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Harding Meyer

Page 1 | 2 | Biography

Text by Thomas W. Kuhn

The main subject in Harding Meyer's work is his intensive pursuit of the artistic rendering of the human face. The subtle differences in the artistic realisation of each single motif are indicative of this intensive preoccupation. The single images, which were worked out over weeks and months, are consistent within themselves. In direct comparison, they reveal their - in every way - multi-layered origin. The faces which serve as the basis of most of Harding Meyer´s paintings, are originarily taken from the media. Catalogues and magazines, movies and television are the pool from which the painter serves himself. The original images rarely boast an artistic composition in themselves; rather, they are anonymous mass goods. Out of this flood of images Harding Meyer isolates the faces - which is in itself already a significant act. The face, which like no other part of the body conveys the individuality of a person, is brought back from mass medial use into a context of individual impact. In this moment of decontextualisation the faces carry the traces of their medial origin, which may even intensify through the particular way in which Harding Meyer captures them. The digital cameras and analogue videocams which he uses to capture moving images reinforce the characteristics of technical imaging systems. An image taken from television often has horizontal lines due to the interlaced method, the field-by-field build-up of the television image. Computer images on the other hand have a pixel structure, and even printed samples are not completely homogeneous. In addition there are artefacts which are created by the cameras as well as the painter´s conscious manipulations of the image structure. Harding Meyer purposefully works with these changes of the image samples when he transfers them onto canvas. In this transfer onto one of his standard canvas formats, the faces are given one decisive common trait: the compositional cut. In the majority of cases the slightly horizontally oriented paintings show the faces from the forehead down to just below the chin. This approach gives the paintings an unmistakable stylistic coherence. Moreover, and this is more decisive, the faces seem close up. This closeness produces an intimacy which may easily lead to speculations about the psychological condition. With regard to the tradition of portrait painting, to which Harding Meyer´s work can be related, it is often remarked that the horizontal orientation is unusual while the vertical is the rule. Indeed, the vertical corresponds much more to the shape of the head. However, it does not correspond to the human gaze, for the level position of the eyes establishes a horizontal field of vision. The gaze as constituent of interpersonal dialogue, even from a distance and even between strangers, may be seen as relevant for images of faces on the whole.

The abovementioned closeness and individuality are the result not only of this compositional intervention, of the cut, but also of the artistic process to which Harding Meyer submits not only the motifs but also himself. The layered structure is common to all pictures, but the abovementioned characteristics of the Vorbilder are not neutralised as with many other painters. Instead, they affect each respective paint application with brush and palette-knife. The pictures are therefore not only distinguishable by the respective motif but also by the flow.
Although this technique leads to nuanced differentiations in the painting surface, this approach creates a likeness which is observed mostly in portrait photography. In portrait photography there is a close connection between model and photographer, which is established via the gaze. In the finished portrait, the photographer not only leaves his trace in the form of a technical handwriting: one can discern a similarity of expression in the faces of different persons photographed by the same artist. It is not so much with the camera but with the photographer that a relationship develops in the act of photography, and the empathetic relation of model to photographer is mirrored in the facial expression of the portrayed. This effect, which can be relatively easily observed in portrait photography, is generally applicable. The mirroring of facial expressions is a phenomenon which can be braodly observed. It is at the first moment involuntary, but not accidental. Already in infancy this reciprocity is established via mimic expressions, which not only express but also alter psychological states. The classical example of such reciprocity is a child´s smile which infects the people near it. In this phase also, the ability to recognise a person is developed. The early, visually formative experience is the constant closeness of faces, the mother´s as well as that of other relatives, for example by being carried around in somebody´s arms.
Each time, during the long process of creative production, Harding Meyer brings his own empathy to the image samples adopted by him. When comparing the samples with the final paintings, a slight change of expression can be discerned which is owed to the weeklong gaze of the artist into the face on the canvas.

Harding Meyer´s Vorbilder stem from, as mentioned, mostly anonymous photography which for intended use, such as in fashion, resorts to stereotypical formulas and shapes. Within their context of use, the purpose is quickly recognised and the model, but also the actor, are visible as carriers of a role and its image. With their appearance, the conventionally beautiful models of advertising and fashion remain subject to this function. Harding Meyer dissolves this functional context and, through painting, facilitates access to this beauty. Other than the ugly, the beautiful is, from the perspective of cultural critique, always under general suspicion of manipulative impact, thus per se to be regarded as seeming more than being. From this point of view the images of faces in the paintings of Harding Meyer seem almost provocative, since they no less negate the possibility of beauty as his paintings negate the possibility of painting. This sounds paradoxical, however it refers to the historical situation which looked for the pure expression to the exclusion of the material world in the means alone, utilised painting to illustrate theories or merely suffered it as an ironic commentary on the end of art.

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Harding Meyer


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