The Molesworth Gallery


Everything means Everything ~ oil on canvas ~ 190 x 190 cm


Thomas Brezing

High Violet

February 23rd - April 16th, 2012


That Something Missing

an essay on Thomas Brezing's work by Cliodhna Shaffrey

ooooBut where is the wolf? The wolf is like a copo de nieve. Snowflake. You catch the snowflake but when you look in your hand you don’t have it no more. Before you can see it it’s gone. If you want to see it you have to see it on its own ground. If you catch it you lose it…. The wolf is made the way the world is made. You cannot touch the world. You cannot hold it in your hand for it is made of breath only.’

Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing


ooooIn looking at Thomas Brezing’s work you can get caught up in the strange fictions that crop up everywhere. In his work there are people who are real like popes, or famous missing people like Madeleine McCann, figures from religious politics and bible stories, and his own family members (dead and living); alongside elusive and anonymous individuals, groups or gangs rioting; businessmen alone, and all around lost people as fleeting presences against a turbulent background world where evidence of a cityscape is outlined in uncanny architecture or scant structural forms. Box-shaped junk that might stand for discarded containers, generic house forms and throw-away outdated computers and TV’s - through whose screens we have come to endlessly witness (and know about) the world - are as likely to reside at the foot of the large canvases, tumbling out like an overloaded rubbish heap, as the decorative edge he uses to frame the shape of things - holding - momentarily anyway - these massively energetic works.  For Brezing’s canvases are built over Time and over time the works turn into different works. The older canvas beneath erased with new layers of paint, but where hints and fragments of the ‘old story’ reappear, oddly like shards of memories – insecure and unfixed, but partially retrievable through opaque and hidden layers. The past is within the present and we might say the future too, like Henri Bergson’s theory of dureé (duration), where Time is mobile and always incomplete and where the action of memories permeate, melt, drag down and gnaws on the present experience.

Man, it's all been forgiven ~ oil on canvas ~ 150 x 150 cm


ooooThese paintings might never stop being made, unless they sell at exhibition or otherwise leave the studio, and are ‘taken out’ of Brezing’s hands. For all the dazzling pattern, the raw and energetic weightiness of the large paintings – often made up of two or even three canvases hinged together – and the quicker lighter emphasis of the smaller works, they seem to present the possibility to think about the more elusive of riddles, that of Time and Being in the world. There is this sense, in Brezing work, and in the large canvases specifically - that can be complex and sometimes difficult to fully work out - that everything is happening on the surface, but the surface is deep like a labyrinth of time. So in trying to make sense of things, like ‘how people fit into the world, how do they act in their environment, what are we here for, where do we come from and where do we go’, he permits himself a freedom, so the world (of which he is a close and intuitive observer) doesn’t have to be looked at literally or from a single vantage point of time or place, but through a lens that permits the simultaneity of non-continuous and anachronistic events. Hints of stories or suggested fragments – combine the personal, symbolic and political - giving clues to what may be true incidences, where an aura of restlessness suggests a knowing worldliness. Yet the work retains a mysterious quality and notes of fantasy or elements that seem incomprehensible or inexplicable, suggest the co-existences of various levels or types of reality, or, perhaps the existence of interconnected pockets of space-time whose topology we may never fully understand. In an odd way Brezing’s work brings to mind the stories of Jorge Luis Borges’ and in particular the brilliant detective story The Garden of Forking Paths, where the murdered ancestor of the protagonist - T’s ui Pen  - had spent thirteen years in the Pavilion of Limpid Solitude constructing an ‘invisible labyrinth of time, where several times (and thus various levels of reality) might co-exist at once, like a dizzying web of divergent, convergent parallel times.


It takes an ocean not to break ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm        



ooooLove’s Young Dream – a large-scale painting  - features his grandparents, whom he never met, but remembers from their wedding photograph. Here the grandparents - who were once visible in the painting that exists beneath this painting – are no longer recognisable and have been transformed into constructivist towers made of gridded steel. Folly-like, but monumental, they are vaguely reminiscent of Tatlin’s Tower, or the Eifel Tower, or perhaps they are more akin to the ‘unsightly’ pylons dotted through the landscape, here capped with space-like helmets to form their heads.  As twin towers the grandparents still appear as entwined lovers and the glorious bouquet his grandmother holds (left untouched from the painting beneath) suggests this is still their wedding day.  And if we peep inside her tower, we see she is peopled with lots of people – like a small citadel containing ‘all the people who are never going to be’. To the right of his grandparents, is a ghostly figure dressed in high Flemish collar, such as we might see in a Van Dyke or Rubens painting, and at the edge, spilling into the centre are the box-like geometric shapes of modernity. How can we maneuver ourselves through the strange painting? The eye must travel in time making the poetic connections. The past is always future orientated and here the future has already come, and so it seems we are looking back into the past projecting its future. A homage to unknown grandparents, where all around a chaotic world appears out of control. Yet their love seems to endure and stands the test of time. The words ‘Lace’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Silver’, ‘Gold’ faintly inscribed in white paint along the left hand edge, celebrating anniversaries. Counting years. But can love alone save the world? Perhaps.


