About the painting of Rolf Ohst

Dr. Stefani Lucci - Art historian/Editor

Shiny heaps of meat just as in a butchery, stacked bodily masses, resembling of rolled pork roast, fatty bodies looking like plucked chicken. Rolf Ohst's fascination for immense carnality and the special presentation would instantly remind one of Roald Dahls narraton "pig" in which a seclusively linving vegetarian comes to town, learns to love meat just to be slaughtered himself, if there weren't decided motives that are borrowed by Rolf Ohst from the art history.

From Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", Giorgiones "Venus in a landscape", Tizians Venus in bourgeois interior via nudes by Rembrandt, Manet, Renoir, Modigliani, Matisse, up to Cézanne or Corinth - Rolf Ohst cites them all. Doing that, he overreaches the baroque plentitude to the extreme. He paints Botticelli's Venus in gracefully trembling shy corpulence and placing his figures in maritime landscapes with dramaticly clouded skies which let the famous dutch masterpieces come to life alltough the figures are kept characteristic of classic modern. When he names his resting, fat beauty reminiscent of a stranded whale gasping for breath, after Edward Munch's famous "The Scream" the sampling becomes perfect. Rolf Ohst manages to tie in with best traditions of nude-painting in a disrespectful humorous way and to convert them into the presence.

Dr. Christiane Reipschläger - Art historian

Rolf Ohst astonishes with his unusual themes, which often appear beamy and extremely present due to their physical abundance and strong gesture, but also with his skill in the technique of realistic painting, that is based on extensive experience over many years.

Not only the defined power of observation but also the unique focal point take effect on the artist’s paintings, etchings and drawings and open up an insight in the mostly intimate, frequently disturbing world of the illustrated figures.

In his new works, that originated in Berlin from 2004, Rolf Ohst has been concentrating entirely on the topic “human”. He presents his protagonists in an exceedingly present way, within the viewer’s grasp in the front plane of the image. Not only the situations but also the bodies themselves - which he applies himself to with a great attention to detail - are sometimes witty, sometimes grotesque and at other times erotic.

In spite of his immediateness and directness there is always the need of a second view to comprehend the content of the image, to understand a second level of sense and to seize the connote metaphor. With Rolf Ohst, reality obtains surreal streaks yet stays real.

The human body – the monumentality of the baroque curves

Amongst others, Rolf Ohst creates the most profuse forms and tumescent female bodies with gigantic extremities. Florentine painters discovered the perspective and volume the in the renaissance. The human body started to become more three dimensional beginning with Giotto, through Masaccio to Michelangelo. The monumentality of the baroque curves– always an expression of sensuality – were brought out in this manner by Caravaggio or Rubens long before Ohst. As a contemporary Lucian Freud created similar forms, yet the skin of his models appears to be sallow and limply, whereas Ohst’s voluminous nudes seem to be rather sturdy and shiny.

Rolf Ohst - modern, contemporary realism

Rolf Ohst emanated from the circle of the Hamburg realists, an artistic movement that arose together with the art group, ZEBRA. It was founded by Dieter Asmus, Peter Nagel, Dietmar Ullrich and others in 1965. It’s aim was to create a ”modern, contempary realism” and to contrast it with abstract art. Because it was “Tachismus” and “Action Painting” that were most relevant for the art world and celebrated the most success at that time. In its manifest “the new realism” ZEBRA demanded plasticity in the presentation of the figures’s bodies, even surfaces, authentic colour, central perspective, middle composition and flaunting of the figure” Thus, the parameters that were invented by painters of the Italian renaissance, then picked up by the surealists and now by the Hamburg realists. During his studies at the Hamburger Hochschule für bildende Künste in the late 70s Rolf Ohst learned this displaying style of painting and brought it to perfection. He studied as a scholar of Rudolf Hausner, one of the main representative of the Vienna school of fantastic realism.

The center of the work is the human being

Based on these roots - after his emigration to Berlin in 2004 – Ohst aquired a completely new scope of topics. While he formerly belonged to the objective realists and mostly painted items and landscapes, today it is the human which is the centre of his interest, woken by the people in Berlin and by the energy felt in the city that, as he says himself, has caught him like a wave. Therefore his newer works can be rather described as “emotional realism”.

Compositorial the scenes can be divided in two kinds: interior-scenes, in which the single figure is placed in front of a wall and is sometimes located by another attribute like a table or a indicated bed, or the figures are moving outside in a landscape like a beach, a country road or in marshes or desert areas. Sometimes however it is just the sky that is visible or an interior with a view into scenery from a “break through”. The size of the oil paintings on canvas range from a few inches to 10 feet.

Focal point within the complete works are nudes. The overture to a set of nudes was the large-size painting “die Welle” originated in 2004. A sprawling female body presented from the side with all its masses of fat, rolls and wrinkles, is virtually thwarting the audience by nearly taking over the complete horizontal format and largely blocking the view to the sea. The fact that the naked woman can, due to her obeseness, hardly move, facilitates the voyeuristic view. A family is situated on the beach too, ignoring the woman however. Rolf Ohst acuminates the situation, because at second glance, the observer acknowledges the wooden cross on which the big woman is already lying with spread out arms. The approaching black clouds seem to be a herald for doom as well and can be interpreted as another hint to the crucifixion of Christ.

