Christopher Winter Unnatural History
“Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth. “ —Philosopher, Theodor Adorno (1903-69)
Photo by Uwe Walter taken from Christopher Winterâ€™s Sutdio, Berlin 2011
Unnatural History Christopher Winter’s singular paintings remind us that, once upon a time, art and magic emerged simultaneously, indeed were one and the same. Caves in the Paleolithic era were not clean, well-lighted spaces, and cave paintings were not viewed in the detached, observer-and-observed way we now regard art. They were magic in which viewers were participants. The first paintings were likely experienced as genuinely living entities, gateways into the spiritworld, the mind’s own terra incognita. 32,000 years on, give or take a decamillenium, we find ourselves in that terra incognita we know as the present, on a darkly magical mystery tour with artistmagician Christopher Winter as our guide. This time round, Winter pulls more than a few rabbits from his prestidigitator’s hat, with one painting of a rabbit emerging from the magician’s topper, and several paintings of domesticated fauna leaping through the skies. Aloft before demure storybook mountain valleys, these gravity-defying creatures are, well, hare-raising. Christopher Winter, an Englishman now residing in Berlin, has recreated his own displacement in his paintings. Rendered in twee, serene English tints, the undulating mountainous landscapes become a devil’s playground for Teutonic Gothic menace. Winter exults in the liminal—the weightless borderline between innocence and experience, the pastoral and the eldritch, the familiar and the uncanny, the perceiver and the perceived. We’re back in the cave, but the walls are now white and the lighting markedly improved. The concept of the uncanny (Ger. Das Unheimliche, “the opposite of what is familiar”) was first limned by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in a 1906 essay. Jentsch defines the Uncanny as a product of “intellectual uncertainty… something one does not know one’s way about in.” Experiencing the uncanny, we find ourselves at once attracted and affrighted: cognitive dissonance at its finest. On that note, Edelman Fine Arts welcomes you to Christopher Winter’s “Unnatural History.” Make yourselves uncomfortable. —Fayette Hickox
Velocity Boy (riding with the Destroying Angels) Acrylic on Canvas, 2009. 74.8 x 74.8 in
Weird Science in the anatomical theatre of the grotesque Through the young stems of white birch trees, we look with amazement into a strange Laboratory: Rabbits fly quite serenely over the snow-capped summit of a high mountain and a young couple float in total reverie over a sunny pasture, a pair of eyes stare at us out of a dark thicket and white masked gentlemen throw strange black shadows on the wall behind them. A boy gets lost in a rustling forest of monstrous mushrooms, a girl appears imprisoned in the thorny branches of a trees and miraculously in mysterious shape above the heads of two astonished observes suddenly begins to develop a strange life of its own. In the centre of this anatomical theatre a strange scientist makes experiments of a curious nature. Again and again he sends his subjects on an unusual journey and confronts them – and ourselves as observers – with a series of unforeseeable situations and encounters: The famous white rabbit from the Magician’s top hat is exposed to the oxygen-poor air of a snow-covered summit, one blindfolded girl appears to be examined on inscrutable mathematical formulas and a blazing flame rises out of the index finger of another young volunteer apparently unaffected by any heat. Like an anatomist of the grotesque, the English painter Christopher Winter with his unusual imagery performs artistic operations on open nightmares. The sediments of a cultural history of the uncanny, creepy and bizarre are placed layer upon layer in his paintings, drawings, and animation films, adapting them in a very direct manner to the present. The mainly youthful protagonists of his pictures recall countless reminiscences of fantastical art of the last five hundred years and yet they always seem to be a living part of our present environment where we find ourselves in situations that appear both unusual and commonplace. Christopher Winter is a profound connoisseur of fantastical art. He explores its parameters and composes there his own specific “Picture Story” using a significant portion of English humour. Whilst his contemporaries leave metaphorical allusions and insinuation well alone, he ventures out with his pictures again and again to a place beyond the known and dismantles artistically the great models of the fantastical in such a way that he deliberately reinvents them. None of the well-known horror stories appear so complete in this unruly narrative universe that they’re not worth being retold. In this way the protagonists of the pictures seem continually tested to both their physical and mental limits, appearing to be at the mercy of miraculous
1. Down the Rabbit Hole, Salvador DalĂ. 1969, Oil on Canvas. 2. Rabbit, Jeff Koons. 1989, Stainless Steel. 3. A Young Hare, Albrecht Durer. 1502, Gouache and Watercolor on Paper. 4. The Rabbit, Hans Hofmann. Year Unknown, Oil on Panel. 5. Man with the Rabbit Mask, Andy Warhol. 1979, Giclee Print. 6. How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, Joseph Beuys. 1965, Performance Piece. 7. The Madonna of the Rabbit, Titian. 1530, Oil on Canvas.
