The surface of Matthias Weischer's 2007 painting Striptease bursts with intricate texture and detail: pictures lie propped against the wall, recalling the works of the great Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko. Tulip adorned tiles decorate the rear wall of this space, echoing both the exoticism of the Orient and the tiles that feature in many of the pictures by Dutch Old Masters. Meanwhile, clustered in the centre of the composition are several spectral figures left almost in reserve, one of them in particular striking a pose that recalls the glamour photographs of the Post-War years. Carved out of the top surface of the paint, Weischer has included the written word in the form of a graffiti-like scrawl in the upper left, while the entire composition reveals grids including perspectival lines revealing the bare bones of the creation of the picture itself. Striptease contains a wealth of revelations and occlusions that make its title only too appropriate: this picture probes the entire nature of representation. With the silhouette of a glamour model delineated in white, Weischer is deliberately playing with the nature of pictures and pictorial information. He leaves the space to be filled by our imagination, adding to its mystery, demonstrating a new perspective on Roland Barthes' statement that stripteases represent a paradox: 'Woman is desexualised at the very moment when she is stripped naked', Barthes posited, as she is devoid of the tools, props and mystery that allow her to take on her erotic guise' (R. Barthes, Striptease, S.F. Staton (ed.), Literary Theories in Praxis, Pennsylvania 1993, p. 180).
This combination of the anthological references to popular and art historical culture with the deconstruction of the painting process cuts to the heart of Weischer's artistic quest to resuscitate the entire discipline and vocation of painting. He has developed a unique and idiosyncratic visual language that allows him to deconstruct and then reconfigure the entire nature of painting, making reference to the strategies that have been used by other artists over the decades - and indeed centuries. With its twilit ambience, the room in Striptease recalls the Old Masters: there is a timeless softness to the light that lends Weischer's picture a mysterious universality. At the same time, Weischer has deliberately introduced modern elements to this space such as the collage-like figures and the Rothko-esque pictures, as well as post-modern annotations, placing the picture within a set context. This reveals Weischer's own magpielike selection of themes and tropes from his artistic predecessors. 'I see art history through my own painting,' he has said. 'I deliberately look for what I need, for what interests me' (M. Weischer, quoted in J.C. Ammann, 'In Conversation with Matthias Weischer', M. Stegmann and D. Hardmeier (eds.), Matthias Weischer: Malerei/Painting, exh. cat., Museum zu Allerheiligen Schaffhausen, Ostfildern, 2007, p. 93).
The figure of the woman shown in silhouette, as well as the space itself, recalls Richard Hamilton's proto-Pop masterpiece Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes so Different, so Appealing? of 1956. Meanwhile, the presence of the pseudo-Rothko images, while recalling Hans Namuth's portrait of the Abstract Expressionist in his studio, also hints at the ultimate obsolescence of that movement. After all, Weischer has shown those pictures at an angle, receding into the distance, giving a sense of perspectival depth that is completely at odds with the intentions of the painters celebrated by Clement Greenberg: where they pointedly eschewed illusion, in Striptease those same works have been used to instil a sense of fictive, illusory space.
Weischer is one of the best-known members of the so-called New Leipzig School. This was a group of artists who formed partly around Neo Rauch and who determined, against the tide of new media work that was being produced by their contemporaries in Leipzig, to keep painting, and so to keep painting alive. As Weischer himself explained, 'It wasn't so important what to draw, it was just important to draw and paint - just to keep on working without having any concrete subject or big vision' (M. Weischer, quoted in A. Lubov, 'The New Leipzig School', in The New York Times, 8 January 2006). Looking at Striptease, it is clear that Weischer was being disingenuous in making that claim: this picture presents the viewer with an anthological survey of art and techniques. Its composition contains elements that recall collage, street art and Abstract Expressionism, and yet these have all been rendered in oils on canvas, that traditional Western medium.
Where some of Weischer's contemporaries in the New Leipzig School responded to the reunification of Germany, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the new wave of Western influence that so swiftly saturated the cultural scene in the East, Weischer's background was almost the opposite: having grown up in the West, he had moved to Leipzig to study in the 1990s. Looking at Striptease, it is hard not to see in the tattered interior depicted the ghost of some failed utopia, a faded promise such as those that had been held up by both sides of the divided Germany during Weischer's own childhood and early adolescence. Weischer has mined art history in this picture, but has also looked at wider histories: many of his imagined spaces such as this studio were inspired by the interiors illustrated in design and architecture magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. Weischer was thus looking at that period, with its optimism and idealism, and subverting its legacy to create the atmospheric, haunting space in Striptease.