Exhibition | Stephan Melzl | Contemporary Art at Thomas Rehbein Galerie | Cologne | Art Week

Stephan Melzl

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Friday, 13 April 2018 to Saturday, 19 May 2018

Stephan Melzl is a master of disruptions. In his paintings contradictory levels of reality merge softly in terms of painterly quality, yet clash provokingly in terms of content. (Gottfried Knapp, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2014)

Stephan Melzl´s small format paintings, executed on wooden boards measuring 65 x 50 cm, display an exquisite coloring, its striking intensity resulting from a slow layering of transparent shades. After an initial sketch with which he structures the pictorial space, Melzl wholly dedicates himself to painting, the composition emerging as a result of his concentrated study of the effects that arise while applying coats of translucent paint. Melzl detects an atmosphere, its distinct mood evoked by a certain color scheme and completed through the gradual appearance of a contour, whose course Melzl sets out to trace until arriving at a concrete shape. The beholder is enthralled by the artificially enhanced iridescent glow and the smooth glaze of the surface, the works radiant on the gallery walls like sparkling gems. In all, the precious appearance endows the beholder with a sense of wellbeing, the eye being nurtured and spoiled by the sumptuousness of evenly spread colors and delicate transitions. This harmonious impression, however tempting, is nevertheless irritating, if not misleading. Because it is upon closer inspection that the light and complacent semblance becomes brittle and disconcerting themes and subjects rise to the surface. The refined and intricate combination of motifs brings about a multilayered composition.

Melzls superb technique makes everything possible, prompting the placid coexistence of disparate elements in the painting and allowing for a pictorial reality to arise, in which inconsistencies are joined harmoniously and dream logic pervades the levels of action. Beyond the unifying appearance of a perfectly executed painting, oppositions become manifest. Interiors and landscape genres, religious and profane topics, quotes from mythology and fashion, art and kitsch, baroque and bubblegum converge in a pictorial plane, as do divergent media such as smartphone and oil painting. Often Melzl cites significant singular art works or iconographic conventions and complements these with subjects or symbols from a completely different context or visual domain. He brings together Christian imagery and the icons of popular culture, replacing attributes of saints and martyrs with trivial objects such as balloons or model airplanes.

Often formal analogies are used to bring forth a contextual shift. A stylized female figure in a sports suit, its aerodynamic curves simultaneously repeating and contorting her body shape, is balancing on a skateboard (Flugschau/ Airshow, 2017). The colors of her dress match the wreckage of a crashed airplane in the background. The recurrent, subtly harmonized pastel shades allow for a pleasing play of colors to come to the fore, while concealing the catastrophe, the disastrous scene taking place in the background. The contrasting colored fields appear almost abstract, figures and shapes recede in favor of a dynamic visual effect. The discrepancy between an elegant, smooth painting and the depicted, often strange subjects, between a perfect shape and a mysterious narrative content evokes the peculiar tension which is inherent to the paintings of Stephan Melzl.

In Himmelwärts (Skyward, 2017) Melzl combines three single scenes into a formally congruent composition. Their individual representations center around the cross motif in compliance with art historical tradition. Clearly identifiable is a group of figures on the far right, incorporating the Bearing of The Cross or Pathway to Golgatha. Melzl replaces the cumbersome cross with a model airplane, thus introducing a credible substitute in terms of a similarity of shape, however rendering the solemnity of the event futile. In a different section of the painting a hiker on a mountain peak, equipped with a backpack, worships a model airplane with uplifted arms. Here the airplane assumes the function of a summit cross. In the central scene of the painting a young man in a loincloth embraces a model airplane. His particular pose resembles the typical stance of saints and even Christ himself as represented throughout Christian iconography. Melzls bold abandonment of classical conventions of representation and signification, his relaxed reinterpretation of historical subjects by means of a free exchange of requisites and modes of representation introduces a (postmodern) doubt aimed at the essential congruity of the narrative. After all, Melzl seems to upset legibility through contextual shifts, playfully dissociating form from meaning. The emerging humorous hybrid constructions offer various paths and different reference points, always diverting our attention and inviting us to follow the lush imagery. 

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Aachener Str. 5

50674 Cologne

Germany

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