The development of Frank Bauer ́s oeuvre is intimately intertwined with his interest in photography, which accounts for more than half the books in his library.
Bauer ́s use of an episcope to transfer images to canvas places him in an important tradition. Two of his own favorite painters, Vermeer and Caravaggio, are both believed to have employed a camera obscura, as did such virtuoso painters as Canaletto and Sir Joshua Reynolds. The invention of photography dramatically expanded the possibilities, though many practitioners staunchly denied the use of photographs as visual aids. Bauer, in contrast, celebrates them. Indeed, he does not create a painting of a person or a scene with the aid of photographs; the photographs themselves are his subjects.
He has employed various kinds of cameras over the years, “from lowresolution mobile phones to high-quality roll-film apparatuses”, though most of the photos were taken with a focal-plane shutter camera, the Nikon FE2. It is never the artist ́s goal to capture some perfect moment or produce a technically perfect photograph. Imperfect specimens, often blurred, sometimes over- or under-exposed, present a far greater and more interesting challenge to his technical skills.
A Bauer photograph draws its strength and authenticity not just from its reproductive accuracy, but also from its very nonchalance.
Bauer ́s first still life, which represented a crucial turning point in his work, was a study of his own breakfast table – a theme to which he has repeatedly returned and one that resulted in a recent series of twelve remarkable small-format paintings.
With the breakfast-table studies, as well, the subject is not the set table in waiting that we encounter but the incidental ambience of a meal recently completed.
Formally, to be sure, Bauer ́s paintings have far more in common with Photorealism than with the Pop aesthetic.
Partly a reaction against the gestural excesses of Abstract Expressionism, the new movement hymned such banal American subjects as diners, house trailers, shops, and chromeladen automobiles.
The author and gallerist Louis K. Meisel, the first important champion of Photorealism, once cited three essential requirements for inclusion in the movement: “1. The Photo- Realist uses the camera and photograph to gather information. 2. The Photo-Realist uses a mechanical or semimechanical means to transfer the information to the canvas. 3. The Photo-Realist must have the technical ability to make the finished work appear photographic.” Obviously Frank Bauer meets the criteria with flying colors, including his use of an episcope to transfer the photographic image to canvas.
In spirit, Bauer ́s approach is much closer to Hopper ́s wistful, melancholy scenarios than to those of the Photorealists. The German artist ́s depiction of two people in Hotel Room (2008) is intriguingly Hopperesque, including the separation of the figures in distinct planes of the composition. In mood, it relates to Hopper ́s own Hotel Room (1931) and to numerous other works in which an individual is isolated in claustrophobic space or a couple is present yet the two of them curiously detached from one another. An odd, sinister feeling hovers about many of the works – most obviously, in Nocturnal Garden (2010), but even the birthday still lifes from 2010 and 2013 could harbor dark secrets.
Though Bauer acknowledges an affinity to Edward Hopper, it was the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi who served as spiritus rector when he began to produce still lifes. He admired Morandi ́s stringency, his subtly graduated tones, his compositional balance.
But there were other sources, as well. As he still vividly remembers, a highlight of his peripatetic childhood was a visit with his parents to the Pinakothek in Munich, where he first saw the works of Dürer and Cranach. Later Caravaggio became a major point of reference, along with a very mixed artistic contingent that included Vermeer, Manet, Alex Katz, Balthus, and the minimalist Agnes Martin.
[David Galloway] Courtesy: Galerie Voss
The Consecrated Chance some thoughts on the painting of Frank Bauer by Heinz-Norbert Jocks
Basically, what does “photo realism“ mean? By using this term you categorize something that, in the end, cannot be captured so easily.
There is still something that insists on existing, which – carelessly used – will fall by the wayside because it overshoots the mark of catching reality nearly photo-like. It is, indeed, more than some boring tautology and also far more than an antiquated competition with photography. Anyhow, this holds for the special case of Frank Bauer; one might insinuate that he is a photo realist with a certain sympathy for pop art. Now, first of all, he is a passionate painter who seems to be stepping out of line merrily, and one who, in his student time, was trained by Gerhard Richter, which means that all the doubts about the medium were drummed into him. In spite of this, he stands up for painting like someone who falls back on it because it is his innermost opportunity of making sure that he exists and has to place himself in a world into which he feels thrown as a being unfamiliar with itself with essence preceded by existence.
With agreeable lightness he returns to the traditional possibilities of painting. And he does so in a way so natural hardly anybody today would dare to.
A strange thing, Frank Bauer approaches any motif with his Nikon. He takes pictures of his world´s motifs before he will paint them – like someone who cannot help it or is not willing to. That means, he perceives the things in his private milieu, which he later considers worth painting, only if they are brought to him through an objective, a medium. In this, he is a complete child of his time. Confronted with his collection of source material, we at first seem to be watching somebody who is engaged if not in topping the preciseness of the model but in letting his hair down by means of brush and paint. No details are skipped over, no blurredness is left out, no colours are changed afterwards, no shades ignored be they as tiny as they may.
