As a body of Art, Jonas Burgert is impressive and threatening, as an act of force majeure. We feel the urge to protect ourselves from such fertile and crude symbolism, knowing it will force us to question ourselves about the meaning of life - and of course the absence of it, its termination. At the same time we can’t take our eyes off his game on canvas, as if it was our own dam collapsing. His paintings are a juxtaposition of colour as well as subjects: layers, literally kilograms of brush strokes as well as a compound of human figures conveyed all together, one over the other and in different perspectives, although not necessarily interacting (stück hirn blind, 2014). He digs down in the subconscious and comes back with dichotomies that hurt: poison and time, mind and the messiest of interiors (wiegt weich wach, 2014), children who ‘bleibt leicht’ - remain, just. His sculptures too are covered in dirt, colours, bandages; signs of a recent interaction we know nothing about - again, he invites us to guess.
‘I like a sense of things which ‘happened’, events one can guess through signs and interpret, for that’s when, filled with one’s arbitrary reasoning, they finally exist’ - he says.
When faced with his paintings, thinking he can help us investigate such mighty thematics, we know this is an opportunity not to be missed. He has in fact managed to extrapolate all his feelings and dispose of them on a table, like rotten grapes that look amazing in an autumn composition, but he ends up playing with our own emotions, really.
Born and grown up as a Berlin artist, he translates and plums the depths of German recherche through his work, one of painstaking choice and inevitable truth, albeit greatly symbolic. He maintains a humble attitude that I believe comes straight from the effort of his own quest: who are we, why are we afraid, why can we recognise each other yet not see ourselves. We have no universal answers of course, but the questioning itself can elevate and humble us at the same time. A full respect of any human attempt to create an escape; a god, a totem, a bridge to immortality is easily perceived when speaking to this artist. He defines himself as ‘not religious’.
Burgert has revealed in the past a major interest in the collectiveness that seems to have stuck with him: he doesn’t naturally use the pronoun ‘I’ once during the course of the entire interview in BlainSouthern Gallery for his new solo exhibit STÜCK HIRN BLIND.
Are you afraid of death?
‘We all are. We don’t know what’s after, as we had no idea what was there before our birth. The thing is, if we are asked to knock on a door we have never entered before, we realise some of us won’t even go close to that door: we are so scared of what is unknown. Some others will go instead, get in and be surprised how easy it was. Some of us will feel that ‘inside’ was less problematic than they actually thought. We all struggle and we find our own way. Actually, Nature is happy when we struggle, for it makes us change, develop. Evolution, this is what fear and movement provoke.
Have you changed your perspective on life and death since you started painting?
At 19 we know everything. The more we grow up, the less we feel like we have a solid answer on anything. We become softer, broader; it has changed, of course, it has evolved - more questions, fewer answers. We want to believe there is something, anything. In German we have this mesmerising noun, schadenfreude, which means ‘addicted to hope’. We all are.
You seem to be harder on men than women. You do not hesitate to paint men with wrinkles, decaying men bodies, carcasses of men, while women are almost ‘pretty’, they have nice torsos, toned breasts.
This is not the first time I am told this. I am so interested in the man-and-woman phenomena; I am a man, I know myself, I feel confident painting men. A woman is already a theme for a man. Once, during a lesson, I was asked this same question by a woman, so I asked her “If you had to paint, if you were an artist, what and how would you paint: men? Women? Why?”. She went “oh…”. Right? I create figures, characters and it is not an easy task. But the man-and-woman is such an important theme to us, and to humanity.
I wouldn’t have recognised this woman as ‘yours’. We are now in front of Stand 2014; Burgert smiles.
Let’s take ‘her’, yes. I have painted her because of her capability to stand right there, open, (elegant), aimless. She is not thinking "This is what I want now", that is not how she is looking at us. If she was a man, she wouldn’t have that kind of expression, she wouldn’t have that kind of receiving aura, she wouldn’t be broad and open to us. There are many things we accomplish when we decide to target a goal: we throw ourselves into a hole to get there. We are (I am) talking about men now, who do so much damage sometimes in this process, because we leave no space for anything else; it is like we don’t ‘feel’, we see no surroundings. Women are different. Women remain with functioning antennae, what happens around the phenomenon is as important as the phenomenon itself. We are so in need of each other; it’s so fascinating.
Do you find yourself at an exciting point of your career?
Yes. Absolutely. Nothing is past, the end is still unknown, the best part has yet to come. You know, years ago I decided not to have a style, I have chosen to turn myself inside out and paint accordingly. As much as it sounds obvious, this is the core of change: ourselves. We evolve and I make no difference in this. It has been difficult, you know: we all want the applause of the pack. I too want it; I have taken a huge risk.
But you do have the applause of the pack.