Thomas Behling

The restaged archology of images

Thomas Behling´s finds art between mundane world and cloudiness

by Rainer Beßling

The varnish of the frame is already flaking, some of the grounding is pale and the colours are faded. These images can not deny their age. Even the motifs are under patina. The portrait of a man, produced approximately around 1900, a city panorama, presumably older, a statue of Jesus as a postcard motif, decorative floral ornaments. And where the natural flowers applied to the frame could not endure there are still their outlines contrasting to the yellowed paper.

Thomas Behling takes by his images the observer to a passed epoch into the time of devotional images, romantic landscapes, emotional city skylines and austere effigies in hues and shades of sepia which had decorated lounges in order to serve its residents to their enlightenment. The danification of the varnish and the blank spots prove the once so frequent use of the devotional objects. But they also refer to regardless storage, disconsideration or simply to the fate of fashion in decoration, piety and devoutness to nature.

There is more than one epoch between the images and their audience. They come from different worlds in terms of aesthetics and mentality. This time travel that Behling puts on stage does not leave us untouched. Depending on the mood and connection to the reverberation of passed generations the works cause gaiety or alienation and most of all irritation. What appears at first sight as a relict, reveals at a closer examination as massive interventions and finally the contemplator cannot be sure of what is found and what is fabrication.

On one image a young man with stand-up collar, bow and hair well parted down the middle, gazing full of dignity out of the prestigious oval photo mount could claim his place in any ancestral portrait gallery (untitled, 2009). Around those portraits grow stories and legends. Later-borns make an ancestor like this say sentences of great importance. For non-insiders it is a weird face full of enigmas, somebody unknown, passed by long time ago who in the moment of the picture taking could still look ahead onto his further live. Thomas Behling has cloudlike spots made circulate the face and consequently reinforces the images etheric appearance and adds to the portrayed man an empty speech balloon.

Clouds - by there substance characterized inetween materia and idea - are part of Behlings continuous expression. They are his code for foggy apparitions and nebulous haziness and show up as attributes of the unearthly. When such a small cloud appears before the open hands of a stony Jesus, the statue does not seem just floating but the viewer gets the impression to observe God´s son creating miracles ("Jesus", 2009).

Thomas Behling endows his work the look-and-feel of fleamarket and discoveries on the attic. He garnished them with cryptic or abysmal sources of irritation. The observer cannot be sure if the traces of use and time are authentic or added by the artist. Neither can all of the silhouettes claim to be of true icone origin.

In this sense the work "LOST IDOL" seems to be a devotional image having lost the colour of the central character giving room for the wooden grounding to appear. In the show case filthy artificial flowers, dust, feculences of insects, glitter and spots of paint have their rest. The object tries hard to appear authentic but only a fraction is old. What does this strategy aim for? Fun by faking? Mere piracy? The disclosure of the dodge is an amiable form to unmask the sanctimonious devoutness to images. Who will trust the "true icon"? Images are earthly products/ one understands by looking at "LOST IDOL", therefore idols get lost.

The moment Behling visualizes devine missions and inspirations he is following a horizon very much down to earth. Consequently he cannot imagine the "Мariä Empfämgnis / Maria conception" otherwise than the physical arrival of a heavenly messenger. In a barock scenery half of the angelical cohort witnesses a rather active annunciation and a dedicative conception. An art print following a handpainted model of the artist, obviously not being offered at a pilgrims route. But as Behling operates with the stylistic means of piety the action´s blaspemic component is almost covered in the heavenly glistening for an instant by the faith in miracles.

Along with the saints - as goldenly crowned idols almost disintegrated or drawn back into shadowy existence - the more or less amorphous representatives of the mortals populate Behling´s works. Being more a lumbering mass than a body those representatives reside - crouching or kneeling-- in a pre-stadium to walking upright as well as in constant humbleness. In "Rotenfels" (2009) such a being is floating above a steep face of rock. This may be seen as an allegory of a home- and restless earthling circulating like a derooted satellite around his planet because the artist focuses a rim preferred by suiciders. The body falling and the soul´s mantle wafting away may even so unite in the black gestalt.
With beings from the chamber of horrors of the fairy-tales and do-it-yourself chimera Behling enriches his repertoire of protagonists in his work. Unable to create an image neither of the supernatural nor of the obstinate homo sapiens flanked by heralds of threat and alltime worriers on one side and on the other by the messengers of salvation and delieverers of mercy can only duck down. Corresponding to the cloudiness of this peregrination there is a lot uncertainty left in the finds of Thomas Behling. The illusively historic find, the piety, the romanticizing of nature and the once happy family framed in, our image of long gone times and the intervention of the artist


Published in the exhibition´s catalogue "Trashmigration" in Galerie "Alpineum"
2010, Luzern

translated by Eckart