Mehmet & Kazim
20 January until 2 March
Strolling through an unfamiliar city, the stranger directs their attention to the corners, pass-ers-by, walls and streets and avenues, frantically and curiously checking everything out as if on a mission. That’s how it was for Mehmet and Kazim during their stay in New York last year. In those six months, New York became their treasure trove of inspiration and it’s not hard to imagine why: you need to only look one way when crossing the street and need only look up for a whole new world to open.
An inseparable part of the sprawling metropolis is its graffiti, which the artist duo couldn’t avoid noticing in the streets. Mehmet & Kazim reappropriate its aesthetics into carefully balanced paintings done with black markers, charcoal, oil and acrylic in both smooth and rough surfaces to depict the inhabitants not only as part of the city, but the city as part of its inhabitants. It’s almost certain that it’s them, but also quite possibly everyone else. Let’s put it like this. If Guston, Soulages and a stoner on a street corner in the Lower East Side had a baby, it would look like something out of a painting by Mehmet & Kazim. But we can leave New York out of this; there are big cities on a smaller scale, too.
The characters in Mehmet & Kazim’s paintings dissolve and absorb everything around them into an indiscernible bubble. These charmingly overwhelmed incognitos, crushed by respon-sibility, capitalism, discrimination, consumerism, or gentrification, walk around with plastic bags with their recent purchases, smiling from ear to ear (or hand to hand?), on brink of despair, silently screaming or just sweating out of fear of discovery – maybe the bags don’t contain anything bought. There is something funny and tragic about them, they have been chewed up and spit out by the city and they’ve been here for quite some time. As this darkness weighs on top of these creatures as they resist blowing up, black seems like a reasonable choice of color to depict it.
The city’s sounds— the subway, strangers muttering to themselves, change clacking, the honking, the shouting, construction noise, cherry pop—all find their ways into these paintings. The cacophony of city life is a collective cry for help, a visual diary of burned-out peers catch-ing up with the relentless pace of urban existence.
The thing is, we don’t really know what they’re up to, where they’ve been and what is troubling them, nor who might be after them. Maybe they’re doing just fine. Everyone speaks of loss of privacy on the internet, but there isn’t anything as anonymous as a big city, no better place to hide, the hub for strangers. After all, who still knows their neighbors, their life stories, or even their first names? And who care$?
Sailing on Sand
20 January until 2 March
Contemporary Fine Arts is pleased to present Sailing on Sand, Nils Dunkel’s debut solo exhibition at the gallery. The artist unveils a fresh series of paintings that navigate the balance between detail and the whole, between a limited perspective and the bigger picture. Influenced by both Japanese philosophy and American pop culture, Dunkel seamlessly blends these onto his intricate canvases.
To sail, one needs favorable wind in their backs and the open horizon ahead. But what does it take to sail on sand? Sailing evokes a paradise, an escape from reality, a leisure, a quest into the unknown. Sailing on sand, on the other hand, evokes a stillstand, a journey leading nowhere. The exhibited paintings contain literal paradise imagery executed on a sandy surface, embodying the ambiguity inherent in the title.
Trained as a sculptor, Dunkel extends the two-dimensional realm of painting into the exhibition space. He achieves this not only by applying layers of pigment to create a sandy and porous sur-face but also by flipping his canvases and floating them between stretchers, revealing the mech-anisms of exhibition making and framing—a simple yet inviting gesture to the behind-the-scenes process. Characterized by a sculptural approach to painting, Dunkel impresses the pattern onto his canvases, rather than applying them with paint.
Although each of the paintings serves as a unique, individual work, they are also a part of a whole, and of a series – mirroring the endless possibilities of repetition (with a difference). For instance, the six-part work PiecEs explicitly embraces the detail-versus-whole modality. Inspired by one of New York’s oldest gay bars of the same name, each painting carries the rainbow color of the indi-vidual letter of the club’s name. Dunkel thereby cherishes the memories of his nights at the club, but also can’t help but satirize the arbitrariness of rainbow flags as a sign of LGBTQ solidarity and alliance, and their persistent ubiquity.
When Andy Warhol first started working on his Flowers, Pop Art was already blooming. It negated the individualism of the object in favor of the artist’s own individualism by mass-producing it. A riff of this philosophy permeates not only Dunkel’s blossom works but is also further evident in the sculpture ND 1, a take on a traditional Japanese Kokeshi doll bearing traces of the Nils Dunkel brand. By merging traditional and hyper-modern elements in this oversized, mirror-finish sculp-ture, Dunkel creates an ironic self-portrait at the heart of the exhibition.
Palms, beaches, waves and good vibes emanate from these pigmented works, resembling reliefs as much as paintings. Dunkel’s sculpted paintings, among others Dolce Vita 1 & 2, all contain the joys and trials of sailing; but to sail or not to sail, that was never the question.
Nils Dunkel (b. 1990 in Linz, Austria) lives and works between Dusseldorf and Berlin.