Painting a likeness is less about mimetic recreation and more about capturing the essence by deconstructing the face into disparate wholes that will eventually come back together again. Portraiture is the vehicle to capture subjective interpretations of history, media and today, and Austrian Philip Mueller and Iranian Amir Khojasteh build on its half-length tradition by breaking it down to its essential, if initially abstract, components to use perception as a very real foray into contemporary modes of power. These are the faces of the fear-makers.
Khojasteh's fleshy, expressionist portraits are a return to painting. The artist's eyes serve as middlemen between the stimuli his mind processes - satirized interpretations of notorious figures too unreal to be real - and his hands as they visually meander through the fantastical, darkly zany, and fear-inducing power plays of modern politics. Khojasteh's use of paint may read as a mash-up of Botero and The Twilight Zone inspired by the power-laden consequences of dictatorships, but the distortions are truths: the surreal is always grounded in reality. Contorted and hyperbolized, his perceptions of "the fear-makers" are the result of myth and the ugly reality of inner beauty gone wildly askew. But the power is not always at the top of the hierarchy.
The austere visages that Mueller paints pay homage to classical painting - a restrained deviation from his painterly style - and are portraits of subversive power. Continuing a thematic through line of imaginative concerns and latent desires, Mueller's Mütters series depicts a cult of fictitious ancestors - the Ahnen - who retain their role in societal values through the structures of manism. As their living power solidified and magnified through the lens of remembrance, Mueller inducts them into his imaginary history-reality under four conditions: "The Ahn must not have obeyed any authority during their lifetime; the Ahn must have breathed in the beauty of nature; the Ahn is capable of relish; the Ahn controlled the fire of his disciples without manipulation." But retrospect is always rose-tinted.
While Khojasteh's impressions renders figures grotesque, Mueller's paintings purify. The flaws of the human condition may begin at the top, but it resonates and lives on through those at the bottom. These paintings are mere faces - it's the potency of impression that lingers - so while we may gaze upon the faces of the feared, it is in fact us who hold the power and are the true fear-makers.
- Katrina Kufer, July 2017