Don't leave my hyper heart alone ~ oil on paper ~ 54 x 68 cm    




ooooBrezing paintings are not something he plans out or pre-conceptualises, rather he has suggested that the paintings always remain in control of him – ‘you make it and it makes you’. Its true that he has things to work out - his past, childhood memories and growing up in southern Germany a couple of generations after the War, where overcoming the general willed amnesia was gathering national concern and the hard process of remembering had begun. Love’s Young Dream is a childhood memory of a wedding photograph, taken in 1923, in the town of Nagold, the year of Hitler's 'Beerputsch' in Munich. Here retrieval takes its own imaginative form, and, as in the writings of W. G. Sebald, Brezing’s paintings provide a space so the so-called living and the so-called dead can travel to meet each other.  But unlike Sebald, Brezing’s tone is not always melancholic. Many of his paintings bristle with patterning, there are lyric glimpses, cartoony dimensions and colours include upbeat pinks, soft blues, reds, white and yellows that battle not so much against the trauma of emptiness, but against the deluge of human waste and detritus that pervades in overconsumption.  ‘Men, live on earth and inhabit the world” writes Hannah Arendt in the Human Condition and at the core of Brezing’s artmaking is the drive to explore the human endeavour to inhabit this world, with all the implicit failure and perhaps delusion in the belief that in making this world we can put order on chaos.

It's quiet company ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm        


ooooThere is no doubt that political (and popular) culture is written into Brezing’s imagination and his paintings contain imagery of the psyche, social and political worlds. There is this sense throughout his work with its turbulent edge and unfixed qualities, that the big movements don’t create social cohesion and the destructive abuse and betrayal of power is referenced in the recurring and irreverent images of the Pope (Ratzinger) or, in his smaller works that ridicule the clashes between cultures (and the sexes) where scantily clad women out-rage robe-wearing men. Brezing likes to break taboos and he can do so with wit and irony.  The Swastika and Eagle are retained from the previous painting that underlies Heartworn HeartWorm, the emblems of Nazi Germany just visible in the upper right corner. Undoubtedly, he has followed in the footsteps of Anslem Kiefer’s whose ‘sieg heil’  (HitlergruB) salute outside buildings in France, Switzerland and Italy when he was still a student in 1969 caused anxious incomprehension. The nod to Keifer extends to Brezing’s ambition for the big-scale and with him he shares the capacity for what Simon Schama commends (in Keifer) as heavy loaded maximalism...incapable of making trivia, and what Marina Warner celebrates as an apocalyptic vision‘The earth is not asleep, its moving under our feet’ – the title of a smaller work  - indicates a prophetic dimension and Brezing touches into a zeitgeist of the ‘crumbling’ world manifested in earthquakes and the news of uprisings that have gripped the Arab world. But this particular work is located in the West – maybe Dublin, maybe Frankfurt, where young blond metropolitan women (Marilyn look-alikes) wear sunglasses and short skirts and men to the foreground – gripping their knees - are appropriated images from rugby pitches or cricket matches. The wink to ‘crop and paste’ of Photoshop aesthetics, sticker transfer or photojournalism’s reportage is set against the swift and inky brushstrokes echoing the topsey turvey world of late capitalism where easy excessiveness has begun to unravel. 

Terrible love ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm        


ooooOne of his darker works Some short fathers have some long memories was painted shortly after his father’s funeral. Mourning loss pervades through the black canvas. A low fire is burning in the blacksmiths’ furnace and the two figures that sit at the table, on top of which is a dancing man, give the only glisten of relief to the general air of gloom. The dancing man is turning death into a celebration, but is he not a spook, like a Philip Guston Ku Klux Klansman, or the hooded tortured prisoners of Abu Ghraib? The world is blacker because it is filled with death and grotesquerie. But black dirt is the colour of his father’s skin – (his father was a blacksmith) and a blacksmith’s skin is filthy with metal dust. ‘Death’, Brezing’s writes ‘restores all order’ and black, it seems, is thus a fitting colour for this sad painting.  There is looseness to the way this work is painted, nothing is pinned down, architectural elements peter out, landscapes are merely hinted at and the world seems fluid. Like in all of Brezing’s works things are kept in flux and there is a restless aura rather than definition. He operates through suggestion that sometimes has a hallucinatory feel, such as in the male (Jesus-like) figure and rowing boat that loom out of the hazy paintwork in The pursuit of happiness.

