Harding Meyer´s central theme still is the grappling with the human physiognomy, to which he adds, in his current exposition „Features“, a new approach by transforming photographic works.
Over the last fifteen years, he has consequently developed further the solitary portraits integrated in the paintings. The models are mainly taken from the wide range of the media: he searches magazines, the internet and TV for the starting point of his pictures. In a long forming process, layer by layer, Harding Meyer turns the media stereotype into the individual intended: the picture as picture. He reconstructs a biography, the biography of faces generated by the media, but the aim is the creation of anonymity as identity.
For the first time Meyer offers a look into his photographic activities, the origin of which can be found in his collection of portrait photographs.
In “Features” he shows a photographic series of collage-like “sculptures”, in which he mixes elements of various faces. He cuts out facial fragments, pins them to faceless Styrofoam heads, sometimes adding a glass eye, and finally equips them with hats thus creating heads that will strike the spectator as human and artificial at the same time. Here it is the right eye of a prisoner meeting a model´s glaring red lips, there it is coarse-grained pixel noses and most delicate eyelashes. To take pictures of such objects he uses the iPhone as well as traditional cameras.
"The main subject in Harding Meyer's work is his intensive pursuit of the artistic rendering of the human face. The subtle differences in the artistic realisation of each single motif are indicative of this intensive preoccupation. The single images, which were worked out over weeks and months, are consistent within themselves. In direct comparison, they reveal their - in every way - multi-layered origin. The faces which serve as the basis of most of Harding Meyer´s paintings, are originarily taken from the media. Catalogues and magazines, movies and television are the pool from which the painter serves himself. The original images rarely boast an artistic composition in themselves; rather, they are anonymous mass goods. Out of this flood of images Harding Meyer isolates the faces - which is in itself already a significant act. The face, which like no other part of the body conveys the individuality of a person, is brought back from mass medial use into a context of individual impact. In this moment of decontextualisation the faces carry the traces of their medial origin, which may even intensify through the particular way in which Harding Meyer captures them. The digital cameras and analogue videocams which he uses to capture moving images reinforce the characteristics of technical imaging systems. An image taken from television often has horizontal lines due to the interlaced method, the field-by-field build-up of the television image. Computer images on the other hand have a pixel structure, and even printed samples are not completely homogeneous. In addition there are artefacts which are created by the cameras as well as the painter´s conscious manipulations of the image structure. Harding Meyer purposefully works with these changes of the image samples when he transfers them onto canvas. In this transfer onto one of his standard canvas formats, the faces are given one decisive common trait: the compositional cut. In the majority of cases the slightly horizontally oriented paintings show the faces from the forehead down to just below the chin. This approach gives the paintings an unmistakable stylistic coherence. Moreover, and this is more decisive, the faces seem close up. This closeness produces an intimacy which may easily lead to speculations about the psychological condition. With regard to the tradition of portrait painting, to which Harding Meyer´s work can be related, it is often remarked that the horizontal orientation is unusual while the vertical is the rule. Indeed, the vertical corresponds much more to the shape of the head. However, it does not correspond to the human gaze, for the level position of the eyes establishes a horizontal field of vision. The gaze as constituent of interpersonal dialogue, even from a distance and even between strangers, may be seen as relevant for images of faces on the whole.
The abovementioned closeness and individuality are the result not only of this compositional intervention, of the cut, but also of the artistic process to which Harding Meyer submits not only the motifs but also himself. The layered structure is common to all pictures, but the abovementioned characteristics of the Vorbilder are not neutralised as with many other painters. Instead, they affect each respective paint application with brush and palette-knife. The pictures are therefore not only distinguishable by the respective motif but also by the flow.
