MUNICH.- Small-scale oil paintings on wood, figurative subjects, colouristic sophistication at first glance the painting of Swiss-born artist Stephan Melzl appears to stand in the tradition of the old masters, perhaps even seeming an anachronism in the world of contemporary art. And yet in his own distinctive way, the artist manages to combine traditional pictorial traditions with a modern aesthetic, in the process reinventing allegory for the 21st century.
From afar, the muted colours of the small panel paintings radiate an aura of familiarity. Up close, however, a strange, unsettling silence emanates from the works. It would almost appear as if time has been suspended in them. The figures solemn statuary impression helps to elevate the objects they carry into the kind of attributes known to us in art history through the depictions of saints.
The scenes have a stage-like quality, partly due to the artificiality of the lighting within the scene. Everyday objects and symbols, bodies and shadows are surreally invested with alternative meanings. Scenes-within-a-scene create a dialogue between past and present, sparking associations with Giotto, Reni, Hopper or Balthus, and purposefully blending genres: devotional panel and film still, idyll and pin-up, the grotesque and the pop gesture.
What makes Stephan Melzls paintings so distinctive is their archetypal intensity. They can be read as imaginary sets where dreams are acted out, as metaphors for unpredictable emotional states, or in their baffling combination of seriousness and humour as anarchic revisions of a supposedly perfect world.
The exhibition brings together, for the first time, around 40 works dating from the past 15 years. Five of the paintings come from the Pinakothek der Moderne itself. They have been enriched by additional works in the Goetz Collection, as well as by other private loans.
Stephan Melzl was born in Basel in 1959 and lives and works in Frankfurt am Main.