‘SI LE GRAIN NE MEURT’
German painter Christian Schoeler will be exhibiting his first solo show in Paris
“I grew up in a small village, and I tried to cut my hair and play soccer to fit it, but it didn’t work, I still looked like a girl.” reminisces German painter Christian Schoeler – “but today, these memories, these traumas have become a positive thing, a strength” he adds. This memory encapsulates the young artist’s depiction of temporality, of transitional, shifting masculinity, which is ever present in his work. Today, Schoeler is showing his first solo Parisian exhibition, at left Bank gallery Galerie Hélène Lamarque. Drawing inspiration from painters such as Eugène Delacroix, John Singer Sargeant but also David Hockney, the show consists of watercolours and oil paintings, dedicated to male portraiture. In fine lines, and light, breathy colours, he represents realistic, semi-nudes, often recluse from urban or modern surroundings: rather young adults are placed in natural environments, or non-descript studio spaces, as a way of focusing, of drawing light onto the subject.
The show is called ‘Si le Grain ne Meurt’ and is based on André Gide’s 1924 autobiographical novel about growing into adulthood, and was one of the first books to openly discuss homosexuality. Similarly, the underlying theme of the work is a temporal, rather than purely sexual one: “These paintings are much more autobiographical than porno”, Schoeler explains, “These are not about my desire towards the boys, but talk about a nostalgic journey, it is about growing up, not about sex.” His works illustrate the fragile, transient, years between 20 and 25, key years, the painter believes, where one learns to settle into adulthood. “The models have a totally different aura in real life than in the paintings,” he says “they might appear seductive on canvas but are shy in real – but that’s irrelevant, because, in the end, it is my projection that I paint, not reality.”
Christian’s painting process is not dissimilar to a fashion one. He often finds inspiration in photoshoots, fashion photography; he even selects professional models, generally from the German agency ‘Nine Daughters and a Stereo’. He goes on to shoot them, and then paints from photograph, or combines live drawing and photographic prints. “When I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, there was absolutely no way you could seriously mention an interest in fashion,” the artist explains, “ but I like this world, I feel it’s an honest, dedicated approach to beauty.” Indeed, Christian’s work addresses aesthetics in a similar manner, “when I paint, I’m not looking to make a deep social or political statement, I just want to represent beauty – or at least what I personally find beautiful.”
Not dissimilar to Dior Homme models under Hedi Slimane’s reign, the boys he chooses are often awkward and nerdy, “To me someone who appears insecure, a little atypical is a lot more interesting than classical good looks. The model just has to convey something beyond his facial features, in the way he walks, gazes.” Christian recently started painting girls – that is, similarly androgynous female faces, whose elongated figures and features resemble German Middle-Ages portraits. “I find it very difficult to paint women, because I feel the painting has a much higher risk of being totally kitschy,” he says. Painting boys remains more of a taboo, the painter explains, “I’m not saying it can’t be kitsch, but at least it won’t be mainstream.”
“I know I’m painting youth, but I’m not scared of ageing. On the contrary, look at Lucian Freud, who keeps getting better. Painting is a transient activity that grows and shifts, and this means a constant possibility of improvement.”
Masculinity, growing up into a sexualized adult self, and the clash between the natu- ral and the cultural is at the core of Christian Schoeler’s work. Schoeler starts by creating a de-temporalized space, both in content and in style:
He chooses models that are purposely far from contemporary stereotypes of mas- culine beauty. He then places them in a non-urban environment, one that the viewer cannot date nor situate, such as the countryside or an intimate space. This choice of scenery is not only a reference to 19th century academic portraiture à la John Singer Sargeant; it is also a symbolic removal of the subject from society. The clas- sical style, far, far from hip contemporary art, as well as the naked surroundings contribute to creating a time-less space, a paradigm about the inner self that might ring true to all males.
The models always seem captured in an intimate moment: rather than an official sit-down portrait, Schoeler captures a moment gone by in a second, that one might miss. In grand oil paintings, or airy watercolours that feel like a breath on piece of paper, he depicts the frail, transient space between teenage years and adulthood. By depicting a metaphorical secret garden, he encourages the viewer to focus on one’s inner self, away from a social ‘diktat’.
