The experience conveyed by Jonas Burgert’s work is as real as standing in front of a mirror. It reflects the deepest inner workings of our being, allowing us to glimpse another place, opening up – or rather, ripping open a whole new universe.
The German artist primarily works on large-scale paintings inhabited by objects, animals, people and whimsical entities that disintegrate and constantly mutate. Tiny people and gigantic creatures spill out of cracks, perish between petals or sink into dull sheets; scraps of clothing without bodies to wear them; eyes staring into the void. Burgert’s paintings elude straightforward interpretation, they explore a higher reality and invoke the end of the world through personalities with multiple inner lives. The subjects are painted such that they are perfectly recognisable – albeit on a symbolic level. There are people who carry the paint on their skin, women with elongated bodies, frayed clothes made from plant fibres and rags. A constant need to portray hope and failure, beauty and confusion, prevails. Through his paintings, the artist strives to create spaces dedicated to the spiritual representation of ourselves – so that the observer is transformed into a creature, a figure within this painted reality.
Jonas Burgert uses archaic utensils, such as ribbons, strips and bandages that wrap around the bodies and everything they encounter. These are the threads on which a rope dancer balances between different eras and cultures, between Africa, India, New Guinea, Egypt, Europe. To begin with, the artist chooses dark colours that become increasingly intense and colder in tone as the work progresses. Colour serves to document rope-dancing cynicism. The artist seeks not to tell stories nor to cite history, but instead himself to be the stories – stories he sees on the streets. Jonas Burgert’s imaginary rope dancer and Matto, who hovers over the set of Fellini’s La Strada, have a lot in common. On the big screen, the street artist reveals a mystical secret to Gelsomina: Everybody is good for something, even you. As in Fellini’s film, the drama of non-communicability unfolds on the three-dimensional chaotic canvases, the law of the street holds sway, dominated by madness, violence and brutality. Burgert’s creatures are in a state of endured lyricism, just like the character of the vulnerable Gelsomina. The artist strives to paint the epic tale of loneliness that transpires from sweat cloths, from the grotesque, the mysterious and the fantastic.
In his latest work, Lieb wildert, it is beams and ropes that evoke the above and the below, the weird and the indeterminate, between broken bodies, white shadows and bursting microbes. Instead of descriptions of human acts, the observer actively experiences love, hate, envy, raving madness, jealousy, rage, torpor and fear. A subtext the artist often invokes is Tolkien’s Middle Earth, an undefined space between materiality and the other place. The inanimate pose in which the acrobat begins his walk on the rope is a compassionate step towards humanness. A terrible inertia, the suspension of time and overwhelming silence are tangible, but all have retained the strength to fight, to rage, to be passionate, to be energetic and powerful. Every creature has its own individual inner life, and yet each creature is inextricably bound up with the others. Instead of providing explanations, the artist allows us to share the pathos and feel what happens.
Art of the quality that Jonas Burgert delivers succeeds in creating a splendid illusion of tension between surface and space. The artist’s fascinating female figures are caught in a state of tension between recognisability and abstraction. Excessively elongated figures pose in graceful postures, adorned with ribbons and fluorescent colours, in front of shabby, scuffed walls, their faces earthy and dreamy. They wear bird necklaces and blank stares, vines twining around their heads and their long striped robes. They are figures reflected in the void, from which they observe their double. Although these silhouettes let us read the story of the painting, the abstract significance of femininity is far more powerful. There is not a single reference to their carnality, and yet they are sensual and lively, actualising women rather than representing them.
Jonas Burgert’s work is dominated by restlessness, it abounds in imagination while conveying authentic inner realities und energy.
He paints real scenes. They reflect his view of human existence, which is dominated by our need to find meaning, direction and a purpose in our lives.
The search is open to reason, imagination and the need to create large-scale canvasses inhabited by fantasy creatures of all magnitudes. Figures wear masks and costumes, they are placed in the midst of an ambience where walls and floors crack open to reveal piles of corpses or pools of liquid, while an inexplicable darkness settles over everything. Then, ever so faintly, light appears.
Colour and light play a crucial role in art. As early as 1704, Newton’s Opticksdiscussed the properties of light and the nature of colours. One century on, in his Theory of Colours, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe investigated the principles of vision and non-coloured light, white and black, elaborating the essential function of shadow and coloured shadow; later, his investigations served as an important source of inspiration for Turner, Kandinsky, Klee and scores of other painters.
Colour as employed by Jonas Burgert is a substance that rises from and plunges back into black, while it dissolves through white. Light emerges from white and passes through a spectrum of bright colours containing a plethora of reds, yellows, greens and blues. In Burgert’s art, colour equals intellectual awareness.
The artist’s large-scale paintings draw us in and engulf us. The observer approaches, spellbound, to admire the eruption of petals springing up from robes and bodies; however, they explode so violently that the gaze is averted, descends into agonising darkness and holds the observer physically at a distance. They are living images, tableaux vivants, of ongoing destruction. Although no-one understands where this destruction occurs, everyone can feel as it takes shape, roaring. It expands to gigantic dimensions as one steps back from the canvas. Paint splatters ensure that spontaneity is preserved. The creatures, from emaciated figures, to elongated women and otherworldly animals, are destroyed by significance. They swathe themselves in, merge, warp and disappear into the rubble left in the aftermath of the apocalypse. That is all that remains.
Machine-like figures are reminiscent of the demonic scenes created by Hieronymus Bosch. Echoing the Haywain tryptic and the Ship of Fools, they evoke the imaginings of the Dutch painter who dreamed up surreal and fantastical scenes populated by terrifying monsters in 1550. Jonas Burgert’s paintings also contain an ironic nod towards the Garden of Earthly Delights, the creation of a poetic world and a lost phantasy landscape.
The canvasses abound with rubble, detritus, remnants of history, cinders of the art of painting – the very cinders that serve to feed greed. However, they are of a fleeting nature. Their purpose is to devour the images and to unleash from the chaos the impulse and those emotions that linger in the memory.
Like blood coursing through our veins, Burgert’s art conveys the pulse of the present time, the inevitable decline of a cruel world which is no longer capable of producing different versions. And yet the petals, bearers of destruction, are magnificent: they carry a message, an inspiration. They are the ferrymen of the divine that resides in humankind. The sorrowful expressions and the death of the bodies are a flight into consciousness. They represent a renouncement of the world. The grotesque realism that unfolds in the artist’s work is a denunciation of ignorance. His portrayal of calamity and the scenes of horror are permeated with the power of the tache, perhaps the brushstroke of light, that knows how to celebrate the grace of a defeated humanity. In a place without time, the multiple, ideal self is revealed as alter egos that illuminate the dark sides. Not insanity, but filigree, the finest gossamer fabric of our being, faithfully accompanied by desire.