temptations and promises, such as we know from the great works of the grotesque in art history. With their powerful imagery, Phantasmagoria, and absurd border crossings between fiction and reality old masters of the genre such as Hieronymus Bosch, Henry Fuseli, and Francisco de Goya, stand as the inspiration for Winter’s imagery along with Alfred Hitchcock or David Lynch, the most influential figures of this genre in the 20th Century. In common with these artists Christopher Winter has a passion for the contemporary, the carefree implementation of the grotesque in seemingly mundane scenes and modern human relationships. After all, Winter does not create dark imagery and clandestine counter-worlds, but inhabits the border areas between dream and reality in a canon of light-filled topics, which in many ways produce direct references to the contemporary reality of life. Loaded with all sorts of subtle allusions and sexual connotations, with references to authoritarian structures and political issues these images accumulate, in the best sense, the barren reality of the present. There is a necessary dash of black humour in his paintings that at times could not be more radical or bitter. With his dramatic creations the artist often pokes a finger in the open wounds of a society that is more occupied by the radical openness of media coverage than with the pictorial taboo of some areas of social life. Winter dedicates the scientific experiment in his artistic laboratory consistently to the visual language in a society that on the one side is deliberately open while on the other is deliberately concealed. His pictures at first often read as harmless stories with a rational explanation that run parallel to the modern world, yet sometimes as psychedelic inventions which seem to be very far from reality. Nevertheless – and this defines Winter’s work repeatedly – the image of flying rabbits, floating youngsters and archaic painted faces can be interpreted as an artistic commentary on contemporary events, on taboos, prejudice and prohibitions: When young people with their sense of adventure in a playfully harmless way get to know the opposite sex, when they surrender carelessly to the rush of hallucinogenic substances or indulge in archaic rituals of selfawareness, then behind all the grotesque staging a subversive contradiction can take shape where images are generally not allowed. Furthermore, if these reach a form that is sometimes very close to the boundaries of socially laid down convention, if the game with quotes is often just to play with falsification of the so-called “good taste,” then obviously there is an artist at work who refuse to give in to such limits, his greatest artistic inspiration is to overcome them.
Therefore it is logical that Winter sends the Hare, an overused art icon on air travel in the petit bourgeois idyll of an unspoilt Alphine landscape and lets his pen be lead over the white page by a summoned spirit of Picasso in a séance performance. These are all extreme moments of an artistic work. The unique aesthetic relationship of painting to American Pop Art and Comics are used for example to challenge the audience in every respect. If representational painting seems to have fone largely to its limits, then there is a painter like Christopher Winter, who challenges it with smart references to the history of the Art and with an almost brazen naivety in inventing bizarre situations that give new scope to a majority of crafts that have apparently long been lost. Alongside some reflex to the critically observed events of the day, Winter clearly blends in his painting, his drawings and, not least in his new film works an ironic commentary on the alternative religion of art and its current modish preoccupations. The flying rabbit in the top hat, the floating pair over a pasture and not least, the frequent appearance of the Fountain Man in was paint read as positions in a debate that probe the possibilityies and limits of figurative art, of mythologies, visual strategies and concepts. It is not without reason that the artist deliberately made reference to the tradition of the grotesque, within which he worked out his new visual strategy. In particular, Bosch, Fuseli, and Goya were the ones, that not only opened the image canon of their times to new possibility of the representation of the incommensurable, but questioned the pictureworthiness of images that were otherwise prohibited. The films of Alfred Hitchcock behave no differently by inventing highly metaphorical images and