Dr. Gabriele Hovestadt (2020)

Maurice Denis, the French painter and cofounder of the artist group “Le Nabis,” once made the confession that “be- fore a painting depicts a warhorse, a nude woman, or any sort of anecdote, first and foremost it is a planar surface that is covered with a certain arrangement of paint.” This assertion, as simple and understandable as it may sound at first, reminds us of something fundamental: Despite all of the content, painting has always been and always will be painting. It is the placement of color, layers, dabs.

In his wide-ranging oeuvre, Lars Reiffers has consistently circled back to the motif of the fish since the year 1999. Fish heads, dead fish, fish bodies – and it is not simply a particular obsession of his, although he does indeed go fishing in his leisure time. It has far more to do with the fact that Lars Reiffers recognizes that the subject bears a vast reservoir of potential that can be acted out with it. The skin of the fish is the stimulus and impulse for him to test his painterly prowess and continually investigate its mani- fold possibilities: at times hyperrealistic, other times abs- tract, pushing towards peinture pure, sometimes crystal- line, reflective, prismatic, or wet and slick, even dissolving. He always shows us his painterly processes, penetrates to the core, the “germ cell of the painterly” (Manfred Schne- ckenburger), and in the process, he keeps submitting him- self to the novelty of this challenge.

Lars Reiffers started studying painting in Aix-en-Proven- ce, the birthplace of Paul Cézanne, before continuing his studies at the Art Academy in Münster in 1999. There he was taught by Professor Kuhna, who named him his mas- ter student in 2002. His teacher, Hermann-Josef Kuhna, who died in the fall of 2018, also intensively dealt with color and its effects in his body of work. For Kuhna, this involved using individual patches or spots of color, which owe their allure to a mixture of haptic presence and virtual appearance. Encouraged and inspired by his teacher, Lars Reiffers developed his own artistic hand early on and con- tinued to shape and model it further. Beyond all the extra- vagant opulence and ornament that meets the eye at first glance, he is driven by more than mere superficiality. That fact is already revealed in the early stages of his working process. His camera is his trusty companion, his closest collaborator even, and nothing happens without it. For him, the camera replaces the sketchbook, and he uses it to compile a giant archive of motifs. He began this back when he lived in Aix-en-Provence, where he went to the markets and documented the freshly caught fish. The camera was employed for the task of creating an archive. The indivi- dual flowers, leaves, fish and animals that he meticulously catalogued in this way formed something like a body of

evidence, a repertoire of shapes and motifs that the artist could draw upon depending on his vision, regardless of the season or his current place of residence. Only when they reach the artist’s studio are they brought to life again. The photographic templates are projected onto the can- vas, and the proportions and composition are fine-tuned to each other with delicate glazes. In the act of painting that follows, however, the artist frees himself from the mo- del and makes no claim to extracting photographic effects. Instead, he further develops the colors shapes, and space on his own, a lengthy process that requires a great deal of time.

Lars Reiffers renders nature in its myriad manifestations, captures water in calm and romantic or rough and chop- py conditions or shows how the bodies of fish change in the sun. They are portraits of nature. However, he does not only simply document a temporary state, such as the crystalline and prismatically illuminating surface of a fish’s body in light or the silky, shimmering and extremely fra- gile, almost vulnerable skin of a peony blossom. By arres- ting the motifs on a canvas in an impressively aesthetic manner, he also produces a subtext of commentary at the same time. Reiffers is indeed not merely a photojournalist, subjugated to the subject! No, he is an empathic observer, who instructs us with his compositions and appeals to so- mething deep inside us all. Like a conductor, he guides us through a symphony of ontology, the study of being. Especially when considering the ever-accelerating flood of information and the increasing destabilization and un- certainty that accompanies it, a meditative reflection on what is elemental and existential proves itself to be an im- portant pillar for centering and orienting oneself. In this context, nature has always been considered the paragon for tracing the cycle of life. Flowers and blossoms are mag- nified enormously on the surface and make it tangible that nature is an immensity that demands to be seen, especially now in the times of climate change, Fridays for Future and sustainability.

