I have to admit, there is nothing more impressive to me than a well executed painting, and spending some time with the work of Johannes Kahrs has done nothing but revive this fascination. Living somewhere between film, modern news media and history painting, Kahrs’ work seamlessly merges the beauty and tradition of painting and portraiture with banal yet grotesque objectivity, seducing the viewer into a reductive, saturated palate only to confront them with an aggressive yet all too familiar imagery. Choosing images generally experienced through second hand sources of information, Kahrs infuses his paintings and drawings with the drama of film, creating a sense of constant motion and closeness within a still and fragmented plane. Claiming imagery typically referenced through our daily interaction with media sources, Kahrs builds on the diversity of photographic images infused with the seductive palette of artists such as Richter and Tuymans, but invests them with a grotesque, bodily relationship to the viewer seen in the work of Jenny Saville. Kahr’s dark and alluring palette creates an ominous sensation surrounding his shrouded, anonymous figures that instantly builds a narrative within his intentionally extracted context. Kahrs’ film-like color references the emotive palette seen in work such as Luc Tuymans’ Gaskamer, but builds another narrative context that remains familiar but unidentifiable.
Nevertheless, it is his hybridization of media that keeps me coming back to his work. The sensation of moving film, rather than a captured photograph, comes not just from rendering from video stills, but showing sequences of images with a subtle shift in time. Kahrs employs a blurring and shifting of images, but also blurs the identity of his subjects, contributing to his seamless combination of the banal and the grotesque. This obscuring of subjects to a point of abstraction, allowing faces to melt off the subjects like those of Francis Bacon’s portraits, elevates while disguising the identity of the mundane, drawing on our cultural over saturation and disconnection from the physicality of violence. Further complicating his role in creating the image, Kahrs paintings and drawings are often shown behind glass, emphasizing the viewer’s separation from the work and further masking the artist’s hand. This masking and obscuring of time combined with the multiple references to media builds more questions than answers, giving someone a place to investigate and question both the history of painting and its relationship to modern life.
Kahrs recent exhibitions have included solo shows with Luhring Augustine in New York and GAMeC in Bergamo, Italy, in addition to several group shows at the Phoenix Art Museum, the SFMOMA and Museu Serralves in Porto, Portugal. Kahrs currently lives and works in Berlin.