born in Lüneburg, Niedersachsen
1992 - 1997
Study of painting at Akademie der Bildenden Künste, München
taught by Robin Page (Malerei) und Cristina Iglesias (Bildhauerei)
1997 - 2000
Study at UdK, Berlin, Filmklasse Heinz Emigholz
Lars Theuerkauff lives and works in Berlin.
„Unity“, Village Berlin (G)
5. Berliner Kunstsommer, Humboldt Carré, Berlin (G)
ART KARLSRUHE „Die Wilden“, Galerie Tammen & Partner (G)
'10 Jahre 10 Künstler', Galerie Lake,Oldenburg
„Theuerkauff“, Galerie Ralf Lake, Oldenburg (S)
“Warning Graphic Content“, Galerie Tammen & Partner (S)
ART KARLSRUHE One Artist Show, Galerie Tammen & Partner (G)
Idyll III, Galerie Ralf Lake, Oldenburg (G)
„Michael Ramsauer & Lars Theuerkauff“, Galerie Tammen & Partner, Berlin (G)
„ArtHatching 2018 Zürich“ HurlArt, Zürich CH (S)
„homo deus“, Galerie Tammen & Partner, Berlin (S)
„ArtHatching 2017 Zürich“ HurlArt, Zürich CH (S)
„Instinct #2“, Instinct Berlin, Berlin D (G)
„ArtHatching Berlin“ HurlArt, Berlin D (S)
„ArtHatching 2016 Zürich“ HurlArt, Zürich CH (S)
„In Heat“, The Ballery, Berlin D (G)
„Nude“, The Ballery, Berlin D (G)
„Nacht“, Galerie Fuchs, Stuttgart D (S)
„Aus gutem Hause“, Widmer & Theodoridis, Eschlikon CH (G)
„The 21th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit“, The Watermill Center, New York, USA (G)
„Neues in der Sammlung“, Schwules Museum, Berlin, DE (G)
„Insel“, Galerie Thomas Fuchs, Stuttgart, DE (S)
„The 20th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit“, The Watermill Center, New York, USA (G)
„I’ve Seen This Happen In Other People’s Lives, And Now It’s Happening In Mine“
Kit Schulte Contemporary Art Berlin, DE (S)
„Men at Work“, Widmer & Theodoridis, Zürich, CH (G)
„ONE“, Cain Schulte Gallery, San Francisco, USA (S)
„ONE“, Kit Schulte Contemporary Art Berlin, DE (S)
„L’Origine Du Monde“, Kit Schulte Contemporary Art Berlin, DE (G)
„Tape Club 23“, Tape Gallery, Berlin, DE (G)
„Lars Theuerkauff and Juan Carlos Arteaga Flórez“, Galerie Christian Glass, Berlin, DE (G)
„SpielWiese“, Widmer & Theodoridis, Zürich, CH (G)
„NO PORTRAIT. NO PORNOGRAPHY“, Kit Schulte Contemporary Art Berlin, DE (S)
„Lars Theuerkauff, Malerei“ Josephkonsum/Leipzig, DE (S)
PLATTENPALAST/Berlin, DE (S)
G group exhibition S solo exhibition
From Chaos to Cosmos. Lars Theuerkauff’s Methods and Painterly Strategies
The artist’s task is to portray what stands between the object and the artist — which is to say, beauty, atmosphere, and the impossible.
– Claude Monet
Finger-paint art is the last thing to come to your mind when you see an exhibition of works by the painter Lars Theuerkauff. On the contrary, looking at the Titianesque style of his pictures, you envision a study that brims with brushes, spatulas, and all sorts of painter’s utensils.
If you visit Lars Theuerkauff’s studio, where he sometimes also lives and sleeps, you find nothing of the kind. All the artist needs to paint are a palette, an old palette knife, acrylic paint, and indeed his hands, which he uses to apply the colors, in direct touch with his material. One of the pictures—Theuerkauff always has three or four in the making at the same time—will be hanging next to the window looking out on the balcony, where the lighting is ideal for work.
Experiencing Theuerkauff as he paints without a brush, you witness an immediate and intensely physical creative process. Having set down a very rough sketch of the motif on the canvas with the palette knife, he uses his right hand to add layer upon layer of paint, dragging, rubbing, splashing, wiping it with the ball of the thumb—and whatever other ways the hand has to mold the material.
