Jonas Burgert Stück Hirn Blind at Blain|Southern
I walked past this show a couple of times and thought: ‘Yikes! I really don’t want to go and see that’. Huge expressionistic horror canvasses painted in sludge brown and dayglo yellow and orange. But then it got me one day. The show of the ‘acclaimed’ German Artist is in the prominent Hanover Square Blain|Southern Gallery. Large paint on canvas paintings and a few (I think bronze) sculptures. The paintings are somewhat realistic in rendering, but impossibly dystopian in content.
There is an issue for people who can draw – who are enticed into making a career as an artist because of that talent. What does it mean right now? What can you do with it? It is possible to draw something simple and beautiful and make it count. That is to say – to compete with other forms of image making, to make it sit in the contemporary market and to satisfy the mind of a critical and demanding creator. Otherwise you have to turn your back on it and become a bitter repressed anally retentive conceptualist or a joky popster. I think it is possible but on the evidence of this show it can’t be easy.
Burgert clearly has a facility with paint, but the wallowing in horror type imagery suggests this is uncomfortable for him. The history of painting weights heavily on him – these paintings recall the battle pictures of Uccello and Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari (lost) but overlaid with images of the Holocaust and the mutilated fetishes of chainsaw horror. Corpses decomposing, dereliction, mummy-style cerements in pseudo fluorescent colours all rendered with naturalistic shading. Lots of bloody splatters. It all seems impossibly adolescent and angsty.
It takes a lot of commitment to make this work….they are large paintings with complex surfaces – sanding, layering and lots of drips and ‘painterly’ brushwork. It suggests someone with a plan, someone knowing. This work is not a spontaneous reaction.
But wait. Downstairs there are some smaller paintings. Smaller paintings are almost always better, I think. They have directness – they are actual thoughts expressed as paintings. Not something pre-executed to cover an opulent wall. True for Rubens, and true for Burgert. Anyway, in just one picture there is a sign that he feels some frustration with the plan – he paints a head, gets frustrated. Scribbles it out. But because he is pretty good at drawing, his scribble looks like the best thing that Frank Auerbach never did! Check it out…