Although this technique leads to nuanced differentiations in the painting surface, this approach creates a likeness which is observed mostly in portrait photography. In portrait photography there is a close connection between model and photographer, which is established via the gaze. In the finished portrait, the photographer not only leaves his trace in the form of a technical handwriting: one can discern a similarity of expression in the faces of different persons photographed by the same artist. It is not so much with the camera but with the photographer that a relationship develops in the act of photography, and the empathetic relation of model to photographer is mirrored in the facial expression of the portrayed. This effect, which can be relatively easily observed in portrait photography, is generally applicable. The mirroring of facial expressions is a phenomenon which can be braodly observed. It is at the first moment involuntary, but not accidental. Already in infancy this reciprocity is established via mimic expressions, which not only express but also alter psychological states. The classical example of such reciprocity is a child´s smile which infects the people near it. In this phase also, the ability to recognise a person is developed. The early, visually formative experience is the constant closeness of faces, the mother´s as well as that of other relatives, for example by being carried around in somebody´s arms.
Each time, during the long process of creative production, Harding Meyer brings his own empathy to the image samples adopted by him. When comparing the samples with the final paintings, a slight change of expression can be discerned which is owed to the weeklong gaze of the artist into the face on the canvas.
Harding Meyer´s Vorbilder stem from, as mentioned, mostly anonymous photography which for intended use, such as in fashion, resorts to stereotypical formulas and shapes. Within their context of use, the purpose is quickly recognised and the model, but also the actor, are visible as carriers of a role and its image. With their appearance, the conventionally beautiful models of advertising and fashion remain subject to this function. Harding Meyer dissolves this functional context and, through painting, facilitates access to this beauty. Other than the ugly, the beautiful is, from the perspective of cultural critique, always under general suspicion of manipulative impact, thus per se to be regarded as seeming more than being. From this point of view the images of faces in the paintings of Harding Meyer seem almost provocative, since they no less negate the possibility of beauty as his paintings negate the possibility of painting. This sounds paradoxical, however it refers to the historical situation which looked for the pure expression to the exclusion of the material world in the means alone, utilised painting to illustrate theories or merely suffered it as an ironic commentary on the end of art.
The complex paintings of Harding Meyer build time and again constellations among each other, with the larger-than-life faces of pictures of smaller format and the almost overwhelmingly large faces of adults.
To cover the range of possibilities, two of these paintings deserve to be singled out in this context. One of these two paintings (Abbildungshinweis) shows a youth leaning on a wall in a room aligning towards the back. It is not only the room that distinguishes this painting from the other paintings, which do not offer a contextual hint at their surroundings. If the faces are not originally extreme close-ups or if they have a neutral background, Harding Meyer removes the details. However, in this painting the room and the otherwise invisible body from the neck downwards are present: only the head is missing and therefore the face! This missing head is thought-provoking when a painter is otherwise so intensively preoccupied with the face. The picture could be seen as an experiment which underlines the significance of head and face for the identification of a human figure, even if physique, gestures and posture do take characteristic forms in different people and thus allow conclusions. Also the painting reminds us that in the first place it is not about the motif but about a visible conflict in painting. But with regard to the near impossibility of identifying the young man in this not unusual but strange room, it has to be said that the faces in the other paintings also remain the faces of strangers, and the lack of titles serves this purpose. Even if single faces can be identified as those of famous actors, this does not mean that the person is being recognised. Eventually the portraits of famous persons, though in some cases even characteristic, join the community of the nameless who embrace the names among them with their anonymity and, as it were, include them in their collective.
One title, or rather a name, leads to the second painting: Dieter. Why does the painting - unlike the others - have a title, who is Dieter, and is Dieter´s name really Dieter? All these are banal but important questions, and basically here, too, just like in the case of the headless young man, the identity is in question. Would the viewers really know more about the faces, respectively the persons behind them, if they were given names? Names and titles can be meaningful and meaning-giving additions. On the other hand they always bear the risk of simply banning the unknown in the magical act of naming, and losing sight of the essential point - that one does not really know who the other is and that the other can only lead a liveable existence if he can indefinitely change instead of being the same person all the time. Part of leaving things open in this way is to over and over obtain a new picture of the other and to take a lot of time for this process, in particular when using canvas and oil paint." Thomas W. Kuhn
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