Falk Gernegroß' works are concerned with aspects of contemporary femininity. He looks at images of women produced in the contested area between everyday phenomena and taboos: pinup girls, disco queens, stuckup females, Lolitas. The aesthetics of trivial massmedia provide the visual material for his subjects. Gernegroß extracts models and poses from these commonplace images and paints them in front of charming landscapes. He effectively recontextualizes these images by employing both the light and shade aesthetics and the glazing techniques of Renaissance painters. On the one hand, Gernegroß' female nudes in evening or night time moods are related to the Venus depictions of Cranach or Manet both arthistoric predecessors of great common approval. On the other hand with the models' frivolous and flirtatious poses being lighted from an unknown source located somewhere in the foreground Gernegroß' compositions appear like sets designed for amateur erot! ica, softporn productions or private homevideos, widespread phenomena which reflect both popular clichés and romantic ideals. Are these the fantasies of each and every man? However, Gernegroß is neither interested in the exposure of the female model, nor in the exposure of the male observer; he is too deeply involved in this situation himself. What is of greater interest is the ancient yet always up to date game played by model and observer, its contemporary forms and images. In combining allusions to art history with the circulating visual conventions of erotica in his paintings, Gernegroß creates a new frame of reference for both fields. It is from this often tongueincheek mixture of high and low culture that Gernegroß' paintings gain their tension.
The experience of looking at any of Falk Gernegross’ paintings is similar to that of stumbling upon someone else’s private event or personal encounter, and hovering to snatch a glance for a split second too long. Boldly painted in vivid pinks, yellows and reds, his characters are shown in intimate moments: playing Twister together; lying in the long grass; undressing in a bedroom. The soft curves and fleshy tones of the body are captured with particular attention to detail, managing to fluctuate between strong realism and a cartoon-like style. The combined result is suggestive of the slightly distorted images that you might recall from a dream, reflecting reality through the lens of your own memories and associations. Gernegross’ paintings are strange and yet familiar; timeless but also strongly contemporary; erotic and yet innocent.
Gernegross moved to Leipzig more than 20 years ago, where he apprenticed in stone sculpture. He went on to study painting at the HGB Academy of Visual Arts, under the tuition of a number of the artists associated with the New Leipzig School, including Neo Rauch. Rauch’s paintings frequently tell surreal, detailed stories, and Gernegross too weaves his own distinctive narratives. Young nudes evoke pagan nymphs and biblical beauties alike, caught bathing outdoors. His characters play a range of roles, taking on new traits according to each viewer’s own imagination. The personal gaze is central to Gernegross’ work; he is the scenesetter and shape-shifter; the composer and illusionist who uncovers our disorders and our desires.
Interview by Louise Benson (Hot and Cool 9)
LOUISE BENSON: To begin, could you describe your process of painting? How long do you spend on each work, and how do you select your subjects?
FALK GERNEGROSS: The selection differs. Very often, I just start painting. I try to put the figures in the scene; I try to compose. I am often impatient to start painting, and therefore my sketches are mostly rough drafts. Details are defined and clearly formulated in the painting itself. Depending on the size, it takes between three weeks and two months to paint a picture; only the very small ones are finished quicker.
LB: The colours in your paintings make a big and immediate impression; how do you choose which pigments to use? And how much power do you think that they have to shift the mood of your paintings?
FG: I try to use contrasting colours most often, to create a beautifully modulated awareness of each tone. It’s a matter of judgement, or rather of sentiment.
LB: Your depictions of figures seem to go between almost sculptural realism and a cartoonish impression. What interests you about these two extremities of style?
FG: Both styles fascinate me. Since I am acquainted with sculpting, I try to imagine a sculptural sense of the body while painting it. It helps to incorporate vivacity and movement. Comics impress me with their clear shape, and the emphasis on the contour. On the other hand, I also find that both styles are full of pitfalls; think of the boring academicism surrounding 19th century sculpture, or the general flatness and two-dimensionality of illustration.
LB: How would you describe your relationship to the body? You paint it clothed and nude, often in strange, slightly awkward positions. Do you see the body itself as something that we all wear, and is this an uncomfortable realisation?