Portraits of Ambiguity
Portraits of Ambiguity, is a group show featuring the work of European artists Razvan Boar, Christian Schoeler, Alexander Tinei and George Young. All four share a lack of interest in the heroic vein of conventionally ‘masculine’ art; instead, their work is concerned with an exploration of vulnerability, subtlety, ambiguity, and fragility.
Christian Schoeler and Alexander Tinei are each known for their distinctive approaches to portraiture. Schoeler creates lushly-painted oils and watercolors of beautiful, often slightly androgynous young men; the subjects he depicts are vaguely erotic but seem to exist in a timeless and placeless world of reverie. Tinei’s portraits have a much harder edge—the people he depicts are always physically ‘marked,’ and in his most recent work, their faces are often obscured. Perpetually concerned with identity (especially ‘outsider’ identity), Tinei’s subjects are simultaneously recognizable and unrecognizable, familiar and yet very strange.
Christian Schoeler (b. 1978 in Germany; lives and works in Düsseldorf) studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts with Prof. Günther Förg. His work has been exhibited throughout Germany and in London, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Miami. In 2009-10, he collaborated with Louis Vuitton to produce a one-of-a-kind painted suit and a line of hand-painted leather bags. This past year, Schoeler’s work appeared in London-based exhibitions featuring the Hugo & Carla Brown Collection and the Franks-Suss Collection.
Press Release from Esquire
Esquire’s Singular Suit exhibition opens at Somerset House
World-famous fashion designers team up with leading artists to create one-off suits that bring together art and style
07 July 2009. The biggest names in fashion, design and art have been commissioned by Esquire magazine to create a unique and daring exhibition that celebrates the iconic staple of the male wardrobe — the suit.
The Singular Suit project, which launches at Somerset House in London on 31 July, brings together the creative talents of some of the best designers, tailors and artists in the world. Esquire asked 18 leading fashion designers and tailors to collaborate with a major artist of their choice to create a bespoke, one-off suit that represents their skills and artistic vision. Their efforts have culminated in an extraordinary array of pieces, from the wearable to the outlandish.
German Painter Christian Schoeler Re-invents Ideas Of Masculinity
Christian Schoeler is fascinated by representations of masculinity. His oils and watercolours have far more in common with the washes and fluidity of his American influences than his German heritage. One can see echoes of John Songer Sargent, James McNeill Whislter and Elizabeth Peyton in his work, which, although very modern, tips a nod to belle epoque and the somewhat feminised men of the 19th century. ”I want to give them some kind of highly debonair quality.” he explains carefully of his subjects. “The work is about ecstasy and loss, adolescence and vulnerability…beauty and extreme decadence.”
The boys and young men that he paints are “fallen angels” – comtemplative and romanticised. He knows most of his models personally and photographs them before turning them into paintings, though sometimes he also uses found images. They appear exposed on his work, often in their underwear or topless. “The kind of beauty I’m interested in is very close to the idea of vulnerability being exposed to violence,” explains Schoeler. “Do you know Luchino Viscounti’s film Rocco and His Brothers? When looking at my work it’s perhaps interesting to think of Alain Delon(The star of the film) – he was the first male beauty in film. The first man you can really see in close-up.”
Like Delon in Viscounti’s fascinating social rea drama, the ideal man is represented as sensitive emotional in Schoeler’s work. Part of that comes how he paints skin-his watercolours seem to develope into the world around them; they are intangible, “I painted the skin as something that differentiates core,” explains Schoeler. “Like a membrane that seperates the inner from the outer.”
Schoeler’s paintings are very small and intimate and, in a way, the classicism of his work is rebeilious – after all, beauty isn’t fashionable in modern art. As such, the work says as much about the creator as it does about wider ideas of masculinity. “Everything I describe in the painting i get from myself,” he says, “That’s why I’m interested in these boys or men. Everything is about self-portraite.”
Text Francesca Gavin