Art,  Blackqube

Adrian Ghenie – Impossible Bodies

The Fear of NOW is an exhibition of new oil paintings and charcoal drawings by Romanian-born, Berlin-based artist Adrian Ghenie. He fuses the profoundly personal with the art historical, bridging the abstract and the figurative to examine the impact of the Digital Age on the human condition.

The artist identifies a seismic shift in the body language of the 21st century. A series of self-portraits illustrate a repertoire of poses that reveal the intrusive influence of the digital world in daily life: heads and torsos are bowed over screens, while hands clutch mobile phones.

Ghenie’s ‘Impossible bodies’ are composed of bulbous, biomorphic forms executed in textured passages of dusky pink, purple, taupe and grey paint. Sat on chairs, or perched on the edge of desks, the figures are hunched over, engrossed in their electronic devices. Rich with the sensuousness of Baroque painting, these figurative works are punctuated by the presence of digital technology – an Apple laptop or iPhone – reconfiguring art historical conventions for 21st-century society.

The artist draws upon diverse art historical and contemporary cultural references to construct his figurative style: from the work of Otto Dix and Philip Guston, to the hybrid, monstrous aliens in the animated series Rick and Morty. Ghenie compares the process of bringing these different references together to the incongruous imagery juxtaposed on multiple tabs open simultaneously on an internet browser.

Adrian Ghenie – The App, 2022 – Oil on canvas
240 x 190 cm (94.49 x 74.8 in)

On view are also a series of charcoal drawings: Ghenie employs a new drawing technique to construct the complex compositions of his figurative works. He applies charcoal to a paper primed for use with oil paint, which allows him to lay down, erase and rework his mark making. He is able to ‘rehearse’ his paintings through these preparatory studies ‘without the stress of being precise’, enacting what he describes as a ‘drawing based on mistakes’.

This innovative drawing technique informs new developments in Ghenie’s painting practice. Earlier works are characterised by thick impasto and gestural swathes of paint applied with a palette knife. In contrast, the recent works take a more linear approach as the medium is applied thinly with a small brush. He compares these works to ‘coloured drawings’, collapsing clear distinctions between mediums in a style evocative of the figurative works of Austrian artist Egon Schiele.