Let’s take, for example, one of his floral pictures, the recent- ly completed “Fleur de Lys” (2019). As viewers, we not only stand before this picture, we are right in the middle of it. This in part is due to dimensions of the format, but also to the three-dimensional rendering of the blossoms and leaves. As they suggestively approach the surface of the image, we can hardly elude their presence. There’s not any sort of hint of belittling prettiness to them; they are not degraded to the status of an accessory or decorati- ve object. The sheer size of the flowers not only reveals strength and vitality, but also weakness and vulnerabili- ty. The continually recurring rhythm of being, living and passing, which is revealed by nature, here is turned into metaphor. The size of the motif puts the place of us human beings into perspective: we do not stand above nature; we are an integral part of it. The various arrangements of in- dividual flowers and bouquets sprawl before us ostentati- ously, almost monstrously, straighten themselves out, look down upon us or pull our gaze down with wilting leaves. The sumptuous materiality entraps us at times entirely, steering our thoughts away from a purely intellectual vie- wing of the piece. Conventional perceptual processes are also called into question along the way. Instead of logical- ly spelling out the details of the image, on the canvas we only find precisely the parts that, at such at close distance, merely allow us to see a part of the whole. Then the viewer finds himself confronted with surfaces, with paint of the finest valeur, with shimmering texture, with the swing of the brushstroke, that is to say: with pure color painting, which also lives and pulses in itself. Only with context, that is, at a certain distance from the canvas, do these abs- tract, exquisitely illusionistic parts dissipate again. Reiffers plays with the ambivalence of these two poles in almost all of his works. It is this ambiguity where the boundaries between abstraction and figuration can blur at any time. The image can truly be dissected and reconstructed by the viewer. This fact is what makes Reiffers a master who is aware of the potential effects of images.

That is also what happens with the fish, their heads and bodies, like in the painting “Kingsize.” As is the case with his floral paintings, he zooms in, bringing the skin of the fish up close to the surface of the painting, yet without ever separating the motif from its original context. The result of this departure from totality, towards the fragmented and segmented, as well as the conscious dissolution of all nar- rative details, is that he transforms the scaly body into a new level of perception and sensory experience. The free- dom and autonomy of the artist extends just far enough that a connection to the original motif can be derived and therefore it can be put into a relational context, but that it does not become the central focus. What remains is an at- mospheric work of art that is interwoven with various pat- terns, structures, and pigments, which literally develops a life of its own (even without the fish head). Traditional perceptual habits are once again reduced to absurdity. Se- eing and recognizing are two separate parameters of image construction. “Seeing” means perception, whereas “reco- gnizing” requires reflection and contextualization. Even in the late 19th century, John Ruskin, the spokesman for the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of English painters, derived this pair of terms from “seeing sight” and “preconceived sight.” Perhaps it is more simply expressed in the words of Goethe: “we only see what we know.” And that’s how the

artist challenges the viewer and his senses directly to acti- vely track the beauty oscillating colors with his gaze and to allow himself to be guided by that emotionally.

Since the year 2016, Lars Reiffers has been developing a new thematic complex that is grouped under the term “Spaces.” Once again it is an “old” topic that he approa- ches in a contemporary manner. He concentrates on mu- seum spaces with paintings by old masters, for example in the painting of the “Gallery of Great Battles” in the Pa- lace of Versailles, which is viewed through the eyes of a modern-day audience. The space, visitors, and artworks are given equal significance in the composition, as Reiffers produces a balance with natural and artificial light. The precise, meticulous, and complex manner in which Lars Reiffers recreates the museum world is overwhelming, and these monumentally large images pull us into them magi- cally. Of course, for these images as well, the artist starts by searching for locations that he can explore with his came- ra and feed his archive. Whereas in Germany the museum personnel might approach him in order to prevent the ar- tist or other visitors from taking photos, in France it is the cultural consensus that these pictures and places belong to the French people and therefore may be used by ever- yone. Let’s start by taking a look at the room in the Palace of Versailles with the famous battle paintings and portraits of renowned French politicians and generals. Opened in 1837, the gallery spans two floors, is 120 meters long and 13 meters wide. 33 large-format wall paintings as well as 82 busts of famous military leaders represent about 14 centuries of French history. In particular, victorious kings and famous generals can be seen on the battlefields. The chronology spans from 496 with Clovis I all the way to the Battle of Wagram in 1809 under Napoleon. Paintings of museum interiors like this have existed since the 19th century. Today they seem like an anachronism to us, and yet they possess many of the same basic approaches that are once again gaining relevance and topicality at the mo- ment due to current efforts at political and societal separa- tism. What we see is a kind of “who’s who” of French his- toriography. With the high concentration of magnificent representations, these images convey a program of power, propaganda and culture, with history, identity, and cons- ciousness inscribed within them. They evoke the feeling of the Grande Nation.