With minute precision, Theuerkauff places bright colorful highlights on the picture with the tips of his fingers, only to render them soft and hazy with one or two fanning movements of the back of the hand—before a firm press of the heel of the hand restores some of the luminosity he has just taken off. The artist’s hands move across the picture, working on all parts almost simultaneously, or so you might think, watching him at work: dark as well as light passages, difficult details as much as the summary backdrop. This flickering painting process is interrupted only occasionally, when the artist moves closer to the picture or steps back to review, his eyes blinking, how the painting has evolved; he often changes his opinion and uses water from a spray bottle to remoisten parts of the picture. Now and then he will squeeze paint that has started to dry up and turn crumbly in the neck of the tube straight onto the canvas, quickly rubbing the lumps of paint in with the back of his hand or simply letting them sit on the surface as thick crumbs. Meanwhile, another paint is already sticking to his fingers, a dirty and mucky gray that exudes a foul smell to boot, a very peculiar substance … Then this hand-to-hand struggle with the painting resumes, again and again, until the picture needs to be taken down for drying and is replaced by another one of the pieces the artist is currently working on. In between, Theuerkauff will often take a big sip from a large earthenware mug: lukewarm strong black tea.
Over the course of this slow and gradual composition of his painterly thoughts, as he stands before the work, perpetually discarding pictorial ideas and discovering new ones, calling entire parts (as Theuerkauff says, it is forever necessary to “seek out new proportions, scrutinize, break apart”) and indeed the painting as a whole in question by bringing in a new color, a new atmosphere, it may happen—and this is the best possible outcome—that the painter puts a novel and different complexion on the entire picture. He endows it with an atmosphere, a mood that has never been there, forcing himself to draw new conclusions and chart new paths; to take these paths is the compass and map of his art. If things go less well, the artist has gone astray: he considers pictures of that sort ruined.
Eighty percent of the time he works on a picture, Lars Theuerkauff says, are taken up by this laborious process of applying paint to the canvas. The remainder is spent on composing the motif: these first sketches on the unprimed gray canvas look both bold and simple and very accurate. That is because they are meticulous reproductions of photographic sources, a technique we will have to come back to. Everything looks fresh in this stage, almost lusciously painted—and as though it were already pretty much finished.
But that is in fact when the real work begins. “I start with neon paints when the silhouettes have been transferred and the composition is done. One thing or another is certain to change later on, but the basic arc is there. And then I get going, then the radiance of these paints comes in. They build these dynamic contrasts among one another. I’m very grateful for these neon paints. I saw them when a friend, a painter, was using them, and they’re a big help. Although I think the colors as such are pretty ugly, they bring in this luminosity. They’re virtually invisible in the finished picture, but early on they set the form free. What’s there in the beginning is the gray of the raw canvas as well as the protrusions and recessions of the fabric. When the neon paints are then layered on top, they corrode the forms, dissolving them and endowing the whole thing with a special vibrancy and tension. Everything is slowly set in flux.”“
As the painting process continues, Lars Theuerkauff will then time and again bring this throbbing motion to a halt by taking some of the abovementioned dull gray muck from a container and placing it on the canvas. “I collect all my leftover paints in this container. That’s how I make this gray, which naturally changes as I paint. It may for example shift from a cool bluish gray toward a warmer hue tinged with green—depending on the palette I’m working with at the time. But it always remains a shade of gray: after a phase of vigorous intensity, as in the early stage, when I paint with these very garish neon paints, spatters flying and paint landing everywhere, when I positively ask to lose control and try to break out of my conceptual composure, a calmer phase follows in which I use this gray that levels everything, simplifying it and making it airy: that’s my zero color!”
You have to go to Lars Theuerkauff’s studio to see how he paints his pictures. What he paints is there to see in the pictures: human beings appear before undefined backdrops, on their own and alone with their physicality, usually nude, modeled out of their immediate and hazy surroundings, created from light—a light that leaves the subjects of these portraits suspended between vulnerability and prepotency. When two people inhabit a single pictorial space, a rare exception, that is already much tension within the picture by Theuerkauff’s standards. And so double figures only appear in intimate relationships marked by a high degree of emotional complementarity, as in the artist’s series of mothers with children.
