One of the last series of work from Martin Kippenberger, The Raft of the Medusa is nothing if not impressive. Taking the dramatic tableau of Theodore Géricault’s 19th century work as his inspiration, the artist threw himself body and soul into this series of paintings, drawings, photographs, and even a single tapestry, turning his own body into the fuel for a powerful engagement with the destruction and pathos of the original work. It’s this inspiration that sits at the center of Skarstedt Gallery’s current show of the series of works, compiling Kippenberger’s sketches and photographs alongside his series of visceral, energetic canvases, which served as the apex of his work in the series.
Kippenberger’s enthusiasm and intense work ethic can be seen throughout the exhibition, as he flings his body fully into repeated studies and sketches made before the creation of the canvases. The artist drapes his body over a bedframe, lies motionless, or covers himself in a sheet, seeking to recreate the various poses of the suffering crew in Géricault’s original canvas. These forms become the artist’s obsession throughout the show, continually drawing and redrawing them in a series of milieu and media, preparing himself to create the works on canvas.
As such, the paintings of the show are something of a thesis statement in Kippenberger’s dynamic style and extended process. Blocked colors are dotted with harsh, rugged figuration, and bear the marks of violent scraping and alteration. In some works, huge gobs of paint are laid across the space of the canvas, punctuating the surface of the work with a strangely compelling depth. As a whole, the work is a fascinating look into Kippenberger’s creative process.
With the sheer depth of work focusing on a small series of poses and forms, one can watch Kippenberger develop the fundamental forms, lines and shades that define his work, and ultimately reduce his compositions down to these basic elements. All of the gestural capacity, the essential pathos of the original works is preserved, even as Kippenberger pushes the abstraction of his works to the extremes.
Combining the artist’s signature sense of playfulness with his exceptional sense of composition and color, The Raft of the Medusa is a powerful, and ultimately tragic last look at the work of one of the late 20th Century’s most dynamic and relentlessly inventive artists. Pushing his formal abilities alongside a compelling sense of color and abstracted space, Skarstedt’s exhibition offers a strong link between Kippenberger and much of the painterly abstraction explored today.