FG: For the most part the body is a shell – an awkward, embarrassing, hideous but also wonderfully beautiful shell. It plays a central, important role for me and my painting, guiding and revealing my aesthetic sensibilities. The body is also highly significant for me as a carrier of meaning.
LB: How important is clothing in your paintings? You often show garments in well-observed detail, directly capturing contemporary dress and iconography. What do these represent for you?
FG: In the beginning, I painted most of the figures nude. This was partly to understand and comprehend the body itself, while now it is less important for me to paint a body naked. Apparel carries, supports, bears, covers and protects a multitude of thoughts and ideas. And beside this, clothing and garments work superbly well in their scope for colours.
LB: In many of your paintings, the settings feel quite timeless – particulary the open, natural spaces. Why is this, and how does this integrate with your depiction of contemporary life?
FG: Certain eternalness is important. I like the idea that this scene could have taken place 500 years ago, 30 years ahead or yesterday.
LB: What role do taboos and the forbidden play in your work? At times, an onlooker or voyeur can be spotted in them, while others show strange physical relationships. How do you construct these scenes?
FG: The scenes that I paint, and the things that my protagonists carry out, aren’t taboos. To the contrary, they do not show inhumanity at all. Of course, time and place support and carry sentiment. When does the viewer become a voyeur, or the other way round? What is forbidden or indecent? I know that for myself, but what about for everybody else?
My protagonists are innocent actors – that’s how I see it. In the painting “Twister”, the boy gets attracted by loud music and looks over the wall. That is the key moment – he sees the girls, and maybe everything changes. Maybe now he becomes the voyeur… maybe he watches the girls play… or maybe he turns and walks away, bored. That’s the story. The biblical Susanna would have been glad.
Other paintings, such as “Summer of 69” or “Heart, Diamond, Cross” show human relationship, which could take place anywhere. There are no taboos so long as nobody gets offended. Accordingly, the viewers of my paintings undertake responsibility themselves, and must stand up to the situation. You might be a spectator, a voyeur, or be bored out of your mind and walk away…
LB: What role do you play yourself as the creator and onlooker within your paintings, and how do you see your viewers within this framework?
FG: I play a subordinate role in my paintings. I might see myself as beholder and creator, as somebody who composes, combines and extends paintings. I am their facilitator. As I said before, I believe that many things can only be declared in a very individual way, and I therefore leave it to each viewer as to how to interpret my paintings and what part he plays in them. I know that my paintings polarise – which is a good thing!
LB: Mirrors are a recurring theme in your work. What do these represent for you, and how does the duality of the mirror play out in your paintings?
FG: Mirror images are always an analysis and examination of the onlooker contemplating him or herself. In my pictures, mirrors often cover private parts, just as the fig leaf does. It is an old custom of concealment, leading to new associations.
LB: Many of the scenes shown in your paintings take place in domestic settings. What interests you about this type of space?
FG: The setting is mostly subsidiary. But of course, in the privacy of their own home, everyone does things that are unthinkable elsewhere…
LB: The details and action in your paintings often appear to me as if they are moment taken from an ongoing scene, with a strange, almost cinematic quality. Do you imagine your painted scenes in this way, as if they have an unseen beginning and end?
FG: My pictures always tell little stories and narratives. I try to assemble various levels and have space for interpretive pluralism. Straight stories with foreseeable endings are boring.
LB: You studied painting under Arno Rink and Neo Rauch. What was your experience of education with them, and how do you feel that their particular painting styles influenced your own outlook and work (if at all)?
FG: During our meetings, we primarily discussed the actual problem of painting techniques, and less the contents themselves. These things were explained in the painting itself. How to create tension in the picture? What relevance do colours have? How important is composition and abstract elements, inner forms, the space in-between…. Of course one gets influenced during such discourses in a certain way.
LB: More broadly, how would you describe the influence of the city of Leipzig on your work?
FG: I have lived in Leipzig for more than 20 years, since I came here to apprentice in stone sculpture. Thereafter, I started to to study painting at the HGB, Academy of Visual Arts. During my studies, the hype and painting boom started. It was interesting to trace it. It is sensational what influence the art market has; it was remarkable what was accomplished, and also – how fast everything is over again. It turned some people’s heads.