exploring themes of sexuality in post-war American society. Almost all of Christopher Winter’s work take this common thread of cultural history, history of the surreal and eerie, which exposes the sediments of repression, taboo and the unsaid. So that not only an anatomy of the grotesque develops, but also a critique on present-day society, that through it’s flood of information, it’s broad range of media and constantly new sensation appears to reveal everything and yet still leaves much in secret. This brilliant game of quirky visuals, absurd exaggerations and sarcastic comments highlights Christopher Winter as an attentive observer of distorted imagery in the mass media. His achievement is to penetrate the façade of modern society. —Ralf F. Hartmann
Christopher Winter Currently living in Berlin, Christopher Winter (b. 1968) co-founded the artist group Special X with fellow artists Shiho Yuki and Eva Hauman to highlight the crisis points in the art world by subverting art world practices. A graduate of the Camberwell School of Art in London, his works have been shown in museums and galleries throughout Europe and in New York. His extensive retrospective solo exhibition “Wildlife” was exhibited at the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum (REM) in Mannheim, Germany, in 2010. In September 2012, his “Gingerbread House” installation—a 14-foothigh replica of the Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”— was shown at the Berlinische Galerie Museum. Christopher has curated exhibitions at Tape Gallery, Berlin, including 2010’s “Cover Up,” which featured Thorsten Brinkmann, Olaf Breuning, Marcel Dzama and Leigh Bowery.
Photo by Uwe Walter taken from Christopher Winter’s Sutdio, Berlin 2011
A conversation with Christopher Winter. Fayette Hickox: What do you mean by “Unnatural History”? Christopher Winter: “Unnatural History” not only refers to the state of the animals in the new paintings but also human nature itself. Are we natural? The effect I want to achieve is that of walking through an idyllic landscape after taking mind-altering drugs. It’s not about surrealism: the paintings are grounded in objective reality, with clear lines and vivid colors. FH: What were your inspirations for the new paintings? If not surrealistic, they are mind-bending. CW: Good. I’ve been looking into staged illusions from magicians and cheap tricks. Optical illusions play a great role in painting and I’ve been exploring how painting on a two-dimensional canvas affects perceptions. Altered states of perception interest me as well—both real and enhanced by chemicals. FH: Can you tell me how this shows up in the paintings? CW: In the painting “Huxley’s ‘Guide to Switzerland,’” an adolescent couple is levitating in the Swiss Alps, seemingly following the path of the river beneath them. The title is inspired by Aldous Huxley’s famous experiments with mescaline that he chronicles in his book “The Doors of Perception.” The painting “Comfortably Numb” refers to the Pink Floyd song with a similar theme. FH: There are some fresh additions to your subject matter. While we still see children on the cusp of adolescence, there are bulldogs and rabbits— lots of them—and the creatures seem to be floating.
Pencil on Paper, 2012. 11.66 x 8.25 in
CW: Rabbits—or, if you wish, hares—have turned up in art and literature in a number of guises. I’m on something of an art historical roller coaster ride with the hares, playing off Durer’s “Young Hare” from 1502 , the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Joseph Beuys’s 1965 performance “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare” and Jeff Koon’s “Rabbit” from 1986. In the earlier uses of the hare, the creatures don’t even get to hop: I allow them to fly. In a few of my paintings, the rabbits are pulled out of hats, but more often they are simply in mid-air, undisturbed by their sudden ability to defy gravity. They are posed, their feet akimbo, as if juggled by an unseen source. In my painting “Hybrid I,” the hare becomes a laboratory experiment, a genetic aberration with new zebra markings. FH: These paintings are in one sense representational, and yet, and yet … CW: In these works, I’m trying to create extreme moments. I’m relating the history and aesthetics of painting to Pop Art and comics, trying to challenge the audience in every respect. By inventing bizarre situations, I want to take representational painting to its limits—the borderland between dream and reality—mixing up art historical references with brazen naïveté.
Photo taken from Weird Science Exhibition, Lehr Zeitgenössische Kunst, Köln, 2011
Christopher Winter Unnatural History
Unnatural History Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 51.25 x 43.3 in
The Huxley Guide to Switzerland Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 51.25 x 90.5 in
Bunny Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 23.5 x 23.5 in
If Things get realâ€Ś Acrylic on Canvas, 2004. 59 x 43.3 in
Zauberberg (Magic Mountain) Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 67 x 47.2 in
Dandy Hare Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 31.5 x 43.3 in
Lifeâ€™s Full of Surprises
Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 23.5 x 23.5 in
Storm Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 35.5 x 27.5 in
Fall Out Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 35.5 x 27.5 in
The Illusionist Acrylic on Canvas, 2009. 90.5 x 71 in
Manet the Magician Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 43.3 x 43.3 in
The Con Artist Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 55 x 55 in
The Paper Illusion (Abstract I) Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 51.25 x 90.5 in
Hybrid I Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 31.5 x 43.3 in
Hybrid II Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 31.5 x 43.3 in
Dog Fight Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 47 x 67 in
The World of Time Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 27.5 x 35.5 in
Dog Days Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 51.25 x 39.5 in
Creation Myth Acrylic on Canvas, 2010. 47 x 31.5 in
Unnatural History Unnatural History Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 51.25 x 43.3 in The Huxley Guide to Switzerland Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 51.25 x 90.5 in Bunny Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 23.5 x 23.5 in If Things get real… Acrylic on Canvas, 2004. 59 x 43.3 in Zauberberg (Magic Mountain) Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 67 x 47.2 in Dandy Hare Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 31.5 x 43.3 in Life’s Full of Surprises
Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 23.75 x 23.75 in
Storm Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 35.5 x 27.5 in Fall Out Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 35.5 x 27.5 in The Illusionist Acrylic on Canvas, 2009. 90.5 x 71 in Manet the Magician Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 43.3 x 43.4 in The Con Artist Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 55 x 55 in The Paper Illusion Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 51.25 x 90.5 in Hybrid I Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 31.5 x 43.3 in Hybrid II Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 31.5 x 43.3 in Dog Fight Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 47 x 67 in The World of Time Acrylic on Canvas, 2012. 27.5 x 35.5 in Dog Days Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. 51.25 x 39.5 in Creation Myth Acrylic on Canvas, 2010. 47 x 31.5 in
Christopher Winter Channeling the spectral visions of legendary artists such as Durer, Kippenberger, and Picasso, Christopher Winter creates hallucinatory landscapes, peopled by strangely sinister looking children. Winter’s work is as peculiarly particular as it is universal, exploring the complicitious nature of art, creativity, madness, and death. Currently living in Berlin, Winter co-founded the artist group Special X with fellow artists Shiho Yuki and Eva Hauman to highlight the crisis points in the Art World through subversions of Art World practices. His work has been featured in solo and group shows throughout Europe and New York. “Winter’s pictures may be as entertaining as a Hollywood movie, but they are also existentially powerful” - Donald Kuspit
Selected Solo Exhibitions 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1995 1994 1993
