At his massive factory turned painting studio, Berlin-based painter Jonas Burgert puts the finishing touches on works for his solo exhibition "Poison against Time," opening Apr. 28 at Blain Southern Berlin. The works sport intense splashes of color and crowds of tribal figures performing rituals or processions across dark abandoned spaces. Remarkably detailed, Burgert's paintings often reach sizes of 20 by 15-feet or larger. He took a moment to discuss with A.i.A. his unique approach.
STEPHEN RIOLO How do you begin your paintings?
JONAS BURGERT I start with an idea of the atmosphere of a painting, mediate on it for a long time and then I start. I don't make sketches, I start directly on the canvas with a compositional idea and let it develop naturally. In the end each work is the result of a conversation with the painting.
RIOLO It must be an intense conversation. You use very bright colors, and make intense warm/cold contrasts in your paintings.
BURGERT Handling color is the most important thing. In the end color hits your emotions directly. Colors are like music: they seep into you and you don't know why or how. It is a challenge to combine very reduced, muted colors with very poisonous, intense ones. This goes against the traditional academic perspective on color composition in painting but the garish and the subdued is what I am trying combine. I want to go further and transport content with colors, so that people don't only see what the figures in my paintings are doing but feel the emotional undercurrent, read the sub-content.
RIOLO Do you attribute the narrative content in your work to color?
BURGERT I think that it allows people to project their own narrative onto my paintings. I just present symbols of human life. If you really look at my paintings you don't see a specific story. It's more about exposing the phenomenon of the human spiritual processes in symbolic form. Questions like: Who are we? What are we doing here? We constantly seek a definition for ourselves as human beings and we have been asking ourselves these same questions for thousands of years. There is still no answer and this search for an answer will continue into the future.
RIOLO In the gritty environments, bright explosions and eerie spaces you create, do you see Berlin, or any other specific urban locations?
BURGERT I'm not really thinking about the Berlin directly, but I am interested in painting the result or remains of events that happened, capturing the past, more precisely, the phenomenological. If you go to an empty room where somebody lived for a year, you still sense in the atmosphere that somebody was there, there was something happening in that space. That is what I'm trying to capture in my paintings. I want to create the stage where this process has happened or is happening. It depends on the painting, but some times I really only want to show the beautiful dust of this spiritual process.
RIOLO Your paintings are huge, often 15-by-25 feet, and create a audience a real sense of being inside a painted panorama. Have you always been painting on such a large scale?
BURGERT Yes, since the beginning, and I don't know why. Maybe it is just a question of personal character. Still I'm very happy that I've reached a point in my career where I can do big scale work "officially." For the first time I have also made three sculptures to accompany the paintings in my upcoming solo shows.
Burgert will open a solo exhibition at the Kestner Museum in Hannover, Germany, in early 2013.
Mixed Media, 212 x 66 inches, Courtesy the artist.
Artist Kirstine Roepstorff was born and trained in Denmark, but lives and works in Berli