Just as contemplative and aggressive phases alternate in the process of painting proper, just as the pictures again and again call the beholder’s ways of seeing and his perceptions in question, Lars Theuerkauff’s primary intention, from the identification of a motif to the finished composition, is not to be satisfied with any answer that comes easily. When the painter does reach the point where he has chosen a subject for a picture, be it—occasionally—a motif found in a print medium or on the Internet, be it—more usually—a picture he has taken himself during one of his elaborately staged photo shootings, the photograph is subjected to the same unvarying procedure. In a first step, the motif, which already exists as a photographic print, is torn from its frame, as it were: “I reassess and scrutinize the shapes by ripping several pictures of the same motif to pieces and recomposing it in slightly different form. I do that in order to break up the perfect proportions photography produces, to bring the photographic motif out of its unimpeachable technological world. To my mind, even accidentally folding the photographic source brings the motif back to life.”
Using a camera phone of indeterminate age that offers virtually none of the functions made possible by today’s technology, the artist takes a picture of the motif on his notebook screen, holding the camera not in parallel to the screen but at a slight angle—another distortion of the original motif. The alteration is merely one of degree, but the effect is striking: even the slightest shift of perspective changes the color, shape, and mood of the entire motif, as is immediately visible on the camera phone’s slide-sized screen. The colors of different shots of one and the same figure or object may for example range from a yellow-tinted green to a warm orange. Holding the phone a little unsteadily changes the brightness values of bodies and rooms—from night falling to the dawn of day.
The same unyielding will to contingency that drives Theuerkauff’s painting process proper, which begins with his focused and intense engagement with the austere line and always continues with a chaotic firework of spattering paint in which the ultimate breakdown of the work of art is an accepted possibility, is already apparent in the preparatory stage. “The hazard of losing the picture is part of the process. I don’t want to, and yet I do. I want to be in control. But I also want to exert myself to gain control. I want to lose it, but I also want to get it back. I always want to reach that edge where the picture can seriously break down. And there were a few pictures that went out. Not many, but once there was one where I thought: this one’s really wrecked, truly lost. Later on, I went back and tried a new color on it: and all at once there it was! It was some shade of white that ran—je ne sais quoi—like a kind of froth and suddenly had a sort of light that you’d never seen in a photograph—let alone in reality. A very particular light!”
Darkness has fallen. In the studio, floodlights illuminate the picture. The tea has long ceased to keep us warm. One final question remains: Wherefore this enormous painterly effort? What is the purpose of this descriptive study, conducted with almost scientific meticulousness, of a world of things that in the end defies depiction? Because what pictures show is at best the idea we have of things; even the supposed technological neutrality of photography and other technical visual media lets us see only what we want to see, the gaze for which we built the devices in the first place. And we always want to see, the more the better. That has rarely been more evident than today: an abundance of pictures that would have been inconceivable until recently, the visual inventory of the Internet, has undone the privileged visual hegemony of painters; digital technology has empowered everyone to manipulate images. By now, this treasure of pictures circulates in such small change that everyone holds his bit in his hands like a little king. Only it comes with an obligation and prompt that is very un-aristocratic: we now need to do everything ourselves. This unprecedented compilation of pictures should by rights beckon us to abandon our horror vacui and break free of the compulsion to take pictures all the time, to disseminate and look at them. All pictures already exist, after all: online. And they should actually spur us to finally learn to see freely.
So why does Lars Theuerkauff pursue this mingling—with much good cheer, by the way—of the additive physiological color circle with the subtractive system of the physical theory of color? Why does he blend his radically subjective painterly techniques with objective sources of imagery like the camera? Why does he ruminate and elaborate theories, trying, in conversation, to describe art in fragile metaphors—an undertaking that is doomed to fail, as we all know?
Perhaps so that we may come out into the open and see the world with new eyes, the way we do after a visit to a museum. Perhaps in order to survey the immeasurable pile of images, the unending stream of pictures, for us beholders, to give us something we can grasp.
As he nears the end of his labors—of his journey through the lonely country of artistic creation, of his ongoing attempt to leave composed certainties behind, to fathom abysses and uncharted boundaries—as he nears the end, then, the artist may encounter himself beyond these boundaries, bewildered, a stranger. Because it may then happen that he steps out from under the arc of Dionysian-Apollonian interplay.
Emerging from the orderless darkness of chaos, the patient figures in Lars Theuerkauff’s pictures are gradually suffused with a magical light, not unlike the one that would shine if, rescued from a tremendous cataclysm, we were to find ourselves, safe, on a beach. No, we would not see the light itself, for it would make us blind with longing; but we would have life in its tender reflection.