Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Michael van Ofen

Untitled 2005
Oil on Canvas 50 x 43cm

Alison Jacques Gallery, London
11 November 2006

A small but interesting exhibition of work by the German artist Michael van Ofen was held in the old Alison Jacques Gallery behind the Royal Academy. The gallery is just like a private house, but with the walls painted white and now furniture. I mention this as it was the perfect space for these small quiet unassuming paintings.

I was extremely interested in his work as I felt they definitely had a melancholic aura and that this was very closely related to the stripping down of the subjects to a structure of brushstrokes. The viewer’s perception hovers simultaneously between an awareness of the elements of the construction and their perception as allusive representation. In other words we accept the image as painted, but are aware of something intangible that is lost.

Frequently using Nineteenth century paintings as a basis for his work, Michael van Ofen deconstructs historical paintings into their painterly elements and then reassembles them. Many of his works are untitled and the one I have chosen is no exception. We see a man in a dark cloak and a white turban against a pale blue sky. To me it suggests a fragment of a painting by Gerome, but that may be very wide of the mark. This portrait is captured in only a handful of large fluid brushstrokes and yet the simplicity of this beautifully economical painting is deceptive. The gallery handout informs us that he will remove all paint from the canvas and rebuild the surface many times in the process of completing a work, rehearsing the work over and over again striving for the perfect weight, colour and speed of mark. The way the orange tunic resonates with the blue of the sky is a case in point.

The paintings are all small and this scaling down of the image from the original is synonymous with the loss of information in the transition. It is this loss of detail whilst retaining an aesthetically appealing image which is at the heart of the inherent sadness in the paintings.

©blackdog 2009


  1. Never I heard of this painter, born and educated in Düsseldorf- working at the Academy of Fine Arts in my home town Münster! A fascinating pic indeed, a minimalistic kind of art, but we can 'see'/imagine many 'things': a person with a head, a suit, sky, houses...confusing: there is no detailed face, a face blocked by someting- My first impression: cold, refusal, denial- but there are some warm, gentle, and poetical details: the white feather-light turban, the breast-painting reminding me of a Caspar David Friedrich painting, the warm yellow of a kind of lamp, the orange shirt- the whole figure reminds me a bit of the "knight of the lost figure" (Don Quixotte)- and in this sense we might have returned to the theme 'melancholy'!

  2. an interesting information (sorry, only in German):

  3. Sorry, I meant: "the Knight of the Sad Countenance" to denote Don Quixote's sadness!