On the Road to Tarascon 2

On the Road to Tarascon 2
signed and dated ‘Ghenie 2013’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
210 x 160 cm. (82 5/8 x 63 in.)
Painted in 2013
Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp
Acquired at the above by the present owner
Antwerp, Tim Van Laere Gallery, ADRIAN GHENIE, March-May 2014.

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Lot Essay

"I'm interested in history that’s linked to the human figure. A certain type of deconstruction interests me, the same way it interested Picasso and Bacon." - Adrian Ghenie

Painted in 2013, Adrian Ghenie’s On the Road to Tarascon 2 is a powerful tribute to his admiration for Vincent van Gogh: an artist who haunts his practice. Stretching over two metres in height, it takes its place within Ghenie’s series of the same name, which is based on the Dutch master’s lost self-portrait The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888). Following in the footsteps of Francis Bacon, who paid homage to work in his own series of the mid-1950s, the artist filters the original through his unique painterly language, transforming the surface into a shifting, illusory veil of colour, pattern and texture. The figure, defined only by his shock of red hair, is pushed to the brink of abstraction, his body blurred as if photographed in motion. Fascinated by what he describes as ‘the texture of history’, Ghenie seeks to visualise the way in which we process the past. Rescuing key moments and figures from the flat, glossy world of internet archives, cinema screens and printed reproductions, he re-materialises them through the vivid, visceral substance of paint. In the present work, Ghenie dramatizes the way in which time transforms our perception of art history, adding layers of obfuscation and artifice to objects buried deep in collective consciousness.

Ghenie’s fascination with van Gogh may be traced to his childhood, when – aged six – he encountered a print of the artist’s Sunflowers (1888) on the cover of a Romanian art magazine. He was so entranced by the image that he kept it under his pillow. Later, he stood before van Gogh’s 1889 self-portrait in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, overwhelmed by its hypnotic presence. The artist’s inward, selfcritical gaze, saturated with inner turmoil, spoke deeply to Ghenie, who would go on to paint himself multiple times in the guise of his hero. The Painter on the Road to Tarascon , however, held a different kind of significance for the artist. The original painting’s whereabouts remain unknown: it was destroyed – or possibly looted – during the 1945 Allied bombings of Magdeburg, where it was held in the Kaiser- Friedrich Museum. The work is therefore only known in reproduction. This fragmented existence was particularly intriguing to an artist concerned with the transmission of images, prompting the question of what constitutes an ‘artwork’ in the first place. Is it the physical canvas – here absent – or the picture contained within it? Elsewhere in the series, Ghenie grappled with this dilemma by collaborating with the Dutch-Iranian artist Navid Nuur, inviting him to embellish his own renderings of van Gogh’s image with further layers of abstraction.

The painting’s intersection with the narratives of the Second World War also captivated Ghenie. Raised in Romania under Nicolae Ceau?escu’s Communist regime, the artist frequently addressed themes of European dictatorship in his work, focusing particularly on the atrocities of Nazi Germany. ‘I am particularly interested,’ he has said, ‘in the state of exceptionality that characterises everyday life in totalitarian regimes, not just Communism. In such circumstances everything is being distorted’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in M. Radu, ‘Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall,’ Flash Art , December 2009, p. 50). In the 1930s, many of van Gogh’s paintings were seized as ‘degenerate art’ under Fascism’s campaign to purge modern art from Germany. Indeed, Ghenie would evoke these events in his large-scale 2014 painting The Sunflowers in 1937 , which reimagines the work burnt, warped and ruined by the ideological violence of the 1937 exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). Though painted half a century before the onset of conflict, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon similarly found itself wrenched into this devastating chapter of history: a fact alluded to, perhaps, by the billowing black clouds that envelop the figure.

Uniting Ghenie’s interest in van Gogh and the Second World War is a fascination with figures and events who – for better or worse – changed the course of history. Van Gogh transformed the practice of painting; modern dictatorships, albeit somewhat differently, had a pivotal impact upon the European socio-political landscape. Ghenie’s other subjects played similar roles: from Charles Darwin in the field of science, to Elvis Presley in music. By selecting instantly recognisable muses, he asks viewers to question the way they see them: are they distant symbols, clouded by years of recycled imagery, or living, breathing realities? Through his painterly deformations, Ghenie attempts to restore them to the physical world, stripping away the dusty layers of time and bringing them violently into the present. In pursuit of this goal, the artist fuses together a wide range of devices borrowed from the history of representation: from the moody atmospheres conjured in the films of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch, to the impenetrable textures of Gerhard Richter and the Abstract Expressionists. In the present work, the lineage of van Gogh and Bacon is evident not only in its subject matter, but also in its technique, evoking the raw, gestural language nurtured by both artists. It is this cyclical complexity – the thrilling collision of surface, narrative and historical resonance – that defines Ghenie’s best paintings.

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