● Born a. Darss
Michael Markwick, Robert Muntean
A Sense of Possibility
20 March – 2 May 2021
Sense of Possibility
“How is it still possible today to paint figuratively, or even to deal with figures at all?” Robert Muntean once asked in an interview. The figure has always been present in his work, sometimes clearly defined, sometimes covered or just in outline. But the artist has been equally interested in dissolving the figure or breaking it apart, transforming it during the process of painting. We don’t find detailed images or precise portraits; rather, we see appearances, orchestrations of color. You could say that Muntean uses the figure as a placeholder: a shape to organize the paint. He starts with a figure in order to take us somewhere else.
Michael Markwick has always taken the natural environment as a starting point for his paintings. It is his main motif, yet he has never been a traditional landscape painter in the sense of depicting a view with trees, hills, or a lake as we would see it from a window. Rather, nature is for him a driving force and a source of energy he wants to connect to. It makes him want to paint. It is the sun’s radiance or the sound of the wind sweeping through the trees that ignites a painting. For Markwick, nature is a place to find life in its fullness and diversity, ranging from coldness and cruelty to refined beauty and spirituality.
What the figure is to Muntean, the landscape is to Markwick. Both artists have their basic motif, their home base, so to speak, from which they have been developing their painting practices. Interestingly enough, this is also where their respective works meet. When Muntean paints his figures, he does so by creating a space around them, in terms of colors and depth. And when Markwick paints nature, he often suggests the presence of a figure to establish a relationship. This can be just a glimpse, or a hidden figure, or a skeleton – it is there to connect us with the natural environment. Figure and space, in the work of these two painters, cannot really be separated. While one focuses on the appearance of a figure in space, the other shows us the space that exists within a figure.
What started as an artistic friendship between neighbors, with occasional studio visits, has developed into a painterly dialogue over the years. Muntean left Vienna to come to Berlin; Markwick grew up in the US and lived in the Netherlands before settling in the German capital. The artists have previously exhibited together in group shows, and now they join forces in their first duo appearance. Looking at their work, one can feel that it is a natural match, with easy transitions and shared concerns. The artists are part of the same conversation about what it means to be a painter in the 21st century. Neither is interested in taking things too literally; a painting should not be an illustration. Rather, they take painting as a way to open up sensibilities and create layers in seeing. Things are not what they seem at first glance, their work tells us. If you look twice, or three times, you will find something else. In line with this way of thinking, the artists called the exhibition A Sense of Possibility.
If we think of the (pandemic) year in which the paintings were developed, we know that it was, for many people, troubled with limitations and concerns. Feelings of discontent or frustration had to be balanced with joyful moments, with trust or hope. Such states can flow into paintings without being spelled out, as painting can also articulate what is foggy, unspoken, or unconscious. “I like the tension between hard and fluid painting, also in how it reflects the harder edges of our experiences,” Markwick remarked. In his paintings on silk, he evokes a delicacy and a quality of light that he did not reach before, but then he mixes sand into the paint to create rougher patches, too. In Muntean’s work, color comes in chords, and together they produce “a sound,” as the artist likes to call it, parallel to the experience of music. It can be loud and dissonant, or it can be harmonious.
“Creating space” is something we say in daily life, when situations are tight and we need some fresh air. In the case of this exhibition, creating space is a complex, layered, and existential undertaking. Two artists each build a setting, a stage you could say, where a human presence acts. They push the figuration up to the point that we can recognize it, and then hold back, leaving space for the viewer, whose presence is also anticipated, to complete the scene. For both, the question of whether and when a painting is finished is important. They carefully consider what to define, and what to leave open. The striving for a sense of possibility is not a way of trying to be mysterious. It speaks about what a work of art should be: dynamic and catching life in motion, including the undercurrents, yet also open to a future not yet known.
Jurriaan Benschop, February 2021
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