I set a fire (just to see what it kills) ~ oil on canvas ~ 40 x 40 cm       


ooooBrezing abilities are dexterous. There is profundity in existentialist angst, but equally, he can be light-hearted, inventively resourceful and displays a mischievous wit. Stable is a portrait gallery made up of twenty paintings or more, where roughly painted childlike portraits set against plain backgrounds stare straight back at us. The canvases are on wheels – bicycle stablisers or wheels salvaged from a child’s pram – and stand on the floor. This mobile ensemble iconoclastically conceived as a twist on the hierarchical lineage of portraiture art, available mostly to those who possess(ed) transcendent qualities of power, beauty, wealth and thereby worthy of emulation. But Stable also gives an insight into the way that Brezing works and the sources and materials he draws on are readily accessible to him in literature books, news, media, but also, and most importantly, the personal and close to hand. All things can be reused and we see this over and over again, in the salvaging of this or that – old clothes turned into a child’s toy, which will be stitched into an old rug and made into a floor piece that reads  ‘I am an artist step on me’; or an old sewing box, We need more Grace than we think, which is used as a plinth to house a painting and, Shack is a small hut built from left over wood and an old mattress, which he will inhabit, like a secret den, during the exhibition at the Highlanes, Gallery.  The ‘being present’ through the exhibition adding a relational dimension and aligning confidently with the current trend for the exhibition to be conceived as a space of encounter.

Awesome Prince get your sleep ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm       


ooooIt’s out of fashion to speak about the artists’ muse – the person, place or things that motivate the artist’s need for making art - but in this case it may not be so far fetched. Brezing’s childhood memories and now his children seem to be an on-going source of ideas and the perspective from which he often filters thinking with its fundamental humanistic concern. For Brezing’s seeks connection between the personal (imaginative, fanciful and real) and what is going on in the world around him. - between politics, culture and life, and, between life and art. The large-scale shrine he has created to missing people was provoked by the Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and set off the nightmare in his head – what if this happened to him, what if his daughter vanished? His ‘shrine’ is a large wall installation of kitsch, memorabilia, paintings, text, paper-cut outs, snapshot photos and colour wheels made from pieces of wood, discarded from picture frames, to create a fanfare punctuation that decorates the wall. Have you seen is an installation for the missing, and not just for those who have disappeared, but for all the people who are there, but not there. We look through them with cold-hearted indifference because they do not matter. Its what the old man - the wolf trapper - in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, already knows – they [people] see the acts of their own hands or they see that which they name and call out to one another but the world between is invisible to them.

Head for the coast ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm        


ooooThomas Brezing has said, that he works ‘against beauty’.  In saying this though, he understands beauty to be both complex and subjective and while he might no longer strive to purposefully ‘uglify’ things, he, has suggested that too much ‘beauty’ can be dangerous. He therefore pushes his paintings so they go ‘off-kilter’. He turns paintings upside and sometimes uses the upside down version in the final work. The brushstrokes can be thick with oil and there is vigor and a physicality to how he works – sometimes throwing paint at his canvases – enabling chance elements to arise and defying accuracy. His practice owes to a tradition we can trace back to German Expressionism and Neo-Expressionism’s concerns for the figurative and fantastical symbolism. He resonates too with fellow German contemporaries, such as Neo Rauch and Daniel Richter - the former with his mix of personal histories and politics, and, the latter, for his narrative, opulent scenes with their ghost-like presences. But Brezing finds his own distinctive path. The quest for identity sharpened by self-chosen exile in Ireland is for ‘something missing’  ‘a certain homelessness’ underpinned by what Hugo Hamilton calls ‘the loneliness of being German’. It through such poetic sensibilities that Brezing comes to consider the world (and his place in it) through his art.  And, for Brezing, this world is made as the wolf trapper sees it in McCarthy’s novel, as ‘something you cannot touch. You cannot hold it in your hand for it is made of breath only.’  Memory, experience and speculation combine in Brezing’s art to open multiple dimensions; many possibilities of reality within invisible borders of time, so that he might touch upon the something missing.

No, I won't be no runaway ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm       


Curriculum Vitae

Thomas Brezing was born in Germany in 1969 and moved to Ireland in the early 1990's.

Solo Exhibitions:

2012 Molesworth Gallery, Dublin, 'High Violet'
2011 Highlanes Municipal Gallery, Drogheda, 'The Art of Failure isn't hard to master', read the article by Aidan Dunne in The Irish Times

2009 Molesworth Gallery, Dublin, 'All of this could be true'
2008 Draiocht, Blanchardstown, Dublin 'New Works on Paper'
2008 Seahorse Gallery, Co. Dublin 'Heaven was in the sky'
2007 The Lab, Dublin 'Seven Miles Above the Earth
2006 Ard Bia Gallery, Galway 'The world is over there'
2005 Ashford Gallery, RHA, Dublin 'Remember when we were older?'
2002 South Tipperary Arts Centre, 'Something that could have lived'

You said it was night inside my heart ~ oil on paper ~ 54 x 68 cm       





But a guardian is lost today ~ oil on paper ~ 54 x 68 cm




We'll play nuns versus priests ~ oil on canvas ~ 40 x 40 cm       



It takes a while to settle down ~ oil on paper ~ 28 x 42 cm        



The floors are falling out from everybody I know ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm       



I don't have the drugs to sort it out ~ oil on paper ~ 54 x 68 cm




On a blood-buzz ~ oil on canvas ~ 30 x 30 cm       



I still owe money to the money to the money I owe ~ oil on canvas ~ 40 x 40 cm       




Famous angels never come through England ~ oil on canvas ~ 40 x 40 cm



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