People’s longings have always been expressed through images whose iconography is inscribed into collective me- mory. This is a location that represents a cipher for nati- onal consciousness, which Lars Reiffers as an artist in the 21st century addresses and transforms artistically. In another version of this subject, the artist chooses a different perspective, showing the international tourists, armed with their backpacks and smartphones, as they flock th- rough these halls without taking note of the historical the- mes. The visitors and exhibition space seem strangely dis- concerting and ambivalent. When we stand before these paintings, we ultimately bring our own individual stories with us, our knowledge and our interpretation, and this means that the artwork cannot be experienced completely without our participation. Above all, it involves spending time and paying attention. Sociologists lurking about in- conspicuously with stopwatches have discovered the aver- age amount of time that a museum visitor spends in front of or with a work of art. The result is startling: about two seconds. We pass through museums far too casually, pas- sing by objects and relics of the past. Yet their true mea- ning, power and magic can only emanate from them when they are seriously observed in silence. Since this is a great challenge, many of us choose to compromise and buy a reproduction to take home with us so that we can (hope- fully) contemplate it longer there without distraction.

The picture “Brothers and Sisters” also belongs to this series. Two museum visitors, clearly identifiable as con- temporary 21st century viewers with their smartphones in their hands and wearing studded black boots, stand in a room with dark-green wallpaper in front of a bust por- trait of two men, whose auratic presence is emphasized by the dark clothing and white ruffled collars and austere expressions. These are the fascinating moments that exist in between an instant and history, which the artist evokes in order to enable a dialogue to span between the present and the past. The painting seems like a piece of a time ma- chine in that different times and history are juxtaposed, different clothing and bodies, and moreover, there is also a discourse generated between the female observers and male subjects. Furthermore, when we consider an addi- tional level of perception, ourselves, the viewers in front of the painting by Lars Reiffers, we discover an elabora- te game of perspectives and interactions unfolding before our eyes. For the artist, this investigation of museum spa- ces and images is not only meant as a reference to tradition and education, identity and consciousness, original and reproduction, but also stands as testament to his skills and ability to take on this subject as a painter. Pablo Picasso once also chose to deal with his historical predecessors in order to align himself confidently in filiation with the bril- liant artists and personalities of the past in order to elevate his own status. This, however, is not what Lars Reiffers is attempting. Instead, he is once again trying to get closer to that elemental germ cell of the painterly and to attain

artistic autonomy. In the recently completed painting tit- led “Bataille de Fontenoy” (2019), the artist induces a con- frontation between the painting from the Versailles batt- le gallery of the same name and a young, contemporary female visitor. Once again, there is a fascinating dialogue between the peaceful, light and summery contemporane- ity (the woman in a dress) and Europe’s bloodthirsty past. The Battle of Fontenoy, on May 11th, 1745, occurred du- ring the War of the Austrian Succession, with the British, Hanoverians, Austrians and Dutch on one side and the French on the other side, and it ended in French victory. It is these kinds of compositions by Lars Reiffers in which the present and the past are juxtaposed and which are em- bedded with the question of what our future will indeed hold for us. When we are faced with these monuments to history – what are we prepared to learn from them?

The world of imagery that Lars Reiffers creates is an ex- pression of the sort of sensibility and emotional state that reminds us of our being. The viewer is shifted into a state of attentiveness and sensitivity, reminded of the fragility and vulnerability of life. We should take in his paintings with all of our senses, like music, which puts us in motion internally, into a rhythm, in concentration and introspec- tion. The compositions by Lars Reiffers have something universal about them; they are a reflection of an internali- zed world of experience. They articulate vitality and a will to live, but also mortality, ephemerality and, ultimately, the unfathomable.



