Texte Peter Vahlefeld

The rest is art history

Elizabeth Cooper Gallery is delighted to present the first solo exhibition of Berlin-based painter Peter Vahlefeld in Leipzig. Peter Vahlefeld will be the first artist to be profiled in a solo presentation from the gallery’s »46 Parachute Purple« program, a platform dedicated to young artists and talents fostered by the gallery.

In his new work, Peter Vahlefeld breaches new territory in exploring the tenuous relationship between the modes of analog painting and digital photography and the incongruities that are produced at their collision. The paintings are complex mixes of set-up photography, expropriation of books, catalogues and magazines, re-photography and re-painting that are digitally assembled on computer as well as on canvas. Peter Vahlefeld’s images are radiant, seductive and mysterious. One of his principal themes, which he endlessly cites and parodies yet reveres, is Modernism as an epochal style of art that permeates our culture from the corporate boardroom to the museum shop. He is a merry deformer, romping through the art world’s carefully arrayed aisles with a stencil and a can of spray paint, rearranging its face. Provocative, irreverent and often highly playful, he takes a hard look at the world around him through his use of image and language drawing on a combination of Pop and Dada. Vahlefeld likes to play with contradictions. His sources of inspiration come from omnipresent icons of the art market—the actual contemporary image economy where the massive distribution of reproductions—whether of Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons is precisely what confers value.

There’s no field of contemporary culture Peter Vahlefeld does not use for his own purpose. Pages torn from international art and lifestyle magazines, fine art auction catalogues and museum catalogues. What interests him is printed matter as a raw material with traces of logos and an aura of propaganda culled from mass media. The paintings are clearly more than the sum of its parts; each piece blends disparate, often unrelated, elements of visual culture that find unity in their arrangement. An Andy Warhol advertisement for Christie´s superimposed upon an advertisement for a Joseph Beuys exhibition, superimposed on a Tiffany ad atop of an ad for a gallery advertising a Cy Twombly exhibition. Recognizable images are transformed by repetition or a simple colour shift and are then further abstracted, degraded even, by layers of paint which add an unmistakeable layer of complexity to his compositions. He weaves images, patterns and paint into collage-like mashups on canvas or alu-dibond. They cross and recross the line between abstraction and representation, also between painting and photography, analog and digital, always reminding us that »image« drowns every aspect of life. With his impasto touches and dynamic use of colour, he creates a bold and kinetic re-imaging of commercial subject matter. The resultant images do not immediately reveal themselves, forcing the viewer to engage with the paintings on a level of continual discovery.

Sampled images are over-painted, obscured or emphasized by brushstroke and gesture, and the interplay illustrates how easily the mark of the human hand can dehumanize as well as reassure. While Vahlefeld has often doubled elements in his paintings, the analog materiality of paint with the digital reproduction of it, thus fusing oil paint and digital printing, he has also, in recent canvases, begun to employ a sculptural take on photography by incorporating textiles. He explores the surface of the canvas by adding extraneous materials to build a greater visual impact, thereby enhancing the physical depth and personal expression of each work. The jaggedness of the brushstroke with its horizontal lines dripping into one another, the pooled acrylic medium and oil paint, and scraps of cloth embedded into the work itself, all recall Robert Rauschenberg’s combine paintings. An important aspect here is that the colour remains constant in the painting both as a material and as a representation of itself. Through the use of common technologies, such as the desktop computer, scanner, and printer, Peter Vahlefeld forges a seamless and eloquent synthesis of diverse mediums and movements within a technical and visual vocabulary that is insistently of our time.