Weird Science, Lehr ZeitgenŲssische Kunst, Cologne Shooting Artists with Fabien Verschaere, La Pagode, Paris Wild Life, Reiss Engelhorn Museum, REM, Mannheim Evolution, In Process Gallery Installation, Traffic Art Space, New York, NY Black Ghosts, Galerie Nord Kunstverein Tiergarten, Berlin Pablo Picasso Zwischen Arena und Arkadien, Performance Channeling Picasso, Stšdtisches Museum, Albstadt Tales of Trust, Lehr ZeitgnŲssische Kunst, Cologne Postcards from The Edge, Malkasten, DŁsseldorf Spook-a-rama, Edelman Arts, New York, NY Big Small Works, Edelman Arts, New York, NY Hitzefrei, Drive Thru Gallery, Aschersleben Project, Aschersleben Songs of Innocence, Neuhoff Edelman Gallery, New York, NY Virgin Forest, Salander O’Reilly - Edelman Arts, New York, NY If Things Get Real, Galerie Jaspers, Munich Passion, Kunst-Station Sankt Peter, Cologne Things to Come, Basilika von St.Bonifaz, Munich Innocent Spaces, Artax, DŁsseldorf Heimat, Forum in Dominikanerkloster, Frankfurt Bavarian Heaven, Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen Winterwonderland, Oberwelt, Stuttgart Amazing Stories, Enders Projects, Frankfurt, Germany Holiday, Galerie Neue Kunst, Mannheim Kindergarten, Enders Projects, Frankfurt Bavarian Bus Tour Massacre, Onomato Video Archiv, DŁsseldorf Alien Sex Invaders, Raum X, DŁsseldorf Buzz, Altes Tabakkontor, Mannheim Witness, Academia, Mannheim Ice Houses, Galerie Sšule, Mannheim Illuminations, Stšdtisches Reiss-Museum, Mannheim
Special Exhibitions 2005 2004
The Manifesto Show, Special X, Fleischzeigt, Berlin Gothic Corner, Special X, Glue, Berlin We Love Art, Special X, KŁnstbŁro, DŁsseldorf
Selected Group Exhibitions 2011 2010 2007 2006 2005 2003 2002 2001 1999 1998 1997 1992 1991
Peep Show, curated and exhibited, Tape Modern, Berlin On View, Edelman Arts, New York, NY Summer Nights Dream, Roemer9, Frankfurt The Magic Sexy Templeloch of Wonderspirit, Wonderloch Kellerland, Berlin Cover-Up Curated and exhibited, 19 artists (Olaf Breuning, Thosten Brink mann, Leigh Bowery) Tape Modern, Berlin Drucksachen, Lehr ZeitgenŲssiche Kunst, Cologne Film Winter, Film Festival Mixed-Media, H7 Raumaufzeit, Stuttgart. No.13,Tape Modern, Berlin Summer, Neuhoff Edelman Gallery, New York, NY Surrealism: Then & Now, Paul Kasmin Gallery & Edelman Arts, Inc., New York, NY Winter Show, Galerie Gmurzynska, St. Moritz Trees, Salander O’Reilly, New York, NY Origins and Nations, Galerie Nord Kunstverein Tiergarten, Berlin Small Formats, Galerie Neue kunst, Mannheim Der Berg, Heidelberg Kunstverein, Heidelberg Saar Ferngas FŲrderpreis, Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen Event Horizon, Lothringer13, Munich Filmbar, Video Programm, Museum Ludwig, Cologne Sommeraustellung, Galerie Neue Kunst, Mannheim Miscellaneous, Enders Projects, Frankfurt Action Disco, Plus, DŁsseldorf Videoprogram,Projektraum, Berlin Videoprogramm, Voges und Deisen, Frankfurt Une L’gende à Suivre...., Le Cr’dac, Centre d’art d’Ivry, Paris Networking, P-House Gallery, Tokyo Fliegen erŲffnet, Stšdtische Galerie, Moers Dessins, Galerie Almine Rech, Paris Terminal, Musashino Art University, Tokyo From Here, High Street Project, Christchurch, New Zealand Toi Toi Toi, Die Werkstatt, DŁsseldorf Picture Stories, Victoria Miro, London 003 Blondes (Too Young To Die), Gasworks, London Too Young To Die, KJ Galerie, Cologne Chlorine, Second show with Bank, Marshall Street Baths, Soho, London Bank Show,First show with Bank, The Bank, Lewisham Way, London
Public Collections Vassar College, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center , New York, USA Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany Also in many private collections throughout the world including the Rothchilds and the Borghese. Education 1996 – 98 1987 – 90 1986 – 87
Kunstakademie DŁsseldorf under Professor Fritz Schwegler Camberwell School of Art, London BA (Hons) Fine Art (Painting) Hastings College of Arts, Hastings,East Sussex, Pre BA Foundation Course in Art and Design.
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This catalogue accompanies the exhibition Christopher Winter â€œUnnatural Historyâ€? May 5-June 30, 2012 Cover
Manet the Magician, 2012. Text
Fayette Hickox Ralf F. Hartmann Photo
Uwe Walter Design and Production
Traffic Creative Management Design: Weihsin Lin www.trafficnyc.com
136 East 74th Street, NYC 136 East 74 Street, NYC Phone 1 212 472 7770 Phone 1 212 472 7770 Fax 1 212 472 7709 Fax 1 212 472 7709 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org www.edelmanarts.com www.edelmanarts.com
Edelman Arts is proud to announce Unnatural History, on view from May 5 through June 30. This will be Christopher Winter's sixth exhibition...