Contemporary German artist Jonas Burgert’s works combine the fantastical with the grotesque, to depict universal concerns of inner struggle and insecurity
When we call German artist Jonas Burgert (48), he is at the Delhi Art Fair. He tells us that he found a nook so that he can talk to us uninterrupted. It is Burgert’s first visit to India and, over the span of a week, he has made short visits to Mumbai and Delhi where he visited temples and markets, and roamed the streets. “India is all colour. I feel like a black-and-white person in comparison,” he laughs, adding, “In my paintings, I am colourful, though.”
While the Berlin-based artist does use colour to good effect — from grey and black, to fluorescent green and bright orange — there is an ominous quality to it. Burgert’s works revolve around themes that include death, dystopia, and decay. They feature discarded dolls, bandaged humans, bodies piled up, apparitions, and distorted animals. The figures are surrounded by flowers or swathed in colourful ribbons, but that further heightens the macabre.
A selection of Burgert’s floor-to-ceiling oils on canvas, and compact portraits, are on display at Galerie Isa, Colaba, in a show titled Schleier (loosely translates to fog or veil).
While Burgert’s art resembles dreamscapes, he explains that the subtext is of human concerns and emotions of disillusionment and fear of death. “We think about problems all the time. We are plagued by insecurity. That’s why we seek a spiritual representation to make sense of what we do. I depict the inner struggle,” he says, calling the beauty-in-decay effect “beautiful dirt”.
Burgert found something similar on his journey to Mumbai. He recalls a visit to an old temple (he can’t recollect which one) where all kinds of offerings were placed in a small, dusty square. “There were flowers, money, water and fruits in a small space. It was slightly messy, but also spiritual,” he says.
His art has been compared to Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch and Spanish artist Goya, whose works also delved on human desires and fears. The artist himself doesn’t bother with the comparisons. “I respect their work, but I do my own thing,” he says.
While he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Berlin, in 1996, he also studied philosophy and psychology at university, the influence of which is evident in his art, as is German history. As a 16-year-old, Burgert’s father was sent to fight in World War II; he spent a year fighting, and one and a half years in prison. “As a German, you cannot escape your history or ignore it,” he says. The artist has often spoken about the collective guilt that Germans have about crimes committed in the past.
Burgert also witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “I was 18 or 19. There was a lot of crying on the streets. The wall was man-made and yet no one could have imagined that it would fall. Its demolition opened up a lot of opportunities and changed Germany,” he says.
When he is not painting, Burgert is travelling the world and being a “picture junkie”. Some of his most memorable trips so far have been to Egypt, and now India. He isn’t done yet with the latter. “Next year, I plans to visit Varanasi and Rajasthan,” he says.
Schlier is on display till April 11
At Galerie Isa, Great Western Building, opposite Lion Gate, Fort
Call 6637 3432