If the darkness had a tone, it would be easy to hear in front of René Schoemakers’ paintings. Precisely black-painted, a sense of crisis expresses itself that is very contemporary, almost blatantly relevant, and challenges us with sometimes vicious metaphors. But if everything is and remains terribly uncertain, one thing is certain with Schoemakers: the high quality of the painting.
Christoph Tannert, Director Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
René Schoemakers’ tableaus certainly fulfil the idea of painterly virtuosity. However, if prominent positions in contemporary painting prefer to use the stylistic device of blurring, René Schoemakers paints with realistic precision. His ability to create painterly illusions fascinates, but also deters. For, as Wolfgang Ulrich notes in his book on blur: sharp, clear pictures are distressing because they show too much. If one can lose oneself in vague associations when confronted with blurred images, sharp images require mental effort, as the pictorial signs need to be deciphered.
Dr. Antje Krause-Wahl, Heisenberg-professor for contemporary art, Goethe University Frankfurt
René Schoemakers explores painting deeply. The result of this examination does not fit into any pigeonhole, since the mostly naturalistically depicted stagings in the painting as well as those of the paintings themselves appear as coldly smiling vivisections of the real. Due to their synchronicity on different levels of representation, pictures in the picture, models in the picture, writing and text fragments in the picture, his works display an uncanny complexity. Through the consistent hanging and installation of his works it becomes clear that Schoemakers is a conceptual artist: the individual works are in constant dialogue with each other and thus create the overall picture. His works see themselves as stagings, extreme naturalism as a form of representation creates a brutal and sharp clarity, which is presented to the viewer directly and unfiltered.
Schoemakers draws large arcs in various directions, referring to children’s drawings, comics, toys, as well as historical paintings and installations. He draws the world into his work and leaves the viewer alone to find a way out.
Dr. Isabel Balzer, balzer projects, Basel
Although all the details are immediately recognisable, Schoemakers’s pictures remain strangely unfamiliar and enigmatic: the gaze always plays a central role, whether the figure directly fixes the viewer and thus unsettles him, or whether he directs his gaze inwards with closed eyes and closes himself off to visual involvement. The figure is often naked, which forces the viewer into the uncomfortable role of the voyeur.
It is also noticeable that the same models are almost always to be seen in his pictures: rarely himself as the male part, but above all his wife. This releases the painter from the suspicion of being a voyeur himself, which then in turn would impose a certain, mentally narrowed perspective on his paintings. But there is clearly no such thing in Schoemakers’s paintings. On the contrary. In the way they are staged, they are characterised by an unconstrained quality that is, of course, not only due to the painter, or rather his pictorial means, but above all to the model, who, arriving as it were on a stage, knows how to present herself in a very specific, stringently performed sense.
Schoemakers’s large paintings turn into a painted performance. An auratic effect is created. The relationship between viewer and figure, experienced at first glance on the same, almost haptic level, turns, not unlike a conundrum, into an unbridgeable distance. Schoemakers, however, self-confidently enters the bridge between the representational and the idea of an object-like, unbound form in space. The presence of reality is just as apparent in the isolated facial expressions of his figures, which are thrown back on themselves, as it is in the staging. His pictures are about experience, not a description of reality.
Rather, it is the physical presence of the figurative, made tangible in a sequence, but above all the concentration on the individuality and personality of the model, which creates an ordering, albeit staged pictorial connection between poeticisation and banalisation. The psychological sensitivities are not least based on the individual physicality described with great meticulousness. All stereotypical approaches, on the other hand, remain categorically excluded. Instead, Schoemakers focuses on auratic impact, of which the intensity is in the end delimited by the repetitive concentration on the recurring figure in his artistic oeuvre. The kind of presence, between emotionalising proximity and a compositional arrangement, provides the key to the experience of the painting: trusting in the possibilities of painting, reality opens up from reciprocal physically and psychologically based individual existence.
Nevertheless, the artist uses traditional pictorial means in the medium of painting. Schoemakers’ paintings are always excellently crafted. They partially take on a life of their own, ultimately tending towards free painting in their detailed structure through the chosen views of the body. No matter how realistic the faces in the pictures may appear, they vanish in the details or grow beyond themselves through painting. The physical appears as a form or as a formal framework in which individual parts such as the nipples, the neck, the collarbone or the thorax have a function that structures the appearance. In Schoemakers’s paintings, the real implies at the same time a principally unguided, emphatically sensual interplay between depth of content and its opposite: the banal. Both are conceivable and seem real as a reflection of our everyday experience of life. In René Schoemakers’s paintings, the human being ultimately remains placeless, thrown back on himself. In his pictures, this existential state sometimes shows touching, sometimes grotesque features. One is never sure of oneself in front of these paintings. Reality is fractured with the means of art and thus enters our sensual consciousness even more effectively. And: René Schoemakers hits the nerve of our lives. This does not let him rest, it is the intrinsic force in his work. But this does not let us, the viewers of his paintings, rest either.
Uwe Haupenthal, Director Richard-Haizmann-Museum, Niebüll
The Unencumbered Self series is an ingenious twist, tied back in the old masters and pointed towards current politics. Intriguing in its philosophically outreaching dimension, as well as in its eye-catching painterly delicacy.
