Fabian Lehnert »Jalan, jalan«
22 April—27 May 2017
A conversation. By Susanne Pfleger
In his pictorial concepts and strategies, the Leipzig artist Fabian Lehnert combines our pleasure in looking with an existential-philosophical discourse. He leads us into wondrous, fascinating worlds populated by human and animal beings or hybrids. Humans, animals and plants appear in the pictures in an ongoing process of merging and crossing. The idyll of the exotic topographies is deceptive, however. Considering the developments and possibilities of natural science, Lehnert's at first glance harmless fantasy figures make the viewer's blood run cold. His preferred media are drawing and printmaking, although he also likes to leave the drawing sheet to work directly on the wall. For the exhibition at Josef Filipp's, he has chosen large, wall-filling canvases as picture supports onto which he applies the drawings without primer.
In addition, he has produced drawings and etchings in recent years that show masks and masking in the most diverse forms. Like all his works, they thematise a connection between man, nature, plants and animals. The spectrum ranges from Indian masks to masks of the Portuguese community Lazarim. By slipping into a mask, the wearer becomes one with the masked being and often the animal is the alter ego of the human being in a ritual context.
Like many artists, Fabian Lehnert is a passionate collector. If you visit him in his studio, a microcosm of the most diverse objects, folios and found objects opens up to you. His booty from nature and everyday life combine in the works to form a structure of a very unique dimension. The installations he has created recently resemble a cabinet of curiosities and arouse our curiosity and desire to discover. As in his paintings, Fabian Lehnert creates imaginary worlds here in which the boundaries between nature and human creation, between discovery and appropriation of nature, become blurred.
Fabian Lehnert undertook a trip to Indonesia in the winter of 2016/17. In Bahasa Indonesia the national language, jalan, jalan is the term for walking. As a metaphor for moving on, moving without a concrete goal, whether on a journey or in the pictorial space, he uses it to title his latest spatial installation. And thus invites the viewer to stroll through the unknown worlds himself.
There are countless bones in your installations.
How did you gather this trove?
The bones are all found. When I see them on site, I don't ask myself how I will use them artistically. I don't take everything with me, though, because my capacities are limited, of course. I'm looking for different bones and skulls. In the end, I'm surprised that I don't find many more bones.
What interests you about the bones? Are they formal studies?
Everything I have found I have drawn at least once. For me, it's an occasion to work anatomically and analyse that once. I never thought that I would ever have a certain vocabulary of Latin terms of bones. That I would be able to go into the forest and know what kind of animal it is or what part of the body it is that is lying there in front of me.
In the past, you just collected the bones. Now the found objects are
in small compositions or large-scale installations.
Yes, although I don't have the time and leisure for that at the moment. There are many things I would like to do. This link between bones and my drawings came about by chance. The drawing and the bird were there. All at once they fitted together. The parts I have give me the composition. They are scraps with which I assemble something. That comes together quickly for me. A fern then becomes the wing of a bird. I find this mixture of different elements exciting. I am fascinated by the fact that the individual elements fit together like a puzzle. The basic structure is the same for all living things.
What sources do you use for your drawings and graphics?
That varies a lot. Very often I choose direct models for my works, which I draw from. Among other sources, I use various old encyclopaedias - the oldest dates back to 1844. The illustrations inspire me to create my own compositions or help me to check the correct anatomy of individual animals, their visual axes and reactions to each other when acting together. For the current large canvas work, I used only one book as a model, which deals thematically with Egypt and Egyptian animals. I found it very interesting that many mixed creatures appear in the Egyptian depictions, which are also very present in my works. However, they do not relate to Egyptian culture in my works. The mixed creatures develop out of the artistic working process. When painting or drawing, I start with a set piece, for example an animal head, on which the rest is built. Then the body can become human, although the head is already animal. Or the other way round—a human head with an animal body.
You have painted extinct animal species in earlier works,
that only exist as pictures in older encyclopaedias.
With the extinct animals, it's very much about the image. Our idea of the dodo, for example, is quite different from what the realistic animal was. The drawings and copying from the copies has deformed the animal to such an extent that it has finally taken on a completely different appearance. I found that exciting. However, extinct animals rarely appear in my work now.
Some of the motifs in my compositions are very detailed
and others are more implied. How do you decide that?
Does the artistic realisation have anything to do with the originals?
Yes, definitely. Some details I can't define so well for myself. But I don't want my drawing to correspond exactly to the original. Some things are still in the intermediate stage and not finished. Sometimes the brush I use is also decisive. Do I have a thick or thin brush? Do I have a lot of paint or a little paint? Is it more glazing or opaque? With the sloth here, it was like the rough was already there - nose, mouth, eyes - and I thought I needed to define it a bit more. There comes a point in the working process when I don't have to formulate the animals or plants any further. In the end, it's a compositional decision.
—By Susanne Pfleger
Prof. Dr. Susanne Pfleger
Director of the Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg