On large-format paper, photographs of female faces, cowboys and cowgirls, house cats, wild cats and wolves can be seen. The roughly cut-out and disparately distributed photographs are framed, accentuated, and related to another by colored elements of painting. Human and animal faces feature painted cowboy hats. Occasionally handprints and iron crosses appear. Arrows and connecting lines indicate reference systems. Text fractions such as "Parsifal", "Richard Wagner", "John Wayne" or "Sherriff: K.U.N.S.T." ground the works within the cosmos of the artist's oeuvre.
A picture of the hand of American actress Scarlett Johansson appears on much smaller sheets of paper. Under the title "Fräulein Erzhand", Jonathan Meese created a five-part series out of them. A recurring motif on the photographic plane is the spread hand with dark-painted fingernails. However, the individual works differ in type and density of application of paint. Acrylic paint, predominantly in white, yellow and dirty blue, is partially glazed, but partly also applied in a pasty and crusty way. Each act of painting here is an additive, partially image-extinguishing process, which inevitably leads to a de-construction and re-composition of the original motif. Photography’s claim to objectivity, which is already obsolete in times of digital image processing, is thereby further undermined. On the credit side, however, an increase in meaning is to be recorded. The process of painting over photographs creates something new, which is no longer pure photography, but also not yet painting. The fleetingness of the photograph is fused with the longevity of painting into a hybrid amalgam. As the act of overpainting creates a second level of meaning over the sometimes banal initial motif, a uniqueness emerges that was not originally part of the theoretically infinitely reproducible medium of photography. While painting over photographs, Jonathan Meese places himself within an art historical tradition that stretches from the beginnings of the medium to the immediate present. In the 19th century black and white photographs were still hand-colored to compensate for the non-reproducibility of color. This practice corresponded rather with a manual improvement than an artistic intervention. The Austrian Arnulf Rainer may be described as the most important pioneer in the field of artistic overpainting of photographs. Already at the beginning of the 1950s, he painted over photographs of great master paintings, later also self-portraits. Other well-known artists who have modified their own or found photographic material or film stills are for example John Baldessari, Peter Beard, Shirin Neshat or Anselm Kiefer.
However, the most prominent representative of this practice is Gerhard Richter. Richter's overpainted photographs have been created since 1989. As a basis he uses his own snapshot photographs of city views, landscapes or people. Richter overpaints them with a squeegee, his favorite tool. For this, he exclusively uses the leftover colors from the preceding working day. In 2008, writer Botho Strauss, a friend of Richter, justly posed the question whether it would be sufficient to talk about mere "overpainting" in these cases: "Are they not rather introductions of oil color, lifting the quiet, the spell of the photograph? Introductions of the abstract, …that seem to revive the figurative image, flow round it, threaten it and cover half of it?" Thus, Jonathan Meeses “overpainted photographs" would be much more than the sum of their individual parts.
Text: Nicole Büsing & Heiko Klaas