Paul Pretzer’s paintings result from deep observations of the history of classical painting. Summoning Velazquez’ somber depictions of clerics, Goya’s macabre figures, Munch’s intensely introspective portraits, and even Cézanne’s architectural arrangements of color planes – for Pretzer such artists become a starting point.
In this second one-person exhibit at MARC STRAUS, Paul Pretzer is even more rigorous and inventive. Each painting is a conjunction of familiar tropes with the unexpected. In this new series of portraits there are simians with colossal ears, clowns and animals of his own invention, an eccentric assembly of frivolous fools and murky royals, some interspersed with exquisitely rendered metal cans. These cans bring in a new pop motif and seem more “American,” Warhol’s soup cans, Chamberlain’s crushed cars and even Stella’s early silver paintings are hinted at. And there is perhaps some of the gleam and playfulness of Koons’ toys. It is likely that this resonance with American painting stems from his working in New York in preparation for this exhibit. Finally, the ever-growing attention to a personal painterliness places him most closely in the lineage of Philip Guston.
Pretzer is a Russian German who spent his childhood in Estonia and later moved to Dresden, a city that was totally destroyed during World War II with its historic section almost entirely rebuilt to appear as it was. Perhaps it is that struggle with present and past that lingers in Pretzer’s work.
Pretzer’s synthesis of appropriations should not be seen as quotations, but as enigmatic reverberations the viewer is asked to consider. His images are interconnected to one another in subtle narrative strings and become something larger; a psychological rebus. A Pretzer painting contains humor and aversion. Its bizarre configurations evoke association and abstraction at once. Centrally fusing monkeys with eminent portrayals, the artist continuously sources the uncanny while pushing the boundaries of contemporary painting further. His work is always immediately recognizable. It is rude and irreverent, playful and beautiful.
Pretzer (born 1981) completed his MFA in 2007 at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Dresden, Germany. He has exhibited widely with solo shows in Basel, Berlin, Düsseldorf, and New York. His work is in numerous private and public collections. He is represented by Hamish Morrison Gallery in Berlin and MARC STRAUS LLC in New York.