The protagonists of the paintings – perpetrater and victim at the same time

You can’t help but notice the reflection of today’s society: gross excess, gluttony and power. The protagonists of the paintings are perpetrater and victim at the same time.

In his painting “Strömung” from 2007 Ohst picks up the theme of the bulky nude on the beach again. This time the space filling, lying, naked body is moving, rolling into the shallow water seeming to be just stopped by two wooden stakes. A seal appears underneath the woman’s long dark hair and is looking up to the viewer, while she is turning her head away. The male nude in the background and her openened thighs strengthen a sexual connotation, mixed with disgust. Another piece of this sequence of paintings is “XXL” from 2006, which is the biggest, measures 6.6 x 10ft,. With these exessively fat, blain-coverd, over one another wallowing women’s bodies, that hassle the viewer, the fascination of ugliness is escaleted into the grotesque.

Refresheningly “normal” on the other hand, two 2005 nudes from “Weltweit” present themselves. Two lovers are striking for home on a country road, the audience just sees them from the back. Their figures tower in front of a flat landscape. The slight view from below seems to derive from the position they’ve just left. Woman and man are carrying clothes in their hands - he is still wearing his sports shoes. Evening sun and dramatic clouds create the backdrop of the peaceful scene. The only hint of civilization is a telegraph pole at the roadside, that seems to allude to the title of the painting.

The surrealistic appearing painting “aus eigener Kraft” from 2006 not only differ from the subject but also in the painting technique of the other nudes. A male nude, a self-portrait, levitates on his back in the air. The arms are bent, the eyes are open. As if by magic, the body seems to be put into moorlands that are, with still visible brushstrokes, more hinted at than painted in detail.

Female nude like Dutch genre work of the 17th century

In 2007, Rolf Ohst devoted himself to two further female nudes that couldn’t be more different. Like in a Dutch genre work of the 17th century, he presents a very chubby woman that is raising a wine glass to her mouth (3/4 view, diagonal posture, blue-green background) – only the lady is naked. In his small-size painting “Pati“, a young woman is lounging on a white sheet with opened thighs, provocatively gazing at the viewer. Also the oil painting “Venus im Skorpion“ from 2008, is about achieving an erotic effect. The beauty posing in white lace displaces the attraction between veiling and unveiling.

The comparison with a female nude, which Ohst already did in 1983 is interesting. In the painting “Die Schwiegermutter“, a naked, elderly lady is lying in a dignified posture on a brown leather sofa. Behind it, a white linen is stretched in front of the coloured wall. Dispite the brilliant technique with which Ohst is depicting the different surfaces and textures, such as skin, leather, cloth, wallpaper, etc. (apart from the women’s posture and hair colour) the paintings couldn’t be more different. It is striking to compare the similarities of themes in the “Schwiegermutter“ portrait with Lucian Freud’s nude “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping“ painted 12 years later (1995), which also puts a sofa with an elderly woman filling the picture. A threatening situation is presented in the painting “Die Toteninsel“ from 2006 that takes over and quotes the theme of Arnold Böcklin’s popular painting, that is located in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. In the foreground is George W. Bush’s face that seems to dissolve. It is his facial expression when he hears of the catastrophe of the 11th of September, a day of many dead. It looks as if he, also, is vanishing into the realm of the dead.

In the half-figure Portrait of a woman “Good Morning“ from 2007, the woman with sunglasses, behind a table or balustrade resolutely stands with her hands on her hips, as if to defend the peace of bacon and the green liquor in front of her, and with that, her American life style. Two self-portraits originated also in 2007. “Shadow“ is showing the bust of a man, protecting his head and eyes from the glistening sun with a peace of cloth, so that his eyes are covered. The intensive sunlight and the turban like head-dress, call up an association with desert and heat that prevail there. Instead of gaining enlightenment, the man doesn’t see anything, appears to stand on his own, perhaps he (the artists) feels like the “caller in the desert”. In „Störfall“ Rolf Ohst portraits himself doubly. In front of an apocalyptic landscape his bust appears slightly shifted twice next to one another. The faces show two different conditions of an action: on the left he tries to hold his breath and on the right he has just exhaled. The expressive mimics seems funny, hence he has aleady lost his fight against an atomic contamination at that short moment.

The situation of our Western society – from loss of control to voluptuousness

Rolf Ohst creates with his, on the one hand surreal and on the other hand, genre like pictures, of humans allegories and metaphors, that reflect the situation of our Western society and with that, ourselves. Exorbitance and greed, readiness to combat and violence, blindness and ignorance, sexuality and voluptuousness, helplessness and loss of control, yet also beauty and strength of mind are presented in his paintings. The art of Rolf Ohst convinces not only because of its explosive up-to-dateness, but also because of its technical brilliance and moreover, touch all parameters of all human being. This is what marks it as an intelligent art beyond trendy artistic movement.