This painter is a razor. How he knows how to incise with his painting is the secret of his conception, which always lives entirely from the medium of the painting and at the same time does not ground itself without the hint of an intellectual boldness. It is the clarity, even hardness, that characterises his paintings, which seek their place alongside the old masters of art history, just as much as his eloquence, which points beyond what happens in the paintings, but is always part of the pictorial reflective framework. René Schoemakers makes no painterly, philosophical or political offers of reconciliation. He does not allow himself to be pacified. On the other hand, his warm-hearted attention is devoted to his family, his five children, his wife, the almost invariably models for his portraits and nudes, executed with devotion.
Although Schoemakers mainly formulates from his private background, he always looks at the world as a whole, at all the existential distortions that life in an amusement society entails under conditions of terrorism, racism, paranoia and fake news. However, it is not only his being-in-time that becomes more and more of an artistic jam (according to “too bold to rock’n’roll”) the longer Schoemakers paints in cycles and the more he follows a progressive flow. It is not only empathy and anger that turn his paintings into platforms of discourse, it is also the power of his observation, which is the gaze of the Other on this world so strongly marked by the gaze of quacks and shrunken expectations of quality, with no understanding of the search for truth and the quest for knowledge.
The body of work “The Unencumbered Self” (2018) is Schoemakers’s latest coup, with which he shatters the mirror of contemporary parochialism. The series of paintings continues the trend of the last series, which always also deal with “the self-assertion of the individual embodied consciousness against the rest of the world”. This was the case in “The Missing Kink” (2014/15), in “Dystopia” (2015/16) and Schoemakers’s phenomenal “Cranach Suite” (2017).
The exhibition of sixteen works in the Cranach Hall of Gottorf Castle (2017/18), conceived as an artistic intervention and dispute with Lucas Cranach the Elder, underlined Schoemakers’ desire for contradiction and “backfire”. His criticism of Martin Luther’s dogmatics, presented with artistic means in reverence of Cranach, was a surprise, an exception in the year of jubilant Luther events.
Looking at Schoemaker’s “When the saints go marchin’ in” (2017), a purposefully poisoned three-pack of saint depictions featuring Pierre Vogel (the former German boxer and later Islamist hate preacher), Martin Luther and Steve Bannon (Donald Trump’s former advisor), combined in synopsis with a “Reformation Standard” (2017), which is modelled on IS war flags in shape and colour and bears the triple Arabic lettering “alone”, Schoemaker’s critique of ideological vehemence in general then works. With double-edged argumentation, he dances on a knife’s edge. Schoemakers’ bluntness in a subtle painting disguise succeeds through its surprise effect. He combines the “fight against illusionism” with broadsides for/against “institutional critique” and for/against “deconstruction”. Schoemakers stages himself as the “Pale King” (cf. the novel of the same title by David Foster Wallace), who at times represents extremely contrary views, confronts us with emotionless analyses and then, in his desire to be alive, paints with recurring vanitas inserts on the awareness of his own mortality. Death and contempt for death are in each other’s arms. Now we know what time has come. For “the unbound self” is of course a fiction, the “self-empowerment of the absolute self” a provocation, because it knows neither the freedom of others nor its own conscience and must, as Fichte already demanded, be overcome. In his wonderfully radical occidental universe of painting, Schoemakers has found manifold equivalents for this in image and idea. Painted landscapes of thought always lead to a tangibility of the world, whose wounds and wonders are fuelled layer by layer with colour.
Christoph Tannert, Director Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
The exhibition “Blendwerk” (Deception) at the Museum Kalkar presents works by the Kiel-based artist René Schoemakers created over the last three years. One focus of the exhibition is the series “The Unencumbered Self”, which will be shown in its entirety for the first time in April in Berlin, but which is already on display in Kalkar in its essential works. This selection is complemented by a series of canvas works from the series of works from 2014-2017.
René Schoemakers’s pictorial stagings do not convey any sense of comfort; the world appears as a place of overlapping contexts of meaning in which the concrete individual becomes entangled without finding its final place. Although for 30 years now the wife, alongside the artist himself and their five children, has been the main motif in most of the works, there are no intimate genre scenes, but rather unemotional stagings that are more reminiscent of performances. Actions, gestures and looks point beyond what is naturalistically depicted, multiplied by a multitude of different and intertwined levels of representation (drawings, pictograms, toy figures, etc.).
Nothing in these works is realistic. In this respect, they are rather reflections in the painting on reality and likewise the reality of the paintings. What is open to the viewer is the entry into a network of images and cross-references, where worldliness only arises in the suspension of immediacy.
The immediate presence of the individually identifiable figures in the painting creates a dialectical tension, for on the one hand it IS this figure, but on the other hand it is certainly NOT, for the figures have their bodily appearance in the picture, but refer primarily to themselves in the picture, not as a simple representation of something outside the painting. Immediate proximity and inaccessible distance cancel each other out, what remains is the undeniable reality of the image itself.
The series of the last few years focus increasingly on the tension between the individual and the environment, are political in that Schoemakers always gives priority to individual existence, to concrete physicality, over all ideological claims. All this is negotiated at a distance, in the imitation of a B-movie set, Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, an exploding stick of dynamite, masks, theatre blood and make-up. Nothing is real and therefore everything is so close to life.
Anders Siech, art historian, Hamburg