Dr. Anne Simone Krüger (2020)

In an era defined by constant acceleration, it may seem that painting, a medium associated with a slow creation process, is downright anachronistic and obsolete. Even in 1990, media theorist Paul Virilio attested to a “frenetic standstill,” referring to a technologically induced, absurd acceleration of our civilization, which will eventually lead to its downfall. However, one doesn’t have to view the postmodern quite so pessimistically, especially since it has slowly but surely been transforming into a post-di- gital era since the 1990s. Yet Virilio identifies an essential aspect that is also embedded in the work of Lars Reiffers as a meta-pictorial issue: It has to do with the transforma- tion of seeing and perceiving. Virilio diagnoses an “indus- trialization of seeing” due to the increasing consumption of “real-time radio-electric recordings.” Without a doubt, our digital reception of analogue reality not only has a lasting influence on how we see, but also how we perceive the world. How do we see the world and how do we see painted pictures? Which values are communicated in the piece in order to ensure that the medium of painting does not have to forfeit any of its vitality, despite the current flood of digital images, and that contemporary artistic positions in this medium are even increasingly being ce- lebrated at major museum exhibitions?

In his paintings, Lars Reiffers offers potential answers to these questions. His large-format oil paintings combine painterly virtuosity with meta-pictorial considerations. These are revealed to those viewers who take enough time to get through to the essence of these paintings: to the color and the perceptual psychology that are the actu- al subjects of his work. This may at first sound confusing or perhaps even trivializing. After all, when just glancing at the paintings, they seem fairly committed to realism, especially his “Spaces” series, which impresses superficial- ly with the meticulously executed museum interiors. His painting “Versailles” (2015) presents us with an expansive view of an immense hall whose walls are blanketed with large-scale paintings. High above the mirror-like parquet we see the ceiling vault adorned with ornamental molding and the middle axis made of glass squares. The grandeur of this extravagant room is elevated even further by the absence of visitors. There is a latent tension underlying this image space with its almost overwhelming amount of detail. The longer the gaze dwells on these paintings, the more we become aware of a subtle sense of uncer- tainty. Only after precisely comparing it to reality, to the locations that inspired these paintings, can we locate the origin of this enigmatic effect: It is based on a complete change in the chromaticity, which prevents us from brin- ging the image into harmony with our experience of the

real space. Even if we have never been to Versailles, the trained eye recognizes that a transformation has taken place, that reality and perception are two different things. The artist changes the illumination in a way that pro- duces an entirely new and different impression. Not only that, but the illusion also begins to crumble successively. Because with each step that we take to approach the pain- ting, the optical illusion of the ostensible photorealism di- sintegrates more. The image reveals itself as “pure” pain- ting, as paint on canvas, which, when viewed up close, is nothing but abstraction. Knowledge and sight drift apart, the “innocent eye” that John Ruskin proposed in the 19th century, which sees impartially, once again proves itself to be a challenge. The art historian Ernst Gombrich came to the conclusion that, “differentiating between what we actually see and what we rationally deduce [...] is in itself a pursuit as old as the problem of perception altogether. Even in classical antiquity, Plinius summarized the state of affairs in words: ‘Our spirit is the true organ of seeing and observing. The eye only functions like a vessel that catches and passes on the visible pieces of the content of consciousness.’” When overlaying that with the motif of the museum spaces, as demonstrated in the “Spaces” se- ries by Lars Reiffers, it generates a multilayered, self-re- flective construct of contemplation and perception. Three different worlds collide with each other here: the historic space of the museum as a location that feeds our cultu- ral identity and which is present in the artifacts displayed there, the reality of the viewer or the absent museum visi- tors in the picture and our own reality at the very moment in which we are viewing the painting and/or the museum visitors who are viewing the paintings depicted. The os- tensible photorealism of the painting reveals itself as bait that is set in order to lure us into the picture and, once we are there, to confront us with our own sense of perception in a surprising way.

