Thomas Behling

Framed, seized and engirded.

Frames – a feature between Imagination and Delineation

Image frames whose original function is to protect the contained images and their presentation receive special attention by Thomas Behling. The artist refers to them not only as embellishing accessoires but as an equally qualified part of the object and he refers furthermore to medieval altar pieces as his works and frames belong together unseparably. Thomas Behling works with richly ornamented, heavily profiled frames as well as with simple narrow moldings which square the field of the image. They form at the same time a system of arrangement and internal relations of all image elements and also an action framework of the interacting gestalts and by this they create a type of window into his visionary world.

Those frames with their paint partially chipped off used by the artist show traces, blemishes, voids and cracks. They point to the use and history of days gone by. Melancholy is hovering over these objets trouvés which once being estimated decorated living rooms and after having lost their importance and fallen into oblivion were to end eventually on the flea market, the spot of profaned souvenirs. Thomas Behling recovered them from this oblivion. Being re-discovered and re-valued they sustain as objects of his art a metamorphosis. By loosening the decade old ties created through a statue like situation Thomas Behling ends their hibernation. He changes contents and motifs, empties the frame.

Images experience a higher evaluation when golden molded and uplifted to the eye level. Also by vitrification and sometimes by using name tags at the image verges Thomas Behling is making well use of the classical art presentation in traditional museums.
The panes come into emergence because the artist deliberately does not disburden them from the dust of time. On the contrary, especially the insides of the originally transparent panes -having become perceivable by the dust- mark clearly separated layers and lead the view into the space between those layers as the place of the internal image event. The artist plays with the showcase aspect of frames and the mutual conflict between presentation and separation. His images reach a proper presence within the room, they become objects of observance. Their frames focus the observer´s attention conceding him insights while the panes prevent a direct contact and the work eludes. Also in a protective and conserving sense one can compare Thomas Behling´s frames and moldings to a vitrine or showcase although their traces of aging consciously left seem to contradict this. Is a pane even cracked as in Untitled, 2005 than this pane refers in its fragility to human transitoriness and to the fact that by time the conserver decays as much as the conserved object.

Frames are the inspiring material of Thomas Behling´s work. Many times they guide him to the first idea of an image. The artist employs reproductions including their original frames as well as bare frames only. When in the course of his labour Thomas Behling wants to enlarge the format of an image he seeks for an old adequate frame or creates a new one. To this purpose he submits wood and paper to an artificial aging process, adding more grain or texture and mould stains. In order to generate the impression of historical authenticity of patina covering the material his interventions are carried out without almost any traces. He sneaks into the images, adopts existing backgrounds, adds figures or silhouettes covering parts of the image which thus encode the different meanings of the intermediate levels. Although creating the impression of an unbroken unity of image and frame Thomas Behling breaks the achieved harmony and makes illusiveness the issue. There – in a sweet summer night with an idyllicly twinkling starry sky - is loneliness waiting ("God bless Your Love!", 2007) or there – on a romantic bench under the foliage of a protecting tree – threat lurks ("The Girl and the Black Man", 2006). It is the application of worn frames that intentionally causes a delay while regarding and detecting the testimony of his images.

Thomas Behling frequently extends the distance between back cover and protective glass obtaining a treasury which in its profoundness and with its diorama quality comes close to saints´ shrines. Small, lovely and surrounded by an aura of the ephemeral they appear like devotional objects.
In an unsteady world deprived of its deities the subject gains a new interpretation in Thomas Behling's work. Observing how people find support in faith he is focusing the issue on the difference between intangible fiction and touchable fact by moulding the space of his art into a frame. To present the immaterial and to transport it into dimensions open to be experienced means on the other side to construct a base for it. Freedom of imagination hits here upon the limitation by size. In order to trigger new visual and acoustic effects the artist also installs light and sound in some of his works. Additionally, as in Untitled, 2005 he applies foils of a flashy opalescence changing their appearance by different daylight. Also “whole body armor with a bore to speak through” (2005) vexes by its contorted reflections where the metallic reflecting image object is installed directly on the back-side of the frame, an area which normally does not appear. In Thomas Behling´s work it becomes a changing image back ground rich in nuances and technical details as rivets originally merely functional get a meaning as formal elements of the compositions.

Larger works Thomas Behling accommodates into exuberant frames which correspond in form and stile with the image contents. “God blesses your Love“(2007), for example, posses a framing of conventionalized foliage ornament repeating the foliage of the scenery. Also the golden colour of the frame shines at some polished spots like the stars in the background of the painting. In “Little Boy is afraid of the Dark Man” (2007) the frame equates the neoclassical angel´s motif. Although being made afterwards, it conserves the austerity and simplicity of the original. Finally there is the “Schwellenmann” (2008) which posses a frame decorated with waves being repeated there in the painting where fog partially covers the landscape and even though clear forms and vague schemes appear.

Thomas Behling accomplishes most of the colour correlations between the frames and the content of art by the use of gold. In “Holy shrine” I (2005) it is the bright outline of the saint which equates the delicate golden moulding. Its colour is seized in the nimbus while the second figure resembles the dark corpus of the frame. Repeating colours is for Thomas Behling the mean to complete the composition.
Also in “Gloria” I/III (2008) the relatively big black frame enhances the cramping effect of the leaden saint´s nimbus. In this aspect the interaction between frame and painting in “The Girl and the Black Man” (2006) deserve special attention.
In this work the male figure of the heterogeneous couple shows only at his hands human-like traces. Surprisingly thereto is a contrasting gradient of colour
on its left fore-arm from an ominous vague dark to the bright hand designed with many a detail. This gradient retraced on the frame whose peeling black colour concedes quite a few times a glance on the lightishly primed wood.

An unsual multi-colouration surrounds the “Image of a Saint” IV (2005) whose frame is made of innumerous artificial flowers. They enfold a saint dimly presented and build plastically a soft frame which contrasts strongly with the monochrome image area. The highest intensity of his subject-matter “frame” is demonstrated in Thomas Behling´s untitled work (2006), a frame almost unexisting framing another artistic framing. An actual object is missing as the original document had been detached by the artist. Although the sheet really posses a thin frame, this frame almost withdraws from sight in favour of the internal framing, which reveals itself as an illusion capable even so to overcome the holding frame. The alienating emptiness in the center of the object is comparable to the manifold voids and scratched out spots of other works of THB. This emptiness demands cogitation on existing frames and -as so often in the oeuvre of the artist- can be interpreted as a symbol of transitoriness and lost memento. This idea becomes visible by the traces of aging of paper, silver and glass as much as by the oxidation of the framing elements.

As the images´ stories in Thomas Behling´s work usually takes place in small frameworks which are so easy to perceive the artist acts firstly conventionally. The employed contents seem to stay within this convention, too, but his artistic intervention is thwarting this impression by his discrepancies and alieniations. In this way the artist is holding a mirror to society.
The internal silver framing of the untitled image (2006) grants the object its representative character. It triggers expectations and still stays empty. The border alone is the artistical master plan.
The clip-on picture frame seemingly firm and solid although apt to easy changes turns into a metaphor of the unsteadiness of our time.

Corona Unger
in: Wenn Du noch Mut hast, so danke Gott und sei zufrieden, 2008

translated by Eckart