E M M A N U E L B O R N S T E I N
April 20 - June 17, 2023
We are very pleased to inform you about the new exhibition of the French-German artist Emmanuel Bornstein in our Vienna gallery. Under the title Shelter, he presents two new series of works that trace the human need for refuge and security in different ways.
There is a palpable danger in the pictures. But it is not given a shape of its own. It works between things, in pictorial worlds that consist of remnants, details, superimpositions, and glimpses. It can be read in the faces and the huddled postures of the figures, in the clinging of a girl to her dog and in the pull of the mobile phones that are thrown out as anchors. It is found in the rich, disjointed spaces of color, deep patches of red and flaming ramparts of impenetrable orange, extensions of the inner worlds, perhaps of the sitters, perhaps of the painter, stepping stones for the viewers. It penetrates the isolation of the figures and their ghostly transparency.
In 1961, Carmen Bornstein-Siedlecki, Emmanuel Bornstein’s grandmother, was awarded the French Légion d'honneur for her services in the French Resistance. Her commander in the Resistance at the time, Jean Gay, ended his letter to Mme. Bornstein-Siedlecki with the words: “Hundreds of thousands of other patriots have died to secure for all the little Henri and Henriette of France and the world the bread of life and the spirit and the flowers in all their homes.” The symbol of flowers emerges here as a sign of a place that is primarily psychological, home.
The exhibition Shelter gathers two series of works by the German-French painter Emmanuel Bornstein, the Shelter series and the Pensée paintings. Both series are fed by diverse sources that reach back into the past but are ultimately subject to a present-day urgency and intertwine the past with the present. There is the letter to the grandmother that provided the inspiration for the small-format Pensées, in a double, ambiguous sense, since the French word Pensée stands both for thought, i.e. memory, and for flower, both of which can be read in the pictures. On the other hand, there are own photographs from today, self-observations and portraits of the mother. But there is also art history, with its depictions of war and flight, and there are the photos of refugees seeking shelter in subway tunnels.
Out of the intimacy of a personal visual language, a kind of archaeology develops in Bornstein’s works around the concept of refuge. In his pictorial excavations, various stratifications come to light, the collective and the personal collide, an inner emotional world interlocks with externalities. Like palimpsests, not only one story can be read from the pictures, but several, based not only on the content, but also on the form.
Thus, in each of the Shelter pictures, the traces are deposited that Bornstein has found and processed in the world and which now present themselves to the viewer. The world is a fragile one in the pictures, where expressive gestural color surfaces collide with each other in scraps. They protrude out of the depths or into them. The figures of people, whether singly or in groups, are glassy, suffused with the toxicity of the cadmium-yellow ground of the picture. But each image has its anchor. This can be a pair of eyes whose fixed gaze holds one in place; this can be a glaring white corner of light that holds up in the back of a figure the promise of an ending, be it tragic or triumphant. The excavation organizes itself around these anchors, flashing fixed points that emerge from the turmoil. Painting becomes active as a medium. It is not only used to depict but becomes productively effective. The investigation does not proceed via, but through the paint.
Color, form, and gesture take on cathartic features when colors impose themselves, cold greenish ice floes hover through the pictorial space, a turquoise strikes and new shapes grow out of the fringes of an edge. The images must be wrestled from the canvas, in a struggle that is both means and end.
In the Shelter pictures, the relationship between figure and ground is a contested one. As part of the world, the figures nevertheless do not find a proper foothold, their contours seem defensive but cannot assert themselves against the overflowing influences. With the Pensée pictures, this conflict is defused. The gaze has gone to the bottom of the thoughts and the flowers until borders become invisible; it is no longer a seeing of things, but a feeling of images.
Emmanuel Bornstein was born in 1986 in Toulouse, France and has lived in Berlin since 2009. He studied painting at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts de Paris and at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. His work is characterised by a fascination with the figurative and a preoccupation with personal or literary references. Bornstein's works have been shown in numerous institutional exhibitions and are in many renowned art collections, including the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the Elgiz Museum, the Kunsthalle Rostock, and the Christen Sveaas Art Foundation.
Text: Victor Cos Ortega