Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, 2009 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie

It’s no wonder many people see failure as the most painful moment in their lives, school wrongly teaches us we need to do everything we can to avoid failure.  However, Adrian Ghenie makes it a central power source. Having to face humiliation and shame by returning to home to Cluj, Romania, after trying to start a new life in Vienna drove his artistic ambitions.  Returning to live back at his parents home at age 27 in 2005 he had no future to look forward to. However, Ghenie used his difficult set-back as fuel rather than limitation.
The fuel of failure is a common element in the story of success for many accomplished people. Richard Branson’s head teacher said he would end up in prison or as a millionaire.  After Steve Jobs was sacked from Apple in 1985 it motivated him to dent the universe.  Michael Jordan’s cut from his high school basketball team was all the fuel he needed.  Sylvester Stallone, after writing Rocky, tried to get the film made. After trying to play the staring role, he had hit rock bottom. These successful people used hardship as fuel to never give up. They all kept trying no matter how hard life seemed.  Stallone saved all the letters of rejections and read them out the night he won at the Oscars.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs
Returning home, Ghenie felt lost and unsure. With a group of friends, he talked about what to do next. They came up with the idea of opening a gallery as a meeting place and Galerie Plan B was born. Their intention was to establish a program for Eastern European artists and connect them with the outside world.  This became the starting point of Ghenie’s successful career as an artist leading Ghenie to say,
“If you feel that you are totally disconnected, that the world is far, that you have no chance…organise something.  Put people together in a group with a name or something.  Then try to build a program and messages.  Sooner or later, somebody will receive them and will be curious to visit you.  Then you have a connection.  If you do something interesting, then you have a root.  You are in.”

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

What I see in Tal R’s paintings
Ghenie’s paintings in the first group show in 2006, went up for sale for between €2500 to €4000. In 2009, l attended his first show in London titled, ‘The Darkness for an Hour’, at Haunch of Venison. At that show, Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and Haunch of Venison, brought ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for €60,000.  In October 2016, the auction house sold ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for £7.1m as demand for Ghenie’s paintings outstripped supply. [Art Newspaper) 
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Adrian Ghenie, The nightmare, 2007 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie

Ghenie’s latest large paintings are now priced between €750,000 to €1.1. He represented Romania at the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. Ghenie is now represented by Pace and Thaddaeus Ropac galleries.
To enhance my knowledge, I took a close look at Ghenie’s work.  I wanted to contemplate what is it about his paintings that has to lead to so much attention and recognition. I realised that chance is a big factor when working in the art market and it is a major element of Ghenie’s paintings.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann
Collages of documentary films, historical images and still images from David Lynch and Hitchcock inspired Ghenie’s ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) and ‘The collector’ as he successfully rendered the texture of black and white celluloid film into the paint.   Ghenie translated the cinematic impression of velvety blacks, light and texture into browns and reds. Which heightens the meaning and emotions and affects the dark undercurrents of the subject matter.
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Adrian Ghenie, Pie Night Interior 12 2014 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie

Once Ghenie’s preparatory images are finished, his next step is to paint with house-hold decorator’s brushes on to the large white canvas. The crude wide headed brush is used in rapid movements to create washes leading to runs and dribbles on the white gesso.  On top of the broad strokes, Ghenie shows his skill and dexterity with a brush to get some of the detail down. Ghenie waits for the representational painting, that at times is drab, to partly dry before using a cloth to dry it. He then uses a trowel, palette knife or a squeegee like a brush introducing a variety of colours to contrast to the earlier brush marks. New marks are scrapped and smeared across the surface burying the detail.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

The inspirational work of Franz Kline
There is plenty of space in Ghenie’s larger canvases to play.  Ghenie juxtaposes a variety of techniques from drips and scratches, with pours and smears.  The slathered paint sends his paintings towards abstraction.  Occasionally, just to make it interesting, he throws in an element of photographic college to ground the staged accidents and composition. Ghenie stated that
“when you try to paint a tree, you realize, ‘I cannot paint all the leaves, I cannot paint all the textures.’ So you have to invent a movement of the brush that would suggest, in your mind, a tree. That is, essentially, abstract.”
There are many fiascos along the way, however, Ghenie knows how to manipulate paint like a master. In his latest work, he takes this mixture of technique and turns painting further towards a form of collaging painting.  As this all comes together there is a strong element of what Ghenie callers “a Russian roulette moment” where chance, accident, instinct and the fear of failure leads the way.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

What I have learnt from Alex Katz
Ghenie’s nostalgia for the craft of painting is clear to see.  The techniques from modern masters find their way into his paintings. Distortions from Picasso, accidents from Bacon and squeegee from Richter.  His subject matter comes from across the centuries.
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Adrian Ghenie, Dada is Dead 2009 all rights remain with the artist ™ Adrian Ghenie

Ghenie reminds the viewer of the collective imagination of historical figures and moments in his earlier paintings.   Once figures of the establishment were taunting and terrorising us now we are taunting and terrorising them. He evokes an overall feeling of contemptuous scorn and caricature, as Hilter, the bogeyman watches us as we sleep in the painting,  ‘Nightmare’ (2007).
Ghenie’s versatile approach to painting using textures of smooth buttery paint creates intriguing compositions of visual harmony that feels almost confrontational.  There is an overall fluidity across his canvases that is visually captivating.  He asks interrogating deep questions about 20th history through the broken up surface. Ghenie acknowledges that failure helped him to dismantle the traditional approach to oil painting. Clearly stating painting is far from dead.

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