26 January 2016

Translation: Alexander Tinei, A Painting Genius in Leipzig


This article by M├ęlanie Gentil et Thomas Schlesser was originally published on NovaPlanet in French on January 14, 2016.

Discovering one of the most puzzling artists of the current scene. 

Long ago, it was a cotton spinning mill … But 10 years ago, Leipzig’s Spinerrei was transformed into a creative and exhibition space. The Guardian has called it “the hottest” place on the planet. The Sam Dukan Gallery hosted in this space has become unavoidable and welcomes one of the most puzzling artists of the current scene.

Alexander Tinei was born in Moldavia in 1967. He left the country he deeply loved — because he wanted “to give a chance to his painting” — to go to Budapest in 2000. There he developed figurative work, which features mostly portraits and youth. The beauty of the models (which includes his idols Nick Cave and Louise Bourgeois) is both seductive and bizarre. His palette is cold and pale, rather in the black tones for some time and now on in the pastels. Blue has also played a major role in his compositions, tracing networks of lines evoking, in an uncertain way, veins and tattoos on the marble skin of his models.

He has yet to be featured in very big international museums. Similarly to Michael Borremans, whom we met in 2014, Tinei is surely — we are betting on it — one of the painters who will go down in the history books. Upon his arrival in Budapest, Alexander Tinei was already 33 years old. His work was not selling. It had been too influenced by Soviet culture. Discovering Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans, two eminent players — one German and the other Belgian — of contemporary painting, he noticed the gap that separated him from them. “My paintings were mostly inspired by the Fauves. They sent you back to a period that had ended nearly a century ago.” Rather than being discouraged, he decided to start from zero. “Since I did not come from an artistic family, I did not have my parents’ support. They did not imagine being able to make a career as a painter. I had to get by on my own. My mother would not stop telling me to get a real job. She still does … despite my success.”  

Alexander Tinei’s trajectory in certain ways resembles that of the romantic image of the 19th century artist, who is ready to abandon everything except his vocation. So, without pity, Alexander tells of the privations that marked his journey. Before being noticed by some amateurs, Tinei was well-acquainted with poverty, and even hunger. He cheated it by eating toothpaste (without this being a diet, either), thought about suicide in order to finally return to God. And it was He who, according to what he concedes, always saved him in extremis. He sincerely declares, “I am not religious.” Nevertheless, every morning, without fail, he picks up his guitar and bursts into pious songs before going to his studio in order to muster up the courage to work.  

After some very difficult years, Alexander Tinei managed to carve an important place for himself. Like most of the painters of his generation, his iconographic references are equally prevalent in newspapers, on the Internet, in art history or in personal archives. He explains, “Starting from these images, I make montages that I then touch up in Photoshop. The compositions are approximately transferred to a white canvas with charcoal before I work on them for several weeks. Certain works are put aside, sometimes even for an entire year; others are destroyed. It happens that I stop painting for a month or two: At that time, I visit exhibits, I read, I make collages, drawings, but I do not touch a brush. Then I get back to it, as much out of pleasure as out of duty.” 

The works on view at the Sam Dukan Gallery in Leipzig’s Spinerrei show formal and thematic changes that have happened over these last few years. Collectors especially like the paintings where pale silhouettes are contrasted against a dark background. But Tiney has abandoned this aesthetic now, “I am not afraid of white anymore,” he says, amused. The canvasses have gotten lighter: the violence subtly peeks out here or there. The aloof figures with arms hemmed in blue — which made him famous — and which used to be peaceful, fleeting and idle, today seem more threatening. One of the major pieces in the exhibit, in its monumental dimensions, depicts a lynching scene overlooking the flight of aggressive birds.  

In the next two years, Tinei wants to take his research in the direction of political overtones resonating with current upheavals and brutalities. And to conclude, “Too bad if that’s not what’s expected of me. I hope to have made this change look like nothing. In the image of that priest who proposed removing a piano from the church where he preached and met only with the protestations of his parishioners. Day after day, and inch by inch, he moved the instrument without their knowing it. Finally, after a year, the piano had disappeared. And so no one found anything to say again…” 

METONIA, Alexander Tinei & Johan Tahon
Galerie Dukan, Spinnereistra├če 7, Halle 18.I, 04179 Leipzig - Germany 
Wednesday - Friday : 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday 11a.m. - 6 p.m.

From January 16 to March 30, 2016

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