Johannes Kahrs at Luhring Augustine14 December 2011
ohannes Kahrs is presenting a show of intensely physical paintings tinged with violence and sex. A painter of real skill, Kahrs works with images taken from a broad range of sources: magazines, newspapers, films, advertisements, and his own photographic archive. Using the pictures as the basis of his art, he then changes the image by removing or altering details. Included in the alterations are such procedures as cropping or positioning the composition differently from its original orientation. The results are idiosyncratic but compelling as painting; Kahrs plays with his audience’s need for an experience that would do justice to the turbulent imagery of today’s media. Yet the eroticism and implied conflict feel more like they originate with the artist himself rather than coming from public sources. So it is interesting to contemplate the disconnect between paintings that feel private but whose origins in fact originate outside of Kahr’s imagination. The changes the artist has made result in an ambience that is a distortion of the truth, and the distortion has a lot to do with the nature of painting, its penchant for a believable similitude. Kahrs’s pictures incorporate a directness that would have us regard as real their doctored views, even when it is clear that important elements have been left out.
The pictures are not casual or light-hearted; instead, there is a melodramatic tone made more so by the inclusion of erotic imagery. A small but intense oil painting, Untitled (nude) (2010), consists of a close-up of a woman’s sex; viewers also see a t-shirt, over which the subject’s left arm is crossed. However, we do not see the head of the figure. Clearly, the emphasis is on the pubic hair and vulva; the painting is self-sufficient and self-contained because the imagery is dwelt upon impartially, despite its content. This distancing from the emotional implications of the image happens regularly In Kahrs’s paintings, whose tone of objectivity places him at more than one remove from the actual subject matter he is concerned with. In another erotic image, Untitled (white) 2011, two women caress the naked torso of a man in white underwear. On the painting’s right, we see the partially clothed figure of one of the women, whose features are cropped and difficult to see. Adding to the sexual tone of the painting, she wears a black bra. But we find only the hands of the woman on the left; this choice emphasizes the sensuality of the composition, at the expense of a readable structure. In Kahrs’s hands, sex is mysterious but riveting, just as these paintings are.
The eroticism continues in the painting Untitled (big girl red corner) (2011), in which a large woman with shoulder-length dark hair sits on a wooden pedestal next to a dark-red couch. She is wearing a short dress, and the warmth of the scene is augmented by the presence of a reddish tone throughout the painting, most especially in the hand and leg of the woman on view. She is a kind of film-noir muse, bathed in the glow of her surroundings. Atmosphere accounts for a considerable part of Kahrs’s effectiveness, which here takes a highly conventional subject—a girl in a dress—and gives it a mystique that makes the image memorable. But implied violence is also a theme in the show; Kahrs has a painting called Untitled (man sitting) (2011). It concentrates on the bandaged hands and left knee and ankle of a person whose head has been cropped out of the picture. Bloody wounds occur on the leg, and to a lesser extent, on the hands, whose bandages have stains of blood on them. It is a disturbing picture in part because of the anonymity of the faceless figure. A violent event is being referred to, but we don’t know its particulars, so that our imagination reads the picture as even more extreme. Here, as he so often does, Kahrs minimalizes information in order to maximize effect.
Johannes Kahrs was on view at Luhring Augustine from February 10 – October 22, 2011, 531 West 24th Street, tel. 212 206 9100, email@example.com
Writing Credits: Jonathan Goodman is a poet, writer and critic of contemporary art. He has written for magazines such as Art in America and Sculpture. Goodman currently writes for the internet journal artcritical.com and the magazine Art Asia Pacific and teaches at Pratt Institute and the Parsons School of Design.
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