‘I work on an image in an almost classical vein: composition, figuration, use of light. On the other hand, I do not refrain from resorting to all kinds of idioms, such as the surrealist principle of association or the abstract experiments which foreground texture and surface’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in Flash Art, November-December 2009).
Painted in 2009, Pie Fight Study stems from Adrian Ghenie’s celebrated Pie Fight series. Standing in silence with his right hand on his cheek, a lonely figure gazes into the distance. The unidentified man’s face is covered in thick strokes of oil paint, which slowly slide down his shoulders like custard cream. Stunned in a dark and solitary room, the man seems to be deeply dismayed by the pie-fight – a reluctant character in Ghenie’s unfolding drama. Painted with expressive brush strokes and dense layers of thick impasto, the composition oscillates between realism and abstraction, as the hazy figure dissolves into a nebulous arrangement of hues of paint. Ghenie’s paintings pair fictional comedy with historical tragedy to spectacular effect. The artist began his Pie Fight series in 2008 and returned to it in 2012; the cycle starred in the artist’s first U.S. museum show, Pie-Fights and Pathos at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver in 2012. Making reference to the pastry wars in comedies such as The Sweet Pie and Pie, starring The Three Stooges, 1941, where the actors’ faces were smeared with custard to the point of anonymity, Ghenie also draws from the darker chapters of twentieth-century Europe, evoking iconic images from Nazi history and then rendering them anonymous with a public ‘gunging’. In Pie Fight Study, the composition has a special filmic quality, with an atmosphere of suspense that is cultivated like a freeze-frame. We wait in a state of heightened anticipation for the next act of the drama. As the artist himself has explained, ‘I think consciously and unconsciously I want to master in painting what David Lynch has done in cinema. It was with Lynch that I started to build the visual language of my paintings’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in Flash Art, November-December 2009).