Peter Hock »Morphomaniac«
5 November—3 December 2016

Peter Hock’s monumental charcoal drawings contain complex spatial illusions.
The artist creates works that make the dark and bizarre aspects of everyday
objects come to the fore.
The result: morbid still-lifes or mysterious dream landscapes.
In contrast to capturing amoment like a photograph would,
these drawings relay the gradual process of their creation.

Peter Hock — Night-Spaces
»More heavenly than those glittering stars
We hold the eternal eyes
Wich the Night hath opened within us.
Novalis, Hymns to the Night

The night can activate human self-awareness, opening up an affective spectrum of experiences. The night makes objects around us seem both dead and alive at the same time, evoking sensual instincts and reminding the beholder of existential matters. It can give an uncanny impression while also relaying a feeling of security, altering our perception of our environment and making imaginary spaces appear. On further reflection, the inherent dichotomy of the contrasts of the night can also be summarised into pairs of terms that play an important role Peter Hock’s work: day and night, light and dark, light and shadows, black and white. People perceive these conflicting effects in the material and emotional qualities of his drawings. Drawing directly on art history and the fascination since early modernity of the popular subject matter of  night pictures, Hock uses painterly and emotional effects in his drawings to hook the viewer. The main focus of his work are qualities of the most basic artistic form of visual expression, drawing, while also referring to art historical myths. The notion of light darkness, the contrast created by the play of light and shadow on an object was also used, according to Greek mythology, by the daughter of the ancient potter, Butades. According to legend, she created the first depiction of a human being by drawing the shadow cast by her beloved on a wall.

Hock’s artistic approach is a radical reduction for contemporary standards: his utensils are merely white paper and charcoal. Using these materials, he creates opulent images of monumental dimensions. Most of these works are composed vertically and are larger than life, forcing viewers to maintain a distance to take the entire picture in. From afar, what he depicts appears textural and develops, as one beholds it, more and more three-dimensionality. A wide range of differentiated grey tones combined with deep black provide his work the illusion of depth. Yet the lack of colour also provides distance to what is portrayed, making the subject matter more difficult to identify, more abstract. Additionally, despite the nearly photo-realistic impression the work emanates, a mysterious lack of clarity challenges viewers to deal with what they behold with a great attention. The viewer contemplates, trying to identify what he sees, oscillating between recognition and mystification. Active inspection becomes a prerequisite for the work. At the heart of Hock’s art is the boundary between the human perception of illusion and what is really there, deception and reality.

However, on close examination, the surfaces, compositions and perspective in his drawings attract the viewer’s attention through the detailed depictions of the materials portrayed. Structures and textures make the skill of  his draughtsmanship the main focus of attention. The coal dust that is clearly visible on teh surface is a result of the making of each piece, while also attesting to the works’ fragility. He sometimes uses improvised instruments to fulfil a specific function of elaborate effort, like the smooth, black surfaces which often feature in his work. Velvety, matt expanses are not treated with a fixative to prevent smearing; instead, the powdery nature of the charcoal is revealed. Areas of black on black vary considerably too. White areas and lines are left untreated so that the white paper functions not only as the surface unto which the drawing is applied, but also as a visual feature itself that functions as an element in the composition of its own right.

A preliminary stage in Hock’s process for each drawing entails taking photographs, usually of everyday objects, which he then re-works on his computer to attain precisely the effect he has in mind. Are the images microscopic shots enlarged thousandfold? Is the viewer confronted with a view of tangled undergrowth, branches, metal or plastic waste? Forms appear out of this dark universe and then, as quickly as one thinks that one has a good look at them, disappear again into blackness. The relationship of the depicted to reality is skewed and proportions altered, provoking viewers to take more notice of their surroundings and their own place therein, and in the process to pay more attention to their own spatial and temporal perceptions.

Any attempt to place Hock’s drawings in an art historical genre or category brings to mind still-lifes and landscape painting, as well as portraiture and genre-scenes, such as when, to name but one example, the artist’s own rubbish provides both the motif as well as insights into his lifestyle. The edges are blurred, hindering obvious classification of either the subject or of a clearly-defined visual tradition. Commonalities can be found with the movement Nouveau Réalisme’s tenant of finding new ways of perceiving the real as can be seen in 17th and 18th century Dutch hunting still-lifes with their fondness for optical illusions that comment on the frailty of earthly existence. Memories of nocturnes of dark Romanticism also come to the fore, of the dark other side of dreams at night, and shadow figures which can be interpreted in a number of ways. Hock plays with the possibility of bringing these ideas together while using them for his own, individual visual vocabulary. The uncanny blends with the familiar, recognition and revulsion, a pleasurable shiver and a tempting fright come together with sensual morbidity.

Many of Hock’s works also evoke memories of biological or organic forms and often appear to be a series of morphological research. Many of his titles also draw attention to the fact that some of the pictures could have easily come from scientific research projects. Yet these clearly pseudo-scientific names are onomatopoeic thought-up terms, often combined with words that really exist and technical terms, taking his apparently methodical approach to an absurd extreme. The idea of an objective claim to truth, which is implied by photgraphic qualities in teh work, is revealed as a pseudo-truth.  

Details in these pictures bring the hidden potential for abstraction and human perceptive processes to the surface. Hock is currently exploring these ideas on smaller sheets of paper as well. By transposing objects that might otherwise not be considered worthy of portrayal as art into drawings, transforming them into works that oscillate between abstraction, figuration and illusion, these works offer viewers a range of inner and external realms to behold and marvel at.
—By Nadine Rottau  /Translated by Deborah Phillips

Dr. phil. Nadine Rottau
Doctorate in Art History
Art Writer & Exhibition Manager
Lives and works in Berlin

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