Recruits cycle, 1989-1991

 

Most of the RECRUITS cycle was painted in Frankfurt during the intifada.

 

The works, in classical formats, were painted in oil-tempera on canvas. Two different painting acts are set together on a flat ground color field: painting of photos, and painting of others' paintings and/or drawings. The cycle deals with the suppression of violence, the turned-away gaze. It evolved around issues of field depth and clashing between imaginary and concrete place, and 'placing'.

 

The encounter is strange: items from a military archive; frontal and two profiles photos of recruits at the eve of their recruiting, holding to their chest a sign with a serial or identity number, and items from an art archive; reproductions of rather esoteric or little known graphic works by very well known masters from different periods : The dog and the lion of Rembrandt, his procession, Dürer's flood dream, various fragments from paintings by Rubens, Velazquez, Jericho, Repin, Schlemmer.

 

The painted material (in variable scales) is arranged in defined rectangular units, in a flat compositional order, as if organized on an album page. The arrangement within each painting and its repetition in small shifts from painting to painting throughout the cycle examines plotting with and against the painting depth with regard to the 'blindness' of the recruits; their stark wide-eye blunt staring, and that of the viewer gaze.

 

The oil-tempera technique allows a large opening of the color properties; from high transparency, washed and diluted (like watercolors) to high substance density, lusterless, heavy, opaque and dry. In this cycle, the diluted properties belong with the 'art', and the dense dry color belongs to the recruits. They were painted using a squeegee and a knife, i.e. dragging or scraping the paint, and only in black and white. Their faces seem to be glued to the surface painted under them. RECRUITS cycle uses the oil-tempera technical moisture range as a thematic signifier. This tactile mobility also joins the examination of the picturesque depth.

 

Between 1514 and 1517 the painter Jörg Rathgeber (a consultant, TG) worked on a large fresco on the walls of the Refektorium and the monastery of the Catholic Order of the Carmelite Brothers in Frankfurt am Main. Depicting the horrors of the Carmelite Brothers' martyrdom, the paintings include harsh scenes of torture, brutal executions, by horse-dragging, by burning, decapitating, various modes of hanging and crucifying. The spiritual father of the Carmelite Order is Elijah the Prophet, whom they consider to be the exemplary and sublime most among all the prophets of the Bible. Chapters of his life, such as the slaughter of the Baal priests on Mount Carmel, his rise in the chariot to heaven, and other events including the more violent scenes of Jesus' life, harsh descriptions of circumcision and the murder of the innocents, are weaved in the fresco with the Brothers' martyrdom into eschatological unity.  

 

Rathgeber was active in the great peasant revolt of 1524, described in Kleist's novella "Michael Kohlhaas". He was already a well-known painter when he deserted the nobility and his post as a member of the Stuttgart city council to join the rebel peasants who had chosen him as their chancellor. The nobility slaughtered one hundred thousand of the three hundred thousand rebels and the rebellion was suppressed. Rathgeber was arrested and charged with capital treason. In 1526 he was executed as in his fresco - four horses tore him apart.

 

Between 1989 and 1991, I worked on the RECRUITS cycle in Frankfurt. The cycle was chosen for a large solo exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein. As the renovation of the museum building was in delay, the curator, Dr. Peter Weiermair, decided to transfer the exhibition to an alternative, modern, white space within the Carmelite monastery. Going there we passed Rathgeber's apocalyptic dark gloomy vision, understanding all of a sudden that the RECRUITS should and must be installed under it. The RECRUITS colors share a unique resemblance with that of the fresco, and we thought there could not possibly be a better place for paintings addressing violence through the turn-away suppressive gaze. It was then decided to scatter the paintings in the entire space, raised on railway sleepers, back to back, as a set of tents, same also the way I first showed them to the team during their visit to my studio.

 

Elijah, a terrorist-prophet, the writer Kleist and his hero Michael Kohlhaas, an innocent-terrorist, and the giant painter Rathgeber who was torn to pieces on behalf of his partaking in the first socialistic revolution in Western history: These three, the prophet, the writer and the painter, are great heroes of my childhood. The summoning of my paintings to the space of Rathgeber fresco was an unexpected event, and an almost mystical one to me.

 

The Martyrdom of the Carmelite Brothers and the Recruits created one whole.

 

The RECRUIT installation included an extra space for the lithographs series engraved with a whale bone on old stones, printed at the monastery press by Stanley Xavier Stone, Andy Warhol's printer.