LB: At times, your style of portraiture calls to mind the Renaissance painter Lukas Cranach. In what ways do you feel informed by his work, and by a specifically German lineage of painting?
FG: I like Cranach’s paintings. In contrast to Dürer, the Naturalist, Cranach’s emphasis is on abstract inner forms, and therefore the physiognomy of his figures yield more nuances. The space in-between and inside is more important than posture. Cranach shifts ideals.
LB: Cranach, Rembrandt, and many other Renaissance painters frequently depicted Venus. What is your own view on the symbol of Venus, and the shifting ideals of female beauty?
FG: There is a lot of literature on images of Venus, about their meaning, rationalisation and social context. The interpretation and importance of these are - in my opinion - unique to the individual. Unlike in German, there is a differentiation between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’ in the English language, which itself offers a subtle distinction and hierarchy of what one reads into the painting in question.
In my point of view, images of Venus are personalised ideals of beauty that are subject to painterly guidelines. By the standards of the time, these images probably weren’t always simply an homage to female beauty but rather dearly paid trivial erotica. Today are other, better opportunities… and because of that, the images of Venus live up to their envisaged homage to beauty. That is almost romantic….
LB: Finally, what does fantasy mean to you in the context of your work?
FG: Fantasy is the key.
- 1973 born in Marienberg
- 1994-1997 apprenticeship as stone sculptor in Leipzig
- 2001-2008 Studies of painting at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig
- 2003-2005 Studies in the class of Prof. Arno Rink
- 2005-2008 Studies in the class of Prof. Neo Rauch
- 2008 Diploma at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig, Prof. Neo Rauch
- lives and works in Leipzig
- 2014 Twist, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
- 2013 Painting (with Matthias Ludwig), Gallery am Ratswall, Bitterfeld
- 2012 Kurzgeschichten, Ornis A. Gallery, Utrecht
- 2011 Miss Wonderbar, Galllery Kleindienst, Leipzig
- 2010 Malerei, Gallery Schwind, Frankfurt a.M.
- 2008 Ping-Pong, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
- 2006 Delikatessen, Gallery Hobbyshop, Munich
- 2016 Immer und Ewig. 23th Leipziger Jahresausstellung, Westwerk, Leipzig
- 2015 ETAGE, Gallery Leuenroth, Frankfurt/M.
- 2014 New visual worlds from Leipzig, Heike Moras Art, London
BGL#1, Kesselhaus, Bergisch Gladbach / Cologne
Mensch werde wesentlich, Art association FAK, Zwickau
Saxonia Paper, Art hall of the Sparkasse, Leipzig
- 2013 Pittbullbutterfly, Gallery Leuenroth, Frankfurt/M.
Un été spectaculaire, Ornis A. Gallery, Amsterdam
- 2012 unterwegs, 19th Leipziger Jahresausstellung, Westwerk, Leipzig
Amor und Psyche, Raum Hellrot, Halle/Saale
- 2011 Convoy Leipzig, Biksady Gallery, Budapest
Convoi Leipzig, Csikàs Galéria, Veszprem
After the Goldrush, Kunstverein Speyer
- 2010 Hart und Spitz, Gallery am Ratswall, Bitterfeld-Wolfen
Sichtbar durch, Raum Hellrot, Halle/Saale
- 2009 Realism uit Leipzig, Drents Museum, Assen
- 2008 Drawcula, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
- 2006 Zweidimensionale, art hall of the Sparkasse Leipzig
- 2005 Artforum, Berlin
NADA Artfair, Miami
Art Brussels, Brussels (B)
- 2004 Junge Kunst 9, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
Neue Leipziger Schule, art association Essenheim
- 2018 Falk Gernegroß - Morning Glory (catalogue), Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
- 2015 Alice Goddard & Theo Sion: Hot and Cool 9, London
- 2012 Short Stories (catalog), Ornis A. Gallery, Utrecht (The Netherlands)
- 2011 Convoy Leipzig (catalog), Biksady Gallery, Budapest
- 2009 Realism uit Leipzig (catalog), Drents Museum, Assen (The Netherlands)
- 2008 Falk Gernegroß - ping pong (catalog), Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig