Artworks of the artist
“I only show you reality” Peter Klasen
The German artist, painter, photographer and sculptor Peter Klasen was born in Lübeck in 1935. A master of contrasts, he is fascinated by the hostility of the modern city and by the way the body is portrayed as a commodity.
Peter Klasen grew up in a family that appreciated the arts: his uncle Karl Christian Klasen, a pupil of Otto Dix, was an expressionist landscape and portrait painter and his grandfather, patron and collector, introduced him to the world of painters who were friends of the family. Peter Klasen therefore began to draw and paint at a very early age. He discovered the techniques of lithography and airbrush, while books by Dostoevsky, Kafka and Thomas Mann had a profound effect on him.
From 1956 to 1959, Peter Klasen studied at the Berliner Kunsthochschule, then an avant-garde school, and became friends with Georg Bazelitz. In 1959, as winner of the German corporate sponsorship prize, he received a grant and moved to Paris. There Klasen took an interest in French New Wave film-makers (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, etc.). He re-read the theoretical writings of Dada and Bauhaus, and developed the concept of integrating photography into his pictorial work.
In the 1960s, Peter Klasen was one of the founders of the art movement called New Figuration or Narrative Figuration. He developed a personal, malleable language, exploring and re-interpreting the signs of our urban environment and, more generally, of our society. He became interested in images used by the mass media and, with his pictorial metaphors, denounced the uniformity of the western lifestyle. His paintings and graphical work invites us to critically reflect on the world that surrounds us. Peter Klasen created his first “encounter paintings” where cut-out images were contrasted with their representation painted with airbrush. It was also around this time that disconnected images of the female body taken from advertising posters, cinema and magazines began appearing on his canvases: this would be a permanent feature of his work until 1973. Klasen echoes a troubled reality where common consumer items (telephone, household goods, etc.) combine with items of seduction (lipstick) and items linked to the body and illness (thermometer, stethoscope, syringe, pills, etc.).
In the 1970s Peter Klasen finally achieved success. He painted his “binary paintings”, rooted in the conflicting representation of a fragment of the human body and an object, painted or integrated, revealing his fear before the scission between the worlds “to be” and “to have”. In this way he found a balance between everything that stems from the sensual, and appears pleasant to him, and everything that belongs to the industrial world, which he finds loathsome.
Industrial themes fundamentally mark his work. In paintings by Klasen we find objects such as gauges, plates from construction vehicles, metal locks, lorry and truck tarpaulins, hoses from hydraulic circuits. His paintings also feature logos, numbers and photos from magazines and posters.
Between 1973 and 1980, Klasen explored the theme of “confinement”: he painted close-ups from the front, without a background, bars, barriers, locked doors, trucks, lorry tarpaulins, etc. to denounce the ambiguities of progress and technology. Henri Michaux spoke of an “astonishing dematerialisation of things” on his canvases. In 1981, a stay in New York gave rise to a new vision in his work: moving away from his previous world of clinical cleanliness, he took an interest in the presence of time, wear, degradation and the ephemeral through run-offs, dirt, graffiti, etc.
From 1986-1990, Peter Klasen began the “Berlin Wall” cycle, a series of one hundred paintings that he completed before the fall of the wall in 1989. In parallel, he continued to use urban iconography to reveal its hidden face: that of car parks, mezzanines, abandoned things, waste.
From 1998-2000, images of the body reappeared in his work. This was the beginning of the “Beauties”, characterised by the fragmented image of the female nude accentuated with neon. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, Peter Klasen started to reflect on the fragility of human existence in connection with the inherent violence of our society.
Internationally famed, the work of Peter Klasen is displayed in dozens of museums and public collections. His works have been the subject of many monographs.
“My relationship with the city is conflictual and therefore productive: it unblocks creative responses. By focusing on the things that make up our environment, by uprooting them from their functional utility and by translating them with the means specific to painting, I have developed an anti-body language that resists the permanent aggression that the external world exerts on me”. Peter Klasen
“I was born in Lübeck, in Germany, in 1935. My childhood would have been uneventful if it hadn’t been for the war, which caused my family suffering as it did so many others. Neither my father nor my uncle – a painter and student of Otto Dix – returned from Russia where they were sent. My first memories are connected to these dramas and to the terrible bombardments of my town. I was 5 years old at the time, I lived through the war without really understanding what was happening, but all at once it became real, palpable: our houses were burning.” Peter Klasen.