When you first meet him, Christopher Lehmpfuhl seems very clearheaded, at peace with himself. What he says sounds sensible. How is it then that this friendly young man, whose movements are so controlled, can paint such exhilarating pictures? After talking to him for a while, one begins to notice a kind of tenseness—the deep-seated, tenacious strength that impels him to paint picture after picture, tirelessly. Immune to fatigue and weakness, Christopher Lehmpfuhl paints for hours almost everyday, without rest, conjuring up the great theme of his art, again and again. Whether in Australia, Austria, or Berlin, his obsession drives him onward. There is no weather, no wind or rain, no extremes of steep mountains or dangerous cliffs that can hold him back. His painting style resembles a natural phenomenon.
Christopher Lehmpfuhl’s art is entirely of this world. He paints street corners in Charlottenburg in Berlin, snow-covered peaks in the Alps, and yellow rape fields in Uckermark. He has seen everything he paints with his own eyes; he identifies something worthwhile then realizes it in a picture. These motifs may often be unspectacular—like the corner of a house, a pond, a meadow with bushes—but they always bear the Lehmpfuhl signature.
Each picture takes shape directly in front of its subject. We can see whether it is raining, or if white clouds are passing over. The picture tells us whether it is noon or late in the day, whether there are stormy skies, or a light breeze rippling the ocean’s surface. We experience nature through the picture; we experience art with the artist. We feel what he feels, we see what he sees, and we sense the danger that threatens him—that he could easily fall. But that is also what makes these works so fascinating to us. It is a key aspect of his art: this open, honest feeling.
When we describe the processes, intentions, and technical improvisations behind Christopher Lehmpfuhl’s paintings, it is hard not to think of Impressionist painting. But this would not do the artist justice, for he truly does not see the leisure society of the past—the cobalt blue and coelin in the sky, or the fine green nuances in the trees. Instead, he sees the insurrection of things.
He has 120 years of modern art history to draw on, beginning with Vincent van Gogh (the first artist to distort reality) and continuing up to the Expressionism of the Brücke painters, Munch, Soutine, the British painter Bacon, and Auerbach, and the dissolution of the entire painted world in Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism. Christopher Lehmpfuhl’s art is the world reassembled. His style of painting relies on what is left of representational art. His landscapes are marked by the fundamental contradictions of recent art history. The good old days are gone forever, because Expressionist painting has changed not only how we see, but more importantly, how the painter sees. The painter has been transformed into an artist and medium in one. And so he lets emotions roam free in the picture. He knows we are in danger. He sees the facades leaning precariously in Berlin, the extremely blue sky, the ocean brewing, people staggering, trees stooping. What he does not perceive is the peacefulness of a field. It is not in his nature to observe stillness and tranquility. His paintings are a far cry from self-satisfied still lifes. It is through their direct access to what he regards as essential that his message gets across. He recently began applying paint to his pictures with his hands in the final stage, with no brush or palette knife—spreading the paint, pushing it, smearing it, creasing it. This primary approach, this frenzy of colors, has inspired a new way of understanding the world for Christopher Lehmpfuhl.
Like the Old Testament prophets, proclaiming their one true message, he has this one true way of painting that is unique in today’s art. It is not always easy to understand. It can be rather awkward and sometimes it feels as if we are on a deserted island, but it shakes us up and it demands that we take a stand. It is not careless, nor is it in any way superficial. No one knows where his art will lead us, least of all the artist. Something new has come into this world. To know what this art signifies, or how to classify it, we first have to engage with it and appreciate it.
Translation by Michelle Miles