16 March – 14 April 2007
Eberhard Havekost, one of the most innovative surveyors of figuration in contemporary painting, presented a body of new work for his exhibition at White Cube Hoxton Square.
A Havekost painting begins with a photograph, either one taken by the artist or an image that he has sourced from the media. Using a computer, Havekost might crop, stretch, skew or tweak the colours of the picture, or leave it almost untouched before making an inkjet print that he uses as the direct source material for the final painting. To create the five-canvas work Background, B06 the artist took a series of photographs, all at low exposure, of some rubble and debris he came across in Berlin. He then adjusted the sense of space and levels of brightness, altering the hue and tone to give them an even, almost featureless light. Amid the slabs of wood and spiky wreckage, a slash of blue board emerges in every second picture, a motif that serves both to balance the canvases and highlight the subtle differences in each composition.
Havekost sees this space, with its randomness and piles of splintered timber in an urban setting, as something that exists between nature and civilisation. The artist’s paintings revel in this in-between state, putting into play a set of oppositions that animate the work: abstraction and figuration, surface and depth, artificiality and authenticity. The diptych Made in Germany (1-2), B06 inverts the colours of a Union Jack, transforming a national symbol – the British flag, with its associations with pride and power – into an ambiguous abstraction. The altered flag no longer signifies, but hangs on the wall as a set of formal relationships, flattened of meaning. Exotik, B07 traps a large palm tree in a box-like space and transforms its spiky fronds into flat, feathery textures. The diptych Regen 2 (1-2), B06 depicts a cluttered scene, including a television set and cardboard boxes, re-constituting it as two views, each so similar that apprehending them simultaneously becomes a kind of visual riddle.
Havekost focuses on the everyday, whether through the media or his immediate surroundings, treating all visual phenomena equally, as if almost anything could – and does – make an interesting painting. The shift and blur of Havekost’s brushwork lends an air of fragility to the picture, as if its surface might dissolve into a uniform skin. But despite their delicate surfaces, the paintings have a forceful presence, and few contemporary artists bring such intelligence and energy to an investigation into how we perceive images.