There are also astonishing discoveries to be made in the “Landscapes” series. In this series, Lars Reiffers takes us to exterior spaces, to worlds whose brilliant colors draw upon the full potential of painterly skill. Yet these pain- tings are less about the underwater worlds, the churning sea surf, or the coastal landscapes, and more about the painted surface, about color itself. As is the case with his “Spaces,” these paintings are also based on the artist’s photographs, although these mainly serve as inspiration. They are arranged as collages, certain elements are added, details are removed, and finally they are magnified enor- mously. The abstract segments that result from this pro- cess are then projected by Reiffers onto a canvas. In the process of painting, the picture remains completely inde pendent for him: before his eyes he has nothing except colored surfaces, dots, and patches. This means that he barely deals with the image in its entirety in the initial stages of painting, but instead focuses purely on each in- dividual application of paint on the surface. Is one section more impasto or translucent, should there by a thick layer of paint like a relief or just a fine glaze? In his meticulous observation of the illumination, that is, the light in the individual miniscule details that he magnifies, Reiffers is able to produce an illusion at second glance. That is how, in the genesis of his imagery, he has managed to redisco- ver what we as adults have actually lost: the innocent eye.

This is closely linked to the concept of surface in two sen- ses. On the one hand, it deals with the surface of the pain- ting itself. Reiffers uses color to model what he sees in his close-up view of the world. On the other hand, it deals with the surface of the world, which, in this case, the arti- stic gaze impartially probes. However, this means that his method of creating imagery becomes one that is bound philosophically, for Reiffers does no more and no less than the phenomenology that Edmund Husserl established: he “describes” what he SEES, while relinquishing recourse to what he KNOWS. The description of phenomena in the form of painting takes on an especially impressive form in his seascapes, such as “Sea 5” (2018), which exclusively depict water. The viewer’s standpoint is positioned just above the surface of the water; only the churning sea and foaming waves on the deep blue water present themselves to our gaze on this 140 x 210 cm canvas. And precisely at the moment when that is all we see, when we simply ob- serve the surface of the world, we become aware that the meaning we ascribe to things is a construct, just as the il- lusion of reality generated by applying paint to a canvas is ultimately a construct. This is precisely where the poten- tial of painting can be recognized: even today, in the age of radical acceleration, it possesses the power to enable us to see new perspectives time and again, and emerging out of these perspectives, it provides us with new insights into how we perceive the world.

Aside from these kinds of deep philosophical excavations, it also becomes apparent that a profound love of painting is an essential aspect of his work, especially when viewing his “Stills” series, which is dedicated to the genre of still life. In the same large format that Reiffers consistently uses, he presents delicate velvety flower petals, sleek and shimmering fish scales, or soft and delicate feathers. This tactile moment also arises from his intense focus on the surface. His description of the phenomenon remains un- biased, though the act of marveling at the world is dis-

placed to the tactile level. The viewer’s gaze “touches” the soft and velvety or cold and fishy surface that it sees, the sense of touch feels like it is being spoken to without ac- tually being active. Here, too, perception is triggered by the focus and analyzed at the same time: we have rarely seen the scales of a fish before our eyes at a scale of 180 x 290 cm, as is the case with “Nocturnal Hunter” (2003). In the same large format, floral arrangements are presen- ted against a black background. The flower petals display a sensuous presence that could hardly ever be matched by film or photography, the real-time radio-electric re- cording media criticized by Virilio. With his meticulous attention to illumination, Reiffers enables us to see things here in ways that we would almost never be able to see in everyday life. The monumentally large fish scales and flowers cannot simply be categorized or labelled. They demand to be observed as a phenomenon in the sense of Husserl, observed with a gaze that cannot be distracted by preconceived ideas about the nature of a fish or a rose. Instead, they make us marvel, thus bringing us, as the an- cient Greeks said, to the beginning of all knowledge.

1 Cf. Paul Virilio, Rasender Stillstand, München 1992.
2 Exhibitions providing an overview of contemporary painting have been occurring more frequently in German museums since the begin- ning of the century. For example: German Painting Two Thousand and Three (2003), Painting Forever! (2013), Painting 2.0 (2015) or Now! Painting in Germany Today (2020).
3 Ernst H. Gombrich: Kunst und Illusion. Zur Psychologie der bildli- chen Darstellung. 2nd edition. Stuttgart/Zürich 1986, p. 31.
4 Cf. Gombrich, p.24.



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