Private View: Saturday 19th of March, 2-6 pm (London Bridge)
A punk crouches on the street watching passersby while glamorous young couples party and smoke cigarettes, and elderly aristocrats pose stiffly in an armchair. This latest series of paintings by German artist Ruprecht von Kaufmann offer intimate glimpses of the everyday, visualised in bright, textural gestures of paint punctuated by abrupt, violent marks of erasure. In the Street, the artist’s third solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, takes inspiration from Otto Dix’s paintings from the 1920s which captured the Weimar Republic and its diverse, colourful characters from aristocrats and musicians to the homeless, and presents a vivid portrait of our fast, glittering, uncertain present.
In his work, Dix captured a time of global upheaval and change: Europe had evolved from primarily rural and aristocratic society into an industrialist society and was creaking under the strain of the competing forces of budding democracy, conservatism and totalitarianism. Now, a hundred years on, von Kaufmann is painting our world with the same astute detail, but with a greater fluidity and dynamism that seems to capture the ephemerality, speed and instability of modern existence. His figures often appear in flux, blurred, incomplete and disjointed. As he says: “We can all feel that we are on the brink of very fundamental changes, from a carbon based-economy of manic growth to, well, we don’t quite know yet, do we?”
Yet, in his paintings von Kaufmann also draws our attention to the eerie similarities between our present-day and Dix’s vision of the 1920s. There are still the aristocrats stuck in their old-fashioned ways of thinking, people living on the street, party goers, musicians busking to disinterested audiences and the rich who see making money as a sport, as the purpose of living. The painting Here comes Success, for example, depicts a couple leaning against a red sports car. The man’s pose in particular suggests a strong sense of pride and self-entitlement: his hand is thrust into his pocket, showing off the glinting gold of his watch while his wife (or girlfriend?) looks up at him adoringly, holding the lead of their dog. It’s a familiar, almost stereotypical scene of privilege and yet, it is also chaotic, loud, incomplete. The background is abstract with tumultuous and at times, aggressive marks of red paint. Portions of the linoleum surface have been cut out or scraped away - there are two perfectly formed holes, one drilled through the body of the car and another through the woman’s stomach, seemingly indicating the emptiness of her posture - and lines, like sound waves, run from one side of the image to the other, the clamour of the city breaking through their seamless version of reality.
However, unlike Dix’s often brutal depictions of society, there’s a strong sense of empathy in von Kaufman's representations that capture interior states as well as moments of time. His figures appear as “types” only to emerge as complex, layered beings. With the couple by the sports car, for example, the chaotic, loose gestures and deep embedded marks invite the viewer to see beyond the superficial and to feel the anxiety and stress of contemporary life. “My hope is that when looking at the paintings viewers will be repulsed and attracted in equal measure by who they see, because they recognise something of themselves, maybe a part of themselves, they would rather not be made aware of,” says the artist.
The contrast between the smooth, dense surface of the linoleum over which von Kaufman’s brushstrokes glide and the more violent moments of mark-making where the artist carves into the surface using a disc sander and circular saw creates a kind of off-beat rhythm that permeates the exhibition, as if conveying the stuttering, unexpected syncopations of everyday life. This is perhaps most strongly felt in the painting of a street-band busking in the subway through which the artist has cut lines with a power saw, like the screeches on an incoming train but also like empty lines of sheet music. The performance is simultaneously disrupted by the lines and memorialised. In this way, von Kauffman finds equal meaning and weight to each gesture and individual. He invites us to view with generosity rather than judgement.
As the exhibition’s title suggests, the paintings attempt to bring us closer, not further away, to life as it is lived, in the street, from inside our heads and in doing so, the works create a sense of togetherness because in essence, we are all part of the same fast-changing, surreal picture, stumbling towards an unknown future that leaves us bewildered, caught up in our own lives, as we try to live and find our own small moments of happiness.