Through Sept. 11. Michael Werner
Heavy, brooding landscapes spread out in Markus Lüpertz’s 13 recent paintings at Michael Werner’s Upper East Side gallery. The reference to European art and history and literature is overt: His wobbly trees, daubed skies and unnatural lights pay homage to the postimpressionist art movement in France. The mood of the paintings recall Paul Gauguin’s oeuvre — particularly his work in Tahiti, which Lüpertz makes especially glaring by including a recurring female figure similar in gesture to those in Gauguin’s; she is also present in other Lüpertz works like “Nymphe Märkisch,” “Idylle” and “Fisher und Nymphe,” always with her back to the viewer. Mythological figures from Greek legends like Jason also appear in paintings such as “Jasons Abschied.”
But Lüpertz, after paying tribute, veers off quickly on his own path. Unlike Gauguin, who worked with bright, lively colors evoking a sense of sometimes problematic exoticism, Lüpertz uses colors that are dark and weighty and suggest a sense of longing. He sheds off the smooth skin in Gauguin and embraces a rocky, blocklike body structure for the people in his paintings, as though they were sculptures interrupting the landscape.
Now 80, Lüpertz’s hand is definitely strong, well-trained, and experienced — he skillfully transports his influences into his own fully formed landscape, his own universe. One wonders: in what atmosphere did this painter work? Did his practice as a sculptor inform his choice of these fat strokes and thick swabs in creating people with stony flesh? Why is it evening in all the paintings?
In 2010, Lüpertz’s “Pastoral Thoughts” showed at this gallery, buoyed with themes like history, abstraction and his signature landscape motifs. A decades later, in “Recent Paintings,” he sheds off abstraction but moves further into history. It is as if he’s dreaming backward — albeit clearer now, leaning once again toward what it might feel like to be there in the beginning, at the garden of Eden.