painting, such as in the green Bring on the Headless Horses (2020), which projects a seated nude over a Hercules figure, intertwining them. This piece is based on works by two 17th– and 18th-century artists (Mr. Brown usually prefers not to disclose the names of his sources, unless of course they are mentioned in the title), but it also references the artist’s own previous work.

Seeing a painting by Glenn Brown is like watching a peacock opening its tail. It is full of proud beauty, carefully orchestrated colors, and within the repeating patterns there are many little “eyes” hidden in the paint, in curving lines. Sometimes they are intentionally meant as eyes, but they are often just blinking moments that draw the attention into the dense figuration, creating anchor points in what seems an overwhelming and cluttered play of lines and colors around a human figure. For the current exhibition Brown was apparently triggered by the multitude of curving, shorter and longer lines that can be found in drawings. He uses them to shape his figures, serving representation, but he also lets them shine as free-moving ornaments in a rich display of color and paint.

Seeing these works, I wondered if the artist considered a path through each of them, in terms of where to start looking, where to continue, and where to leave the painting. Some shops make customers go through their offer in just such a prescribed way. There is no way to find what you are looking for without passing a variety of other offers that call for your attention. In Brown’s case, there are many distractions to look at, and the viewer might wonder if there is a point at which everything comes together. Looking for meaning here feels like a game of a hide-and-seek, in which everything is curling and swirling, in which figures are appearing and disappearing, and the image never comes to rest. 

It is interesting how different the temperaments of the individual works are – ranging from light and airy, to melancholic or tormented – while sharing the same compositional principles. Color seems to be the decisive factor here, giving each work its own pitch. Some small paintings though, like Drawing 9 (After Baselitz) (2017), stand out without (or with just a little) color, and for their dynamics, rely on the contrast between black and white, and between dense and emptier areas. The play of lines in this work is reminiscent of a detailed mountain map where differences in elevation are indicated, even though the actual image is that of a face.

There is not one way to go through the paintings – there are endless ways, and I figure that the artist conceived his work rather purposely in such a way that it is not easy to find an exit. Yet, he gives us some spots that serve well as entrances, like a single red shape against a green, forming a hand, or the blinking eyes that pull attention like a vortex. Once inside the painting, the eye keeps wandering, moving over to an opposite color, or looking for a repetition of the same blue. Everything is connected, yet everything is also loose and by itself. Mr. Brown succeeds in evoking a restless dynamic in a medium that is often thought of as stationary. The many hours of meticulous labor invested in getting at this result has its counterpart in the time needed to “read” and experience the painting fully. There is not one single image – there are many brought together into one painting under the pretext of depicting a figure.

–Jurriaan Benschop

On view at Max Hetzler Gallery, Berlin, untill 23 January 2021 (due to covid by appointment only)

Other Reviews

‘A Matter of Touch’ at Torstrasse 111 in Berlin

A Matter of Touch, Exhibition - Curated by Jurriaan Benschop.

Touch is an important aspect of painting. The temperaments of the artists in this exhibition can be felt through the way they have worked and touched the canvas, be it with a firm, decisive brushstroke, a light touch to create transparency, or the sanding off of layers to create flatness or roughness. A whole range of sensibilities can be stored in a painting, speaking to us even before we identify what is actually depicted.

Though keeping distance has become the norm in public life, in the realm of paintings, we can be reminded of physical encounters and intimacy, and enjoy a close perspective. The artists in this exhibition embrace the tactile and are interested in paintings as physical matter. Yet their focus is also on less tangible aspects of the artworks, such as luminosity, wonder, or absence. The importance of light can be felt throughout a range of different motifs and vocabularies.

The works have been collected from studios on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the pandemic, not all artists are able to be present for the opening, yet their works offer us an artistic dialogue across borders. The paintings find a temporary home in the ruinous beauty of the Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111. Located in the center of Berlin, the space evokes the time when the city offered itself as an artistic Freiraum.

Participating artists: Nikos Aslanidis, Thessaloniki; Thomas Brüggemann, Berlin; Michelle Jezierski, Berlin; Joseph Kameen, Aiken, South Carolina; Kiki Kolympari, Athens; Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Chicago; Grit Richter, Hamburg; Rubica von Streng, Berlin         

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop for Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111, 10119 Berlin. Project management: Ulrike Seyboth & Ingo Fröhlich, www.torstrasse111.de

Exhibition from 16 July till 30 August 2020.

Image above: installation view with works by Rubica von Streng and Nikos Aslanidis.

MORE exhibition views

Painting Exhibition A Matter of Touch, exhibition view, Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Rubica von Streng, Jurriaan Benschop
Exhibition A Matter of Touch, works by Adrienne Elyse Meyers (back) and Rubica von Streng (front)