Drawing even with the photographic pattern obviously goes as far as the visualization of materiality as well as the materialization of clothes and shoes, skin and hair. In doing so, Frank Bauer never aims at congruence but by creating a picture always raises transient moments to the level of eternity. Everything he does is intended to be a logical play with colours and shapes, an adventurous oscillation between sharpness and blurredness and, by the way, irritations introduced by the back door. Thus, for instance, he makes edges appear so sharp that the blurred background of clouds will suddenly topple forwards. And if there is a failed photo with something significant in it he will not retouch or beautify the failed detail but accept it as an extreme challenge to find out the failure like a downright detective. At the beginning there is the question of how the photographic failure can be translated into successful painting, which with each brush stroke, i.e. step by step, will fix the photograph´s unspectacular traces of reality.
Coincidences or accidents, which surprisingly turn into necessities, in this way receive a different visibility and a non-cosmetic beauty. Thus the photograph becomes transcendent. Everything is deliberately put in the picture so that it receives a touch of a fake stage-managing. It seems as if the painter consecrates the incident afterwards, then loads it with an aura and a meaning and in retrospect welcomes it.
Nearly everything assembled in the photo will find itself on the canvas. The inscription on the cigarette packet as well as the title of a Suhrkamp pocket book. The shades on the face of a black-wigged doll as well as the strap of a top dangling down the body. The finger positions of photographed hands as well as the sad, empty or absorbed look of a person portrayed. The structure of a glass sugar caster as well as the colours of two roses in a white vase with a vertical legible Japanese inscription on it. The ashtray with crushed cigarette ends as well as the crease in a book´s page or the not too complimentary expression on the faces of bleary-eyed party goers who apparently challenge life. Precision according to the pattern, however, is not at all treated as a fetish. There is nothing compulsive about it, it just has to be in accordance with the picture.
The people portrayed right out of the centres of their lives are captured with such precision that we may well believe to be among them. But, in spite of that, we realize that Frank Bauer´s painting, instead of directly referring to reality, brings everything about according to the second nature of photography. Things in the photo which are beyond the range of the depth of field present themselves blurred on the canvas, too. Everything remains at its proper place the way the camera has cut it out from the course of time.
Nevertheless, painting works like a strong filter of the mind which only then creates the meaning of everything. Bauer´s painting throws a light on the darkness of the moment lived.
However, the power of painting does not at all come clear completely in this way nor is its content sufficiently touched. Like Nan Goldin, who uses her camera to report from the centre of her life with all its happy and unhappy moments, Frank Bauer paints so as to make us participate in the lifestyle, the fragility, the expectations of bliss and the falls of his generation. This phenomenologist of a generation´s perceptional views pulls us into the suction of directness and we feel like voyeurs in a cinema who read pictures like books.
Courtesy: Gallery Voss
FRANK BAUER 1964 Born in Recklinghausen Studied at the State Academy of Art in Düsseldorf, master student by Prof. Gerhard Richter
Solo Shows 2019 “Wege in die Ungenauigkeit”, Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf
2017 “Die Gelassenheit der Dinge”, Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf
2014 “Back to Basics”, Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf
2013 “Boys n’ Girls”, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe (Ge) “Skulptur und Malerei”, Filser und Gräf, München (Ge)
2012 “Menschenbilder”, Museum Frieder Burda, Badan-Baden
2011 “…den Wald vor lauter Bäumen….”, Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf
2005″, Kunsthalle Bremen “Dreams are my Reality”, La B.A.N.K., Paris (F)
2004 “New German Painting”, Regina Gallery Moskau (RUS)
2003 “Well Slide Down the Surface of Things”, De Vleeshal, Middelburg (NL) “Hands up, Baby, Hands up”, Oldenburger Kunstverein, Oldenburg “Deutsche Malerei 2003”, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt
2001 “Self and the Other”, Galerie Christa Burger, München Galerie Jahn, Landshut
2000 Avesta Art 2000, Biennale, Avesta (S)
1998 op-art-company, Karlsruhe “Salon 98”, Galerie Bärbel Grässlin bei Tishmann & Speyer Properties, Frankfurt a. M.
Fairs (Selected) Art Cologne, Köln Art Brussels (B) Art International New York (USA) Art Frankfurt (G) Arte Fiera Bologna (I) Art Rotterdam (NL) Toronto Art Fair (C ) ViennAfair (A) Art Moscow (RUS) Cornice art fair, Venedig (I) palmbeach3, West Palm Beach (USA)