20 Apr — 3 Jun 2017 at the NextLevel Galerie in Paris, France
“Thus, an immense cosmic house is in power in any house dream. From its center radiate the winds, and seagulls come out of its windows. A house so dynamic allows the poet to inhabit the universe. Or, another way to saying, the universe comes to live in his house.“ Extract from The poetic of the space by Gaston Bachelard published by Les Presses universitaires de France, 1957.
Stefan Kürten (born in 1963) deals precisely with this longing for a private refuge. Almost always, his works feature isolated buildings surrounded by strictly designed gardens or a wild, natural setting, guiding our gaze towards the only piece of architecture. By constantly avoiding the representation of people living in or near the house, he gives his subjects a feeling of neutrality, a subtle way of attracting our attention into his pictorial spaces, as it were. He does not try to tell a story that leaves viewers free to create their own stories by proceeding through associations of ideas. Thus, the intention is not to depict reality, but to evoke an idea of reality that offers each viewer the opportunity to imagine him- or herself in the picture, to get lost inside of it.
Whether starting with his own photos or in his immediate environment, in books and magazines, Kürten’s paintings are artificially constructed, carefully composed, even if the places evoke a feeling of ‘déjà vu’, these architectures and places do not exist as such in reality.
Kürten depict environments which are not evoking those that one aspires or tries to create - a perfect place to live - a house as a symbol of our dreams and hopes, to modernist architecture close to the Bauhaus style or “Prairie houses“ by Frank Lloyd Wright, whose German and American culture Kürten is familiar with.
However to look better, a break point made itself felt. The indeterminacy of the sources of light casting improbable shadows or unrelated reflections provokes strangeness in these idyllic scenes. The parts are becoming dark and enlightened and vice versa; Paintings look like a negative-photo in colour damaged by time (even here the colours are not affected).
Technically, Stefan Kürten always begins his paintings - on canvas or on paper - with a layer of gold-coloured paint and proceeds by successive overlays: On this preliminary layer, he draws his subject in a very detailed way with sepia ink and then returns to acrylic by fine and successive touches. Thus, it springs from his compositions on a gold background, giving the colours that cover them a discoloured aspect, an indefinable and eerie light.
Kürten clearly refers in his work to the concept that is both artistic and, above all, literary, which developed by Freud of the ‘Unheimlich’, and we can translate in English by the “uncanny“ (Which suddenly disturbs the most ordinary and innocent situations). Here, the house as the bearer of the ‘Unheimlich’, but whose the connection appears to be strictly speaking in our imagination by mentally linking its pictorial spaces with the possible events they induce.
Life is not simple in the Kürten’s world. The varnish can be very fragile, like the world of Lewis Carroll, appearances can be misleading behind the mirror.