Eberhard Haverkost’s recent paintings at White Cube, London, continue to use a wide range of photographic sources, from holiday and domestic snapshots to the long lens framings of sports, news and drama. Some are obvious, others not, and the result tends to a muted realism, a blending of painterly and photographic resources.
Haverkost resists the detail and precision of 70s Photo Realism, the attention to intricate and novel texture, strong reflectance, to photographic traits of under and over-exposure (for light and motion), depth of field or focus, film or print grain and tone screen dot or pixel densities in wider publication, all previously explored in painting. He understandably avoids the ambiguous blurrings of Gerhard Richter, the more elaborate and diverse printing steps of Sigmar Polke. Haverkost’s contribution is narrower, rests with distinctive framing, tonal or chromatic standards and spatial relations or setting for a given object. The paintings often exploit the camera’s angles and lenses for typical objects, even clichés, such as the close-ups of a soldier or sportsman (note: links to the White Cube website are not to individual works, enlargements – such as they are - have to selected from thumbnails) the low angle views of high rise buildings.
At other times the objects impose a scale and depth upon the pictures (as in Intro 1 2001 or Shelf 2002) through familiarity or prestige. Equally, the spare frontality of design to a holiday home or caravan resists greater detail, virtually render the picture a model or design as well. So the issue is not simply photography’s part in realism, but also of the design of things that influence our pictures of them, in painting, photography or other printing. Glib talk of ‘mediated images’ in this matter is unhelpful, since what image is unmediated? For that matter, what object goes without an image? (A point urged by art historians, especially since Gombrich). More accurately, Haverkost’s work points to the way some objects make for certain pictures while some pictures make for certain objects. The project has become an array for realism, between competing styles and objects.
The issue carries through to abstraction, to what counts as formal values in painting and pictures. Haverkost’s ‘still life’ compositions run to anonymous wrapped packages, building debris and garbage dumps, to close-ups of carpentry structures, furniture and interior design. The pictures still depict three dimensions, but stripped of greater focus or detail, the works tend to deal in just the play with depth or volume, against their two-dimensional or abstract qualities. While not notably photographic, such works deal in just the kind of abstraction photography has traditionally pursued, in the work of say Aaron Siskind, or Minor White. To render this in painting, however, actually serves to underline perspective and depth; to make abstraction, like realism here, compromised or relative.
While these issues are raised in Haverkost’s work, they are not always pointed to clearly or effectively. Painting remains curiously constrained, as far as contributing pictorial options. Drawing is dedicated to just photo tracing. Broad facture mostly stresses colour or tone, flattens or simplifies a shape or plane, but this hardly taxes photographic or print sources, nor suggests much in interesting influence or extension to a potent object. As noted, there is much in photography and printing that Haverkost leaves to others, but to do so successfully, he then needs to take much more in painting.
The problem is the realism is never compelling enough, because styling and abstraction are too conservative (or vice versa). Either way, the array is too narrow. Results are finally somewhat muted or neutered. Haverkost’s model is in many ways Richter (another Dresdener) in painting of photography, in range of common sources, attention to both realism and abstraction. And like Richter, Haverkost’s drawing tends to become a slave to its sources and denies other options. Haverkost might profitably look to other models. His source material could as easily be exploited by a Luc Tuymans, Neo Rauch, Alex Katz or John Currin, to offer four diverse examples of conspicuous drawing and attitudes. So far, Haverkost has been cautious in this regard, although perhaps recognises the problem. In works such as the small PC 2 (2000), the modelling to the girl’s face exhibits a daring and freshness, nicely contrasted with the photographic cropping or framing, but sorely lacking in other figures and contrasts, such as Kommunikation (2006).
Haverkost has only hit his stride with the turn of the century so it may be too early to complain. But if the project is to convincingly integrate painting and photography, realism and style; much more of one and preferably both will be needed.