MATTHIAS BRANDES, SYMBOL, REALITY, DREAM

by Elsa Dezuanni

Within the vast range of artistic languages that exists today, Matthias Brandes’ art clearly evokes Metaphysical painting. The incongruent perspective, the chimerical light and the compact fields of colours, all suggest not only the suspension of time that is such a feature of De Chirico’s painting, but also the figurative calm of Carrà, the concreteness of Sironi and the unfailing meditation upon the relation between form and colour  that is to be seen in the work of Giorgio Morandi.But these predecessors are evoked in Brandes’ work; they are not drawn upon as sources to whom he is indebted for his material. The way in which the German artist explores the symbolic value of the objects he depicts – houses, bell-towers and ships – is entirely original; applied with all the energy of a chisel, his brushstrokes appear to develop structural forms that are architectural in conception.Foremost amongst those structural forms is the house, the very symbol of shelter from a hostile world, a space which protects individuality and loved ones. A treasure chest of memories, the house also embraces the universe of the imagination. Even though gathered together in groups – perhaps including bell-towers and churches surmounted by cupolas – Brandes’ houses remain single entities; they are conceived of as individual containers of individual life. Solid and square-cut, these structures are rock-like in appearance;      their windows have been filled-in and their doorways are tall, narrow and dark (yet through them one glimpses the beginning of a staircase that perhaps leads nowhere). Often slotted together in precarious compositions, they might be in the act of collapsing onto each other, forming improbable and impossible combinations. Sometimes these houses take the form of fanciful flying structures; sometimes they are like rocks emerging from water, crowding together amidst solid cypress trees silhouetted against the sky. Whilst one might be reminded here of the still atmosphere in Arnold Böcklin’s Island of the Dead (painted in the late nineteenth century), the title Acqua alta makes a clear reference to Venice, a city which, with its combination of the real and the surreal, the artist says reflects his own sensibility.Painted in chalky colours of thick, granular tempera, all of Brandes’ buildings stand immersed in silence, even if there is also something slightly disturbing about their immobility. Within the shadows, they reverberate with light, the tonalities of colour often establishing luminous, crystalline rhythms. Paradoxically, these contrasts seem to result in an indissoluble accord. Embraced within an intangible sense    of solitude, such walls contain and express the artist’s purpose. As he himself comments: “The house is not a place of habitation but a symbol of being. I am interested in the human condition; in experiencing moments of harmony within a situation where precariousness dominates. Nothing is certain, sure or permanent; but there are moments of balance and poise. This is why my paintings are ambiguous: at first glance one sees harmony, but when one looks again the harmony is undercut. There is a continual shift between presence and non-presence, between a sense of calm and one of imminent change.”One cannot help put notice that it is the exterior of his houses that Brandes depicts; the structure is thus a “psychic skin”, establishing a clear boundary between the inside and outside. It is this distinction which probably allows Brandes to interact freely with other realities, experiencing each intimately.The dialogue with the observer is not, however, excluded, as long as the artist manages to stimulate questions with regard to his depictions. Why, for example, does that house flanked by trees not arise from the ground but stand upon a table with a well-ironed cloth (spread not to prepare for a meal but to afford a chance - a vehicle - for an oneiric scene)? At times, indeed, Brandes’ “houses” can be transformed into solid, granite-like ships. However, these vessels do not ply the seas, they stand upon chests of drawers or tables (again complete with cloth), such furniture being removed from the intimacy of a domestic interior to be placed outside, in the open air. Created using thick impastos of pearly greys and calm blues, these compositions have titles such as Ark, Landing Stage (complete with house and tree) or Naval Family. Are these, too, metaphors intended to open up “crossings” that suggest the possibility of dialogue?Houses are also a “presence” when Brandes paints female figures. With the same hieratic quality one sees in quattrocento portraiture, these women look straight at us, standing out against backgrounds of solid dark colour. And in these works, the houses become objects, taking on a narrative – one might also say, colloquial – significance. In the various versions of the Donatrice (Donor) and Giocoliera (Juggler), such objects become the core of the composition and suggest affectionate playfulness – either held out in the donor’s hands or suspended in the air like juggled balls or clubs.But an artist’s playfulness is not simply a bit of light-heartedness. It expresses hope; its power comes from an inner self in which the real co-exists with